What's really killing jobs in rural America?

Why did Mason City decide to turn down two thousand new jobs?

Why did Mason City decide to turn down two thousand new jobs? We all know the tremendous public pressure against the project applied by Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) but who are they and what drives them? Certainly turning down a tremendous new tax base and all that new employment can’t mean ‘community improvement.’ Most rural American towns needs all the help they can get.

Digging into CCI’s financial backing turns up big bucks from some major corporate donors but that doesn’t seem to be the ‘killer app’ that made them attack Prestage Farms new plant proposal. No company on this list seems to be anti-ag:

Foundation

Home state

Corporate origin

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

Michigan

General Motors Corporation

Rockefeller Family Fund, Rockefeller Brothers Fund 

New York

Standard Oil

Belvedere Fund

District of Columbia 

Standard Oil

McKnight Foundation

Minnesota

3M

Ford Foundation

Michigan

Ford Motor Company

Educational Foundation of America

Connecticut

Prentice-Hall Publishing

Some background on CCI
CCI was formed in 1975 in Waterloo, Iowa by a small group of ministers who felt the state needed an organization to fight for social justice issues. CCI focused on urban, neighborhood-level organizing and aimed their efforts at ending predatory lending, misuse of public funds, slum landlords, and the practice of redlining.

The farm crisis of the 1980s caused CCI to shift their attention to rural issues. CCI members began by working to renegotiate farm mortgages, and trying to help family farmers gain access to easier credit. Insisting that agriculture was becoming controlled by corporate interests, they soon began attacking the ill-defined but certainly evil-minded growth of factory farms and took offense at the mandatory pork checkoff. They were also befriended by Robert Kennedy.

The Waterkeeper Alliance
Could the hands that sunk Prestage Farms in Mason City be Robert Kennedy’s Waterkeeper Alliance? Several years ago, Iowa CCI board member Garry Klicker declared that “Waterkeepers is one group I not only am happy to support, but have joined as well. Robert Kennedy’s strong statements are exactly on target.”

Those strong statements are definitely anti ‘big ag’ and anti-pork. Fifteen years ago, Kennedy told the Los Angeles Times, that his organization “will march across this country and we will bring these kind of lawsuits against every single pork factory in America if we have to … Whatever it takes to win.”

A year later, The Des Moines Register reported that a breathless, hair-on-fire Kennedy outrageously called pork farmers “a greater threat to the United States and U.S. democracy than Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network.” His firm but insanely misguided belief is “the best thing would be if this [pork] industry did leave the country.”

Certainly Waterkeepers helped shape the initial anti-factory farm mindset of CCI. The politics behind Prestage Farms’ defeat was much more sophisticated, though. It was a study in how generating fear of the unknown and a fondness for a usually mythical past has become the trump card in political movements of all kinds.

It shows in this seriously misinformed statement from Iowa’s CCI web site: If you’ve driven around Iowa, you’ve noticed row after row of long metal buildings. These are factory farms run by giant corporations. Decades ago, these were small family farms.

Today, over 8,000 factory farms dominate our landscape. They pack thousands of hogs, chickens, and their billions of gallons of manure into one small space in order to maximize profit.

What are the players saying?
Ron Prestage, the chief exec at North Carolina's Prestage Farms, said a campaign of misinformation and blatant racism prompted the Mason City Council to reverse course on approving a plant that would have processed as many as 22,000 hogs a day.

"Being a Southerner, I'm used to the fact that people think that racism resides in the South," he told Brownfield Ag News. "It was very apparent among some that racism is alive and well in Mason City and northern Iowa as well."

Mason City Council member Janet Solberg agreed with Prestage. "Racism was a huge factor. There is no doubt in my mind," she said. "Most of my phone calls and emails were 'we don’t want those people in our community.' It played a very large factor in all of this, sad to say. I’m so disappointed in our citizens."

Adam Mason, CCI's state organizing policy director, claimed the arguments against the plant had no basis in racism. They were merely concerns about the environmental impact, Mason City’s ability to handle a sudden influx of new residents and fears about "factory farming."

But racism as an issue? "It just couldn’t be farther from the truth," Mason said, demonstrating his acute inability to hear dog whistles. "None of the folks we were talking to were making racist insinuations."

It doesn’t really matter; the deed was done. In March, the Council had voted unanimously in favor of the project, which was to receive $26 million in state and local incentives. Just two months later, extremist pressure mounted by CCI forced a new tally. The project failed on a 3-3 tie.

Prestage says he will look elsewhere in Iowa for his new plant. CCI promises to fight him wherever he goes, possibly forcing several thousand new jobs to go to a neighboring state.

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