John McCain at EPCO’s “Concrete Institute” in Des Moines

UPDATE:  Here’s the Radio Iowa story, along with a 43 minute mp3 if you wish to listen to the event.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain is due to hold a roundtable discussion on business issues this morning in a business on the north side of Des Moines.  The facility for this gathering, owned by EFCO, is a large, cavernous room with dozens of chairs arranged around a raised platform where McCain and his cohorts will sit for their discussion.  A long balcony and a descending staircase at present are filled with people who will be standing for the entire event.

An executive from EFCO (with a dreamy British accent) just addressed the crowd, explaining they are in EPCO’s sconcrete institute.  He offered his apologies to the crowd as they will not be able to visit the concrete museum explaining the history of concrete, as that area of the building has been blocked off for the staging of this event. Wendy Riemann of the McCain campaign says about 300 people are here.

I am sitting beside a mural picturing EFCO’s "Box Culvert Solutions."  The media is roped off from the crowd, so I roamed along the barrier a few moments ago to chat with the business types who were invited to the event. 

Steve Boal of Ankeny, a member of the National Federation of Independent Business Iowa chapter’s board of directors, is the CFO of Accumold, an Ankeny manufacturing company.  (Boal’s wife, Carmin, is a state representative who is not seeking re-eleciton.)  He’s most concerned about the global economy, as his company ships 65 percent of its products out of the country.  "Our business, what we’re seeing there is actually pretty strong.  A lot of new projects," Boal says.  "If the whole world economy starts going down, we are going to be impacted, one way or another."

Boal’s firm makes both the mold and the part that comes out of the mold, something the Chinese haven’t yet figured out how to do, hence their overseas customer base.  "We do micromolding, which is very plastices, usually for electronics, medical devices:  hearing aides, fiber optic connectors, electronics for cell phones, etc."

Boal has no easy answers about what’s going on in the financial markets.  "I’m not sure I fully grasp how dire the situation is.  Nobody can seem to explain that to me so that I can get my mind around that."

At this point in the conversation, I offered this to the CFO:  "If you can’t understand it, who can?"  Boal laughed and shook his head.

Larry Morris, a financial advisor, said he didn’t look at his own 401K yesterday.  "I was afraid to do so..  I’m fearful that it’s going to keep dropping like a stone unless we get the right leadership in our country."

EFCO employee Julian Nixon of Waukee was in the crowd to listen to McCain.  "I don’t know if he’s going to have too many answers for it," Nixon said. "There’s a lot of people working on it right now and they’re having trouble coming up with a workable solution.  There’s not a whole lot you can do about it.  I don’t think this is the time to bail, just kind of ride it out."

Iowa Association of Business and Industry president Charles Sukup says today’s a good day to talk about the economy.  "It’s on everybody’s mind.  We’re fortunate in Iowa that agriculture’s going so strong.  Even the Kiplinger publication mentioned that agriculture is really holding strong.  Manufacturing here in Iowa is going strong in Iowa, which really helps us in exporting."  Sukup Manufacturing makes grain bins and other ag equipment.  Charles Sukup is the president of the company.  His brother, Steve, is a former legislator, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and the company’s CFO.

At 10:10 the event started.  McCain began speaking without an introduction, launching immediately into remarks about the bailout bill’s failure in the House yesterday.

"Inaction is not an option," McCain said.  "…We cannot allow a crisis in our financial system to become a crisis in confidence."

Here’s the mp3 of McCain’s opening remarks about the bailout (mp3 runs less than 2 minutes)   McCain said, "Thank you," and the crowd applauded.

Miriam Erickson Brown, CEO of Anderson-Erickson Dairy, opened the roundtable discussion by asking McCain to speak directly to her employees who she told McCain Republicans assume will vote Republican this fall.  McCain asked her to talk about the challenges her business is facing right now.  She enumerated them.  McCain then chose to address the fuel costs, talking broadly about his energy ideas rather than addressing her first question about what he would say to her employees, about why they shoudl vote for him.

Richard "Ric" Jurgens, CEO Hy-Vee Food Stores (a major midwest grocery chain), was next, suggesting customers don’t realize how much of the price they’re paying for goods is fuel related.

"I don’t support subsidies for ethanol," McCain began in response, before talking about the Brazilians and their sugar-based ethanol and his general support for biofuels. "We’ve got to give people a choice at the gas pump."

Next to speak is an insurance company exec whose name I did not catch.  "We’ve gone from a credit crisis to a liquidity crisis," he said, urging McCain to ensure liquidity flows down to Main Street.

"We are hearing that people who are applying for loans for new automobiles are being denied,"

McCain addressed the bailout again, and opined as to why the bill failed in the House:  "It hasn’t really sunk in that the people who are hurting, are being hurt, are on Main Street…the engine of our economy," McCain said.

Larry Zimplman, CEO of Principal Financial, told McCain he appreciated his comments.  "We are in the midst of the most severe credit contraction that I’ve seen," he said.  According to Principal’s CEO, just 401K accounts lost $850 billion in value following defeat of the $700 billion bailout bill.

Now, the two men are talking about regulations for the financial services sector.  "We have an alphabet soup in Washington, DC of different regulatory agencies which really has to be reformed and merged," McCain said.  "Hank Paulson…one of his first proposals was to streamline and update these agencies.  Not to do away with them…so I hope that we’ll be looking very carefully at that."

McCain then referenced his call to fire SEC chairman Christopher Cox.   "It’s time we held people accountable, whether it be in he ballott booth or whether they hold certain appointed offices," McCain said.  "

Someone in the crowd clapped, and the whole crowd joined.

McCain offered the Principal CEO a chance to offer his opinion on that, but the Principal chairman declined to specifically address Cox’s performance, adding in general that regulators in DC have "gotten behind the curve" when it comes to oversight.

Don Lamberti, CEO of Ankeny-based Casey’s General Stores — a large Midwestern convenience store chain — was next to speak.  "I worry that in today’s market that someone, an entrepreneur…will not be able to take that idea to the marketplace," Lamberti said.

McCain, in his answer, returned to the overall need for action on a bailout of some sort. "We have a confidence restoration challenge," McCain said.

Now, the head of EFCO who said more than half their earnings will come from out-of-country business."Our fiscal year to date we’re up 28 percent worldwide," he said, adding profits in US are down.  He made a comment about The Des Moines Register and their coverage of his company.

"We’ve been here 75 years and they still don’t know what we do," he quipped.

"They don’t appreciate what I do, either," McCain said.  The crowd applauded.  One person whistled which rricocheted loudly in the concrete room.

McCain returned to the theme of energy, specifically building new nuclear power plants.  "You prove that exports are also one of the keys and vital elements to our recovery and that means tha twe don’t practice protectionism…and that we can compete with anybody in the world," McCain said.

McCain mentioned reading a book about Des Moines, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, a Des Moines native.  "It is one of the laugh-out-loud great books that I have ever read," McCain said. "I read it on the campaign trail and it gave me some very pleasant moments, not that I don’t enjoy every moment out of the campaign." The crowd laughed.

McCain concluded with a promise to come back to Iowa "quite often."

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. The construction field always has it ups and downs and is always changing but progress will never stop.Even in a questionable economy there is always room for growth and expansion. The will and strength of the people is what makes us all able to move forward and accomplish great feats together. and construction has always been the backbone of this country no matter the economic status.