It was a hot, sweaty afternoon last week when I crossed paths with my old friend K.C. on Grand Avenue. He was walking west, swatting mosquitoes and mumbling a low curse.
“Bugs bothering you?” I asked.
“I guess,” he said. “But I’ll tell you these #%$& mosquitoes aren’t near as bad as the bedbugs up there,” he said, jerking a thumb in the direction of the Capitol.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “The reports I saw said the Legislature had a glorious session this year. They passed tax reform and education reform and even worked out a compromise on health care.”
“None of those things are as big a deal as they’re cracked up to be,” K.C. said. “You’ll see in a few years that they created as many problems as they solved. That’s what laws do. This year, they take from me and give to you, and then next session, they come back and take from you and give to me.
“But that’s not what’s really bugging me,” he said. “It’s the lack of vision.
“Those bozos up on the hill and their governor-for-life have all the foresight of a possum,” he said. “They can’t see the future when it’s six inches in front of their noses.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They think that just because some big-name tech companies decide to put server farms in Iowa, we’re on the cutting edge of technology,” K.C. said.
“Aren’t we?” I asked. “Look at the size of the investments, a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there. As Everett Dirksen used to say, pretty soon it adds up to real money.”
“Sure. That’s great in the short run for construction workers,” he said. “But it’s not like these farms are bringing in a lot of high-paying jobs or taxes. In fact, we’re giving away the farm when it comes to taxes.
“The truth is, the tech companies want these puppies far away from the real action. They’re backup servers. That’s why they put them in fly-over country. So they’ll be out of the way.
“These are just big refrigerators, designed to keep big data cool,” he said. “These companies won’t hire any Iowans to actually play with the data. All they want is some glorified night watchmen to hang around and make sure nobody breaks in or that the thermostat doesn’t break.
“You know who really makes money off these things?” K.C. said. “Warren Buffett, that’s who.”
“How so?” I said.
“Buffett owns MidAmerican Energy. It’s MidAmerican Energy that will supply all the electricity to run these data centers. And trust me it will take a lot,” he said.
“Old Warren is licking his chops. You can take that to the bank.
“To get these projects, we gave away all sorts of tax incentives that you and I will never see,” K.C. said. “It’s almost as bad as that Egyptian company that’s going to build the fertilizer plant.”
“You mean Orascom Construction, the company that’s going to build a $1.4 billion plant in Lee County,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “For the amount of money we spend on incentives, there ain’t none of these companies that’s going to make a dent in unemployment. How many people did they say these projects are going to employ?”
“Well, the fertilizer plant will create 165 permanent jobs,” I said.
“And they’re getting what, $50 million in tax incentives?” K.C. said. “That’s what, $300,000 or so per job? Wish I could get that deal.
“The data farm won’t even have that many employees,” he said.