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Bobby Unser 

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Monthly Midwest economy survey index soars to all-time high
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OMAHA, Neb. — The economy in nine Midwest and Plains states is roaring back to life in the wake of a devastating global pandemic, according to a new monthly survey of business leaders and managers, with the survey’s overall index soaring to its highest reading since it began almost three decades ago.

The Creighton University Mid-America Business Conditions for April released Monday came in at 73.9 from March’s 68.9.


Any score above 50 on the survey’s indexes suggests growth, while a score below 50 suggests recession.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, said the region has regained more than half the 106,000 manufacturing jobs lost to the pandemic in April 2020. Even so, the regional employment index dropped to 57.2 in April from 60.0 in March.

“More than one of five, or 22%, of supply managers named finding and hiring qualified workers as the greatest 2021 challenge to their firm,” Goss said.

Goss also warned of supply chain disruptions and signs of growing inflation, with the survey’s wholesale inflation gauge in April surging to a record high 96.2, up from March’s 94.0. More than nine out of 10 supply managers reported supply bottlenecks, with 40% indicating that the delays were significant.

May flash sale

Despite concerns over supply disruptions and inflation, the survey’s confidence index, which looks ahead six months, rose to 64.8 from March’s 58.0.

For Iowa, the overall index rose to 67.9 from March’s 66.5. Components were: new orders at 79.7, production, or sales, at 76.1, delivery lead time at 80.9, employment at 54.6, and inventories at 59.9. “Compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Iowa manufacturing employment is down 4,300 jobs, or 1.9%, while average hourly manufacturing wages are 2.1% lower,” Goss said.

The monthly survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Official: FDA to OK vaccine for 12-year-olds
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and older by next week, according to a federal official and a person familiar with the process, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year.

The announcement is set to come barely a month after the company found that its shot, which is already authorized for those ages 16 and older, also provided protection for the younger group.

The federal official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the FDA’s action, said the agency was expected to expand its emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine by early next week, and perhaps even sooner. The person familiar with the process, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, confirmed the timeline and added that it is expected that the FDA will approve Pfizer’s use by even younger children sometime this fall.

The FDA action will be followed by a meeting of a federal vaccine advisory committee to discuss whether to recommend the shot for 12- to 15-year-olds. Shots could begin after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adopts the committee’s recommendation. Those steps could be completed in a matter of days.

The New York Times first reported on the expected timing for the authorization.

Meanwhile, air travel in the U.S. hit its highest mark since COVID-19 took hold more than 13 months ago, while European Union officials are proposing to ease restrictions on visitors to the continent as the vaccine sends new cases and deaths tumbling in more affluent countries.

The improving picture in many places contrasts with the worsening disaster in India.

In the U.S., the average number of new cases per day fell below 50,000 for the first time since October. And nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the highest number since mid-March of last year.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation giving him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the outbreak. While the law doesn’t go into effect until July, the Republican governor said he will issue an executive order to more quickly get rid of local mask mandates.

“I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools and personal freedom,” he said.

Las Vegas is bustling again after casino capacity limits were raised Saturday to 80% and person-to-person distancing was dropped to 3 feet. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City’s subways will begin running all night again and capacity restrictions on most businesses will end statewide in mid-May.

And Los Angeles County reported no coronavirus deaths on Sunday and Monday, some of which may be attributable to a lag in reporting but was nevertheless a hopeful sign that could move the county to allow an increase in capacity at events and venues, and indoor-service at bars.

EU officials also announced a proposal Monday to relax restrictions on travel to the 27-nation bloc this summer, though the final decision is up to its member countries.

“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”

In Greece, restaurants and cafes reopened their terraces on Monday after six months of shutdown, with customers flocking to soak up the sunshine. In France, high schools reopened and a ban on domestic travel was lifted.

The once hard-hit Czech Republic, where cases are now declining, announced it will allow people to remove face coverings at all outdoor spaces starting next Monday if they keep their distance from others.

But with more-contagious variants taking hold, efforts are underway to boost vaccination efforts, which have begun to lag. The average number of doses given per day fell 27% from a high of 3.26 million on April 11 to 2.37 million last Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Detroit, teams from the city’s health department have knocked on nearly 5,000 doors since the weekend to persuade people to get immunized. And Massachusetts’ governor announced plans to close four of seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June in favor of a more targeted approach.

“My plea to everyone: Get vaccinated now, please,” President Joe Biden said in Norfolk, Virginia. He stressed that he has worked hard to make sure there are more than 600 million doses of vaccine — enough for all Americans to get both doses.

“We’re going to increase that number across the board as well so we can also be helping other nations once we take care of all Americans,” the president said.

Brazil, once the epicenter of the pandemic, has been overtaken by a surge in India that has overrun crematoriums and made it clear the p andemic is far from over.

As the U.S. and other countries rushed in aid, India reported nearly 370,000 new cases and more than 3,400 deaths Monday — numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.

In Germany, Bavarian officials canceled Oktoberfest for a second year in a row because of the safety risks. The beer-drinking festivities typically attract about 6 million visitors from around the world.

And in Italy, medical experts and politicians expressed concern about a possible spike in infections after tens of thousands of jubilant soccer fans converged on Milan’s main square Sunday to celebrate Inter Milan’s league title.

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CF will put out council packet Wednesday instead of Friday starting Aug. 2
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CEDAR FALLS — The city of Cedar Falls will publish council agendas on the Wednesday before Monday meetings instead of on Friday, starting in August.

Ward 4 Councilman Simon Harding initially proposed releasing agendas on Tuesdays to give council members and interested residents more time to go over the information packet and ask questions. It would also be in line with other cities that publish agendas several days in advance, including Waterloo, which made a similar adjustment in December.

But Ward 2 Councilwoman Susan deBuhr disagreed, saying she preferred staff’s recommendation to move publication back just one day, to Thursday.

“I really feel this creates quite a disservice to developers” to publish agendas on Tuesday, deBuhr said. “People making a submission would only have to do it one day sooner instead of five days sooner.”

She amended Harding’s resolution to Thursday, and council members Frank Darrah, Mark Miller and Dave Sires joined her in approving the amendment.

Residents Rick Sharp and T.J. Frein, regular speakers at council meetings, bemoaned the amendment and supported the Tuesday plan.

“I’m in favor of the original amendment,” Sharp said. “It’s giving the public that much more time to review and elaborate and interact with council.”

“I fail to see how it’s a burden on the developers. They know three, four months in advance that this is coming,” Frein added. “It’s not doing them a disservice. It’s a service to the citizen.”

Ward 3 Councilman Daryl Kruse offered a new amendment to move to Wednesday instead.

“I think citizen review is critical, important. I think that’s a good compromise,” he said.

His comments swayed Sires, who backed the Wednesday amendment, which passed on a 4-3 vote with Darrah, deBuhr and Miller dissenting. The change will go into effect beginning with the Aug. 2 meeting.

In other business, the council:

  • Voted 6-1 vote to update ordinances regarding the duties of both the mayor and city administrator. Sires was the lone no vote.

“This puts the power in the hands of the city administrator,” resident Jim Skaine argued during public comment.

But most council members disagreed.

“The power really lies with the mayor and council, so I guess I disagree with the statements,” Harding said. “I believe it clarifies the language. It’s a good ordinance.”

“I am quite certain that every single person sitting in front of you does not want to take any power away from the mayor,” at-large member Kelly Dunn said. “Reading these sections, I don’t think it does.”

  • Learned the director of the city’s tourism bureau plans to retire this summer. Kim Manning, manager of the Cedar Falls Tourism Bureau, is planning to retire “in a couple of months,” according to her husband, Bob Manning. He expressed concern at Monday’s meeting that a new sales position might be at risk as staff retools the bureau after his wife’s departure.

Stephanie Houk Sheetz, director of community development, confirmed Kim Manning’s planned retirement. She said the city is asking council to update the position requirements, but it is “really unknown at this point” whether it would mean the elimination of positions.

“I think it will depend on who is the replacement, what is their skill set, how will the division of work occur,” she said. “If it’s an internal hire, then that will give consideration to other positions as well.”

“I sure want to thank Kim for all the great work she has done all the years she’s been here,” Darrah said. “She’ll be hard to replace.”

Raymond Birden Jr. listens to testimony during trial Friday.

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Electric scooters could come to downtown Waterloo in early June
  • Updated

WATERLOO — An initial batch of 50 electric scooters could come to downtown Waterloo as early as June 6, according to City Council discussions.

The proposal from the Southern California company Bird aims to give Waterloo residents another mode of transportation. Kate Shoemaker, a company territory manager, said the scooters serve as great options for short-distance travel — like getting someone from their parked car to their final destination or from work to a lunch spot.

The scooters, stationed in more than 160 cities around the world, can be rented on a mobile phone application. Users are required to make free accounts, and before they ride scooters they must watch educational videos and are encouraged to wear helmets. Bird said users have the option to order free helmets from the company, and the user pays for shipping. Waterloo would have to pass an ordinance requiring helmets if it wants to pursue that option, Shoemaker said.

Sydney Czyzon / SYDNEY CZYZON 

Kate Shoemaker, a territory manager for Bird, spoke on video platform Zoom to Waterloo City Council members May 3, 2021, about the possibility of electric scooters in the downtown area.

Average scooter rides cost around $5, Shoemaker said. She said typical users ride 1-4 miles on the devices. The company regularly offers incentive programs and discounts, she said, such as giving 25-cent coupons for riders who park in preferred areas that are outlined on the mobile app.

The scooters can be parked wherever the city allows, Shoemaker said. There are no docking stations for the scooters to be required to stay in certain areas. Bird’s devices and similar scooters have been criticized for causing crowding issues in other cities.

The company plans to hire one Waterloo resident to manage the fleet of electric scooters. This person is a contractor who can either work alone or hire additional staff, Shoemaker said. They will monitor where scooters are located and their battery levels, repair any damaged scooters and relocate scooters to higher-demand areas as needed.

May flash sale

The city is able to set its own boundaries for ridership. If scooters try to exit the designated area, Shoemaker said, they will be stopped and the device will beep. Riders will be notified on their mobile application that they are leaving the available operating zone. The fleet manager will be notified and can go retrieve the scooter, Shoemaker said.

The scooters go up to 15 mph, Shoemaker said, but the city can designate zones where the scooters will automatically slow. She said this could be helpful during events that attract a lot of pedestrian traffic, like holiday parades or citywide activities such as the My Waterloo Days festival or RAGBRAI.

Scooters from Bird feature front lights and back blinking lights along with other safety technology, Shoemaker said.

The city would be protected from possible lawsuits from scooter riders, Shoemaker said, unless incidents are caused by the city’s gross negligence to its roadways or a city employee. She said Bird would add Waterloo to its own insurance policy.

The scooters would not cost the city any money. Shoemaker said Bird will pay any applicable taxes or business license fees, and the city has the ability to charge its own rider fee to users for revenue.

Jessica Rucker, executive director at Main Street Waterloo, said her staff met with Shoemaker to discuss the scooters and they will meet again this week after gathering City Council input.

Rucker said Waterloo could eventually expand the scooters beyond downtown. Shoemaker said the city could get up to 150 scooters in the future.

The final proposal will eventually come to Waterloo City Council for approval. No date was formally set Monday.


Photos: "Ironman" Battalion Headquarters Company returns home