Iowa House Speaker envisions new program to lure businesses to rural Iowa

DES MOINES — Iowa business groups are calling for passage of new state tax incentives for “Major Economic Growth Attraction or “MEGA” sites where a business spends at least $1 billion, House Speaker Pat Grassley has an idea for pairing a MEGA site program with something he’s calling “Freedom Sites.”

“Have these locations in rural Iowa, kind of a similar theme to what the MEGA sites would be, but at a smaller level, to try to get growth out in more hubs across the state,” Grassley told Radio Iowa. “No offense my friends in Polk County, but in rural Iowa there’s more and more of a sentiment of wanting to see growth across the state, not just in our metro areas.”

Grassley argues the program he envisions would help the state be more aggressive in recruiting businesses in high-tax states like Minnesota and Illinois. “Actively going into a business and saying: ‘What would it take to get you in Iowa? Here’s what we have to offer.’ And, at the same time trying to attract those employees,” Grassley said. “I think we’re to a point, especially with the workforce situation we have as a state, we need to be willing, as a state, to do that and some of our neighboring states have provided us with the opportunity to do so.”

The Iowa Senate voted 45-to-2 last year for the MEGA program, which also would let foreign businesses buy more than 320 acres of farmland — the current legal limit — if they’re planning to spend at least a billion dollars building a manufacturing plant or facility focused on research or bioscience. The bill stalled in the House in the closing days of the 2023 legislative session, but Grassley expects it will be discussed again this year.