Tuesday, September 25, 2012

MANNING — It’s one of the more significant stories in terms of long-term economic and cultural impact for Carroll County we’ll report in decades.

The Manning Regional Healthcare Center in July officially broke ground for a 62,000-square-foot hospital that is expected to be in operation in the summer of 2014.

How did this happen?

Who deserves the credit?

Who did the heavy lifting?

The answer recalls a recent analysis by former President Bill Clinton of what made San Diego, Calif., a place where economic lightning seeds, planted by a combination of private-sector investors, not-for-profits and government works, have sprouted, creating a super-charged future for that city.

Manning thinks big.

They think independently.

Philanthropists donated the 43 acres in the southwest part of  the city for the hospital. Business and local community leaders backed the vision of the hospital’s able board and foresighted management team.

And, yes, the federal government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President Barack Obama, played a pivotal role in making the hospital plan a reality.

What have you done lately, Mr. President, for Manning, Iowa, and a vast sweep of the surrounding area that will be served by the Manning Regional Healthcare Center?

Answer: A $21 million, low-interest, U.S. Department of Agriculture loan that will finance the lion’s share of what is expected to be about a $23 million hospital.

“Without  USDA, this isn’t happening,” hospital CEO John O’Brien said of the  3.375 percent, 40-year federal loan.

Manning is thinking and working for Manning.

Sure, partisan politics doesn’t shut down at the outskirts of Templeton. It’s alive and kicking in Manning.

But Manning is working with the federal government. It’s rejecting the desperate campaign narrative of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Congressman Steve King that government is the enemy, a bloated dragon to be slain by the boy wonder of their party, Paul Ryan, a spear stained with the blood of Medicare in one hand, a dog-eared copy of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” in the other.

“We’re not singing that tune in Manning, Iowa, that’s for sure,” said Brad Vollstedt, a Manning community leader. “Certainly these kinds of projects the Obama administration is supportive of, and we’re certainly beneficiaries of their thoughts on rural development.”

Over the past year, Manning Regional Healthcare Center has had an overall impact on area economies of over $9 million, according to a recent report by the Iowa Hospital Association (IHA). MRHC’s employs 192 people, which results in an economic impact of $7,053,269 in payroll and proprietor income. In addition, those employees support retail sales of $2,308,242 in our area and provide nearly $139,000 in sales tax.

Look for that to grow in 2014 and beyond when Manning cuts the ribbon and opens the hospital doors for patients.

The 17-bed health-care facility will be a critical-access hospital that also can provide substance-abuse treatment for up to 16 patients in a partial residential setting.

“To me, what is most important is that we are growing for the future, and we’re planning for the future, and not just Manning, but all the areas around us,” O’Brien said. “The new facility that’s coming will be very flexible because none of us call tell what’s going to happen with health care over the next 15 or 20 years. I can tell you it’s going to change.”

Imagine where Manning would be today if it had listened to Paul Ryan, followed the Mitt Romney approach?

Manning isn’t building this community defining, regionally elevating facility alone. The government isn’t building it, either. It’s a winning partnership, leveraging government money to encourage game-changing local development.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the USDA and the Rural Development Program, tells The Daily Times Herald flatly that the loan for the construction of the Manning Regional Healthcare Center would be dead on arrival under  Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — leaving Manning to raise the money somehow on its own or develop a second- or third-rate health-care center or shut down the hospital and send its residents driving to Carroll and Denison and Audubon for treatment.

“I would say that their possibility of getting such hospital funding would be, well, almost nil because they cut back on all of these programs in agriculture,” Harkin said. “I would say that if you look at the Ryan budget and look ahead, the things that we have done in the past in rural America, we would not be able to do, or least not be able to do to any extent.”

Harkin added, “I would say that under the Ryan budget the chances that Manning would have gotten any money for a hospital would have been pretty close to zero.”

Which would be tragic for our county.

The hospital will pay back more in economic-development benefits than the government invested through money lost to the low-interest loan.

Manning believes this.

Harkin believes this.

Obama believes this.

“Having served with Barack Obama here in the Senate I think he shares this view that the government can really be a force for good in people’s lives and our communities’ lives, depending on where it focuses its attention and what it does,” Harkin said.

Harkin said the reality in rural America is that many small communities, like Manning, population 1,500, may not be able to tackle major projects on their own.

“But the last time I checked, the citizens of Manning were still the citizens of the United States of America,” Harkin said. “The philosophy President Bill Clinton mentioned of ‘we’re all in this together’ is a lot better than the philosophy of ‘tough luck, you’re on your own’ and that the rich and the powerful sort of take whatever they want and maybe you’re lucky if you get some of the droppings.”

Soon, Manning will have the advantage of a state-of-the-art hospital — a signature feature to showcase the town’s new brand, “Manning: It’s refreshing.”

More immediately, Manning-area residents — and all who benefit from the hospital — face a question.

Do you reward a president who was indisputably consequential in bringing concrete, flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing advancement to your city?

President Obama passed the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” test in flying colors here in Manning.

Ask yourself: if that’s not enough for your vote, what is?