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Micro-enterprise program back in front of City Council

This news story was published on January 16, 2012.
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by Matt Marquardt –

(UPDATED: Two city Council members with close family either work for or on board of  directors at NIACC.)

MASON CITY – The Mason City City Council will re-visit a proposed plan from the NIACC Pappajohn Center to aid small business development in Mason City.

The program, now called the “Micro Enterprise Program” was first presented to the city a year ago at a work session by Jamie Zanios of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (pictured, at the meeting on January 11, 2011.)

Read about the proposed agreement between the city and NIACC Pappajohn Center here.

The program would start on July 1, 2012 and have a three-year term or until $150,000 is awarded; whichever is first. Small businesses operating in Mason City could be eligible for up to $15,000 of reimbursement from the City of Mason City for certain expenses (see the proposed agreement.)Home-based businesses are not eligible.

The city will award all the dollars to eligible businesses.  The city will pay NIACC Pappajohn Center a 10% fee for every dollar it awards to businesses through the program. “For example,” it says in the agreement, “if an award is given for $2,500 to a business, JPEC will receive an administrative fee of $250 for the completion of all paperwork and oversight of that business’ award.”

The city will kick in $10,000 to the Pappajohn Center to start up the program.  They had asked for $15,000 last year when the council refused to pass the program.  The vote was 3-2 but needed 4 votes to pass.  A memorable quote from then-council member Jeff Marsters was “The test of our progress is NOT whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.  There are many who have little. Just look at the food stamp increase in Cerro Gordo county alone over the past 4 years – around 75%.”

The deal looks as though it will sail through the council with ease, this time.  Council members Travis Hickey,  Janet Solberg and Scott Tornquist all voted in favor last year, and at least one of the new council members will likely vote yes, bringing the needed 4 votes to pass the deal.

Scott Tornquist’s wife, Patti, does happen to work for the Pappajohn Center at NIACC. asked Tornquist if this is a conflict of interest and if he would abstain from voting on the Micro Enterprise Program.  No immediate answer was given.  City Administrator Brent Trout said Monday that regarding conflicts of interest and votes by city council members, it “is totally up to them.”

UPDATE: It has come to our attention that a relative of At-Large City Councilman Alex Kuhn also has a close relationship with NIACC. Kuhn’s mother, Denise Kuhn of Charles City, sits on the NIACC Foundation Board of Directors. asked Kuhn if this presents him with a conflict of interest and if he will be voting on the Micro Enterprise Program. We will report if Kuhn and Tornquist offer an answer.

The NIACC Pappajohn Center lists two successes on its website, Duggan Tax Service and Latham Hybrids.



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41 Responses to Micro-enterprise program back in front of City Council

  1. Avatar

    OMG Reply Report comment

    January 18, 2012 at 12:14 am

    You dumb ass Mason City voters didn’t bother voting.

    Now just sit back and enjoy getting worked over by these socialists. I am going to be watching how all you folks living in Mason City like your new Russia/Hitler style government.

    Glad I moved away!

    • Avatar

      Glad also... Reply Report comment

      January 23, 2012 at 9:35 am

      We are glad also… that you moved away!

  2. Avatar

    Jim Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    I don’t know how much of a kick back our mAYOR GETS , BUT HE SURE IS GETTING FAT

  3. Avatar

    Barney Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Is Kuhn and Tornquist abstaining from the vote tonight?
    Is there not considered a conflict of interest with these two?

  4. Avatar

    FYI Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Mason City taxpayers better get in the know. After the council passes this welfare for the rich program called the Micro Enterprise program, our SUBSIDY does not end with one payment this year. They will be given this money year after year.

    Read the proposal, study the find print.

    We are obligated year after year for another 10,b000 dollars a year. This may have been changed but when it was first brought up before that was the language in the proposal and what the city council was asked to agree to give them.

    This is only the first year of yet another entitlement program.

    The taxpayers in Mason City better start screaming bloody murder to get this new tax burden stopped.

    Where are the Occupy folks when you need them?

  5. Avatar

    Joann Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    The Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel and the Music Man Square are real treasures to have, they are big assests for this entire area and we are fortunate to have them. These are the kind of invetments that will continue to pay dividends to this city for years to come.

    • Avatar

      Taxpayer Reply Report comment

      January 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm

      That doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve a financial report!

  6. Avatar

    Taxpayer Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Carl (GOOD POINT) – Don’t taxpayer’s that foot the bills have a right to a year end financial report from the Park Inn Hotel?

    Come on NI Today – How about a report (or) a story that they wouldn’t supply a financial report… We can sure trust NI Today for an honest in depth effort! Something you’d never get with the Globe or KiMT.

  7. Avatar

    Carl Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Joe we tried investing in the library and Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel. Why don’t we take a break and see if those things pan out before we continue down this wonderful path of success? I would like the revenues from the Hotel shared with the public. Everyone that expressed concern with that project was touted as a naysayer and that we would see the results were great. Okay how about posting the revenues on that so we can map the progress? Then maybe the naysayers would have more confidence in these plans.

  8. Avatar

    ralph Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 11:15 am

    You ain’t seen nothing yet.

  9. Avatar

    Joe Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 10:08 am

    What if it’s not hogwash. What if it gets one or two upstart businesses working. What if each hires a person or two in the next year. Hallelujah. concerned citizen and all you other negative nellies, please just bide your time and watch before you declare the sky is falling. The town and it’s jobs have been shrinking for many years. Don and Max have been part of the problem. Not all of it, but part of it. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Well folks, we are going to do it different in 2012 and we might just see some different results. We might just see some progress. I can’t guarantee it but it’s better to try then just turn every new idea down and being afraid to invest in anything.

  10. Avatar

    anne Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 10:03 am

    But if you look at it the people that work there want to keep their job too so they are trying to do what they can so they keep their job too.

  11. Avatar

    betty Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Plus we get to pay administrative costs on all of it.

  12. Avatar

    Arbincita Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 7:59 am

    After reading the proposal I think that the money is so small and doled out only if it is approved as a property tax refund that it cannot be so all that helpful. The program recipients are required to take entrepeneur classes from the Papajohn Center. I think they may be paying out to NIACC more than they get back in a rebate. How much is 50% of a prorated property tax anyway? This isn’t start-up money, it’s a scheme to fund the Papajohn Center and make it look like they care about the little guy.

    • Avatar

      Arbincita Reply Report comment

      January 17, 2012 at 8:00 am

      Sorry, typo. …cannot be all that helpful.

  13. Avatar

    concernedcitizen Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Way to call it, Larry. You are absolutely right. Anything the mayor wants pushed through will go now. He has all of his little ducks in a row on the council and he can sit back and get his own way 100% of the time. He is a spoiled, rotten brat and I am still not sure why he came to Mason City and what his full agenda is. It certainly isn’t for the good of Mason City or the taxpayers here. The 3 council members that actually knew what was going on and watched out for the taxpayers money are gone so look out now. Yes, you had better get your checkbooks ready because everything will be going up. I understand water and sewer rates are gong up again and they are too high now. The economy is in the toilet and they expect people to continue to pay for all of these increases. We are in for a long 2 years and then when he comes up for re-election, I believe anyone that runs against the mayor can win. Even Mickey Mouse! I just hope we can all survive him that long!

  14. Avatar

    Peter L Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    I think all of you people are too proud to admit you need help. If the downtown wasn’t what it was, for going on 20 years now…I’d say pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make a business by blood, sweat and tears. Clearly this is not the case. Something else is going on. Something rooted deep in ignorance and apathy…and corruption. I’m sure people could learn a lot from the Business Center if they run it right. I hope that is the case. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. It’d be nice to see something positive happen for a change.

  15. Avatar

    Carl Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Joe what if it is hogwash? What if it is just propping up a taxpayer funded program that makes entities like the Pappajohn Center, NIACC look like they are busy doing something so they can point to all of their programs and ask for more taxpayer money? Facts are important. Results have to be objective so we can analyze what works. All these crumbs that could turn into someone’s American dream are bankrupting all of us and the whole ship is at risk of sinking.

  16. Avatar

    JohnP Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Provide an answer? Whoooa wait a minute, never going to happen and if by some miracle it does of course not. This is the biggest fiasco in the history of Mason City. All of it. Shame on this shady group of people the council and mayor. Not one strong one to think on their own amoung them. Not one with balls to disagree. That in itself speaks loud and clear of the character in each of them. Sad.

  17. Avatar

    Joe Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Welfare for the rich, Haha. What a joke. This is a small amount of money that can have a positive impact. This is not like a government stimulus to buy something. This is an investment in an idea, a concept, in a person that is investing way more than most of you could ever dream. Anyone that is self employed knows the truth. This is not a handout to a large company that will just end up laying off people when things get tough. This is investing in a little guy, a neighber, a son or a daughter with an idea or a dream. This is a crumb that could turn into someone’s american dream. This is an idea or an opportunity for a common man or woman, not for some big company. I wish it was for $100,000 so it could help 10 entrepenuers.

    • Avatar

      Glennys Smythe Reply Report comment

      January 16, 2012 at 8:31 pm

      If bookie really ran multi-million dollar companies like he brags about, he would know that $5K or $10K for a small biz wont amount to a hill of beans. What is really behind this? By the way, any small business owner worth a sneeze wouldn’t waste her time on this micro enterprise boondoggle. It is a mass of red tape and oversight. A successful business person wold be way to busy MAKING MONEY to be slowed down by this deal.

    • Avatar

      Corky's Dinner Reply Report comment

      January 16, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      Where is the NICEDC in all this? Why do we need them? How many jobs have they brought here? How many small businesses have they helped start? Mr. Willett, hello, are you there? I feel hoodwinked.

    • Avatar

      Mrs. Willson Reply Report comment

      January 16, 2012 at 8:39 pm

      Joe, well said, you sound like one of the wall streeters sneering at the common folk! “This is a small amount of money…” blah blah blah to you I suppose it is but to the single mom on welfare with hungry kids it’s a lot, jerk! Not with my tax dollars!

  18. Avatar

    jerry Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Microfinancing?? Do people know what it takes to start a business? $10,000? What will you do for wages for yourself? Health inurance, business licenses, rent, inventory, how about a copy machine and computers? Postage, advertising, insurance in case you make a mistake or someone falls at your business? Even if you work somewhere else and work at your own business part time how successful will that be considering the high failure rate of businesses? I know this is sounding negative but I am tired of people dreaming and leading people to believe that everything is easy. Also the issue of taxpayers that started their own business through much sweat and missing their own kid’s sport events to now have to subsidize a business that may compete with them is just plain crazy. Where is the fairness in that?

    • Avatar

      Observer Reply Report comment

      January 17, 2012 at 7:22 am

      Jerry I think you have really nailed this down. The cost of starting up a business is a lot more than folks think, no matter the business. Key of course is the ability to stay to plan.

      I know of two businesses of late who have failed, and the one common thing was the excessive debt they mounted up. No program at the College nor the small stipend they offer with this scheme can begin to whittle down that debt.

      I also look at the market here in North Iowa. Who is buying what, how much they have to spend, and on what products or services they desire is ultimately going to decide if a business prospers or fails.

      Does this scheme conflict or duplicate in any way programs by SBA or the State of Iowa (where a lot more money can be secured through loans and grants)? What about our local banks? Is this scheme taking away business from them? I don’t think the City nor the College should be a lender, nor should they compete with existing businesses for that function.

  19. Avatar

    Watchdog Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Got to love this welfare for the rich.

    Talk about spreading the wealth UP.

    I know they are going to tell us it is for job creation and starting new business’s.

    BS!! You are using my tax dollars to compete with other business’s. It is high time the people get their heads out of their hind end and realize that we are using tax dollars to crap in our own nest.

    NIACC and NIACC Pappajohn Center are examples of socialism and taking money from the poor and passing it up to their buddy’s to start another business.

    We already pay taxes to the college to train people to learn how to run a business. This new program is going to far. You all may think it’s ok but I don’t. I started my business on my own after going to school and educating myself on how to do. If you want to put a business plan together go to school and educate yourself.

    This idea we should hold your hand while you start a business makes you weak.

    This is all wrong no matter how you sugar coat it!

    Enough is enough!!!!

  20. Avatar

    Carl Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Joe, obviously you are not aware of the financial state of our city. Who do you think is paying the salaries out at the Pappajohn Center? This comes from property tax collections from property owners. In the near future you are going to see people having their assessed values reduced significantly as properties are selling for a lot less than assessed value. This in turn will cause a shortage of funds for the city, county, NIACC and the school district. If we give this money that is administered at a cost to the property tax owners the city is just going to have to raise taxes again. Why are we giving money away when we know the city is going to be overbudget? Who wants to live in a highly taxed city? Lower taxes create a jobs environment. These lofty ideas are not creating jobs only creating higher property taxes.

  21. Avatar

    Joe Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    hallelujah! Good ideas are coming back around now that Max, Don and Jeff are gone. This community will start making positive strides. It may take a few years to get traction but we will start moving forward. Mark my words. If we get one good business out of this or any deal, it’s worth it. We have to start with positive growth and get away from all the negativity those three mouseketeers were generating.

  22. Avatar

    jerry Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Who does not want to be an entrepreneur? I applaud people who work hard to advance themselves. Many people I know have worked long hard hours, paid for their own tuition and saved all their money to open a business. I am for helping out very talented, hard working people who may not have the resources to open a business if the program is successful and has a record to show for itself (and I mean real, non-inflated, stories of success). JPEC simply does not have a good enough track record to continue with the subsidizing. When do we say “enough”?

  23. Avatar

    Soontobebuisnessowner Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    I am trying to start a buisness here in Mason City, and I will be working with the Papajohn Center to accomplish this. I’m attending the Fasttrack program that they have available in Feb., and I’m also enrolled in the Small Buisness Entreprenuer Degree Program. I am doing all that I can to become knowledgable in all aspects of running a buisness so I don’t become one of those fly by night buisnesses. My goal is to create a buisness that will create jobs in our community. This is what we need, more jobs. I hope the proposed money will go to help those Entrepreneurs that are looking to create jobs. Without the creation of jobs, new buisnesses will be sure to fail if there aren’t enough people making money to support them. All of you unemployed people out there should also figure out what it is that you rock at, and start a buisness. Support our community, stop collecting those unemployment/ welfare checks, and go out there and do something! Don’t waste another day! You all have something to offer, hone your skills and get motivated.

    • Avatar

      Fitzy Reply Report comment

      January 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Hahahaha! Are you kidding me? Why are you using a fake name if you are such a high and mighty entrepreneur? Why not use your REAL NAME? Quite likely due to the fact that you are either lying or you are one of the fox guarding the henhouse of public tax dollars set to pay for this fiasco! Jamie, is that you?? Hahahaha!

    • Avatar

      Anonymous Reply Report comment

      January 16, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      I agree with Fitzy. Most businesses fail if they are tied up with the Papa John center.

  24. Avatar

    jerry Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    SBCD success stories: A successful business like Latham Seeds that has been around for decades, coming to apply for additional funds via grant applications did not make or break that business. This was a handout to a current business that was going to be successful irregardless. And someone buying an existing accounting practice is not a new business success story. It is just another handout.
    And if you want to see a failure- nothing to come out of JPEC in the last few years but look at the JPEC salaries and costs to run the Pappajohn Center that North Iowa taxpayers are funding. Any other business you would call this a miserable failure but they tout themselves as a success. Now they are looking for more tax dollars to justify their existence. Wake up taxpayers. Educate yourselves and vote. Also why doesn’t the EDC administer this program? What do we have them for?

  25. Avatar

    jerry Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    These relationships, wife at the Pappajohn Center and mother on the Foundation Board are what the majority of ordinary citizens are sick of. Whether it is innnocent or not it looks bad and to restore faith in government those two council members need to recuse themselves. Get some self respect, people that were raised right know better, now stand up and be brave and do the right thing.

    • Avatar

      sandy Reply Report comment

      January 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      I agree 100%. This is going to a long 2 years I’m afraid.

  26. Avatar

    Larry Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    They have been around for a long time and really only have a couple of businesses that are still operating. If you look at the dollar to success ratio, they SUCK.

  27. Avatar

    Peter L Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I’m not saying this particular program will be a success…I admit I don’t know the particulars of it, but I do know this: People in Mason City NEED HELP getting started in business. It’s obvious from the broken and empty downtown that local people don’t know how to conduct business very well. SOMETHING needs to happen, hopefully John P Center can live up to its ideal and make something good work out.

  28. Avatar

    Fitzy Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    The real deal here is that the JPEC leadership crew is tasked with going out and finding dollars to prop itself up. John P is no fool, he will not fund his enrepreneurship centers indefinitely with his own coin. Look at the details, the JPEC gets 10% kickback. This is all a made-up scam. Prediction is that very few businesses will use this and if they do, they won’t be in business for long. This contract will amount to a waste of $10 thousand. At least max don and jeff heldf out for a better deal, would have been $15 thousand if it passed while they were in office.

  29. Avatar

    Anonymous Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Lets see, we all in the County and City get dinged for NIACC on our/your property tax bill. Now they want more for a special program and only you folks in the city will foot the bill on that with your TAX DOLLARS????? SUCKERS You folks should standup, but if you like the beating go for it!!!!LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL

  30. Avatar

    Larry Reply Report comment

    January 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    This should surprise no one. Without Nelson, Marsters and Weaver to represent the common tax payers this was a given to get pushed through. This is just the 1st of many items that the tax payers of Mason City will be require to pay with this council. Get your check books ready and this is what you get for not voting.