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Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

South Sioux City's Taryn Christensen attempts to shoot past Omaha Mercy's Anna Sommers, center, and Katherine Wurtz during a high school basketball game in South Sioux City.

Siouxland Home Show opens Thursday

SIOUX CITY | Every conceivable product for a properly decked-out house -- from patio furniture and grills to vacuums and grandfather clocks, plus infrared dry saunas and mobility scooters -- will be on display at the 61st annual Siouxland Home Show.

The show, which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Sioux City Convention Center, is a showcase for sellers of practically anything that could improve a house, or boost the occupants' quality of life.

Terri Schelm, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Siouxland, said the show is popular with a wide range of people, from prospective home buyers to existing homeowners looking to update to casual looky-loos who just want something to do. 

"That is their reason for coming to the show, is for the leads that they'll acquire during the show," Schelm said.

This year's Home Show features 244 booths, occupied by 178 exhibits (some exhibitors take up more than one booth) -- and spots in the show are enviable among local retailers.

"We actually have a waiting list (of businesses) that would like to get in," Schelm said. 

The exhibitors offer a whole universe of home products available. 

"I think we've got a nice range," Schelm said. "We go from roof to the siding to the windows to the concrete." 

There will be about 25 companies that attendees haven't seen before, and they'll all be bringing their A-game -- the newest and snazziest offerings, as well as the traditional. 

"I think all these guys are bringing their latest products," she said. 

Families with children might enjoy the free helium balloons offered at one booth, and the jungle-gym and basketball hoop exhibits. The businesses enjoy all the interactions with customers.

Visitors to the home show will be seeing the culmination of many months of planning and preparation. As Schelm put it, getting ready for next year's Home Show "truly starts mid-summer to fall." 

This year's home show raffle grand prize is the perfect place to store all the new products purchased at the show -- an 8- by 12-foot garden shed made by carpentry students at Western Iowa Tech Community College. The shed is on display in front of the Convention Center. 

Schelm said the show usually sees between 7,000 and 8,000 attendees. 

"Depending on the year and the weather, and the weather looks to be really good so that will help," she said. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the type of dry sauna on display at the home show. They are infrared dry saunas. 

Trump calls for quick action on school safety, guns

WASHINGTON | President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Congress should act quickly on gun laws as he convened lawmakers at the White House and pushed for tougher background checks, better school safety and more mental health resources to prevent shootings.

"We can't wait and play games and nothing gets done," Trump said as he opened the session with 17 House and Senate lawmakers. "We want to stop the problems."

Trump particularly cited the need for stronger background checks, which have been resisted by Republicans in Congress and the National Rifle Association. But the president said he told NRA officials over lunch recently that changes in gun culture are needed.

"Hey, I'm the biggest fan of the Second Amendment," Trump said.

"It's time," he said he told the NRA officials. "We have to stop this nonsense."

The White House meeting came amid fresh public debate over gun laws, fueled by student survivors of the massacre at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have been meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The school reopened Wednesday for the first time since a 19-year-old's Valentine's Day assault killed 17.

Momentum on gun legislation has stalled in Congress as Republican leaders showed little interest in pursuing stricter gun control laws and Democrats pushed new restrictions following the Florida shooting.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told the president that if he backed legislation in Congress to expand background checks, as proposed under a bill twice rejected in the Senate, it would pass.

"It is going to have to be you," Murphy said.

Ahead of the session, Senate Democrats urged the president to follow through on his call for "comprehensive background checks" by endorsing legislation to extend the pre-purchase reviews to online and gun show sales.

"You said that you would be 'strongly pushing comprehensive background checks' in an effort to combat the epidemic of mass shootings that has plagued our country," wrote the four senators led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., citing Trump's weekend tweet after the Florida shooting. "We couldn't agree more."

Legislation has been revived in the Senate to close the gun show and online sales loophole. Democrats appealed to Trump to use his influence on Capitol Hill.

"With your leadership, Mr. President, we have an opportunity to break through the gridlock that has held this issue hostage for so many years and finally enact the kind of commonsense gun safety legislation that over 90 percent of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, support," the senators wrote.

Among those at the White House were Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who are pushing their bill — which failed twice in the Senate after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — to broaden background checks.

"I think the mindset changed right now," Manchin said Wednesday on "CBS This Morning."

"We're seeing a movement we've never seen before," he said. "The kids have spoken up. ... Corporate America has woken up."

One major retailer, Dick's Sporting Goods, announced it was halting sales of assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines at all of its stores and banning the sale of all guns to anyone under 21. Trump had floated the idea of an age restriction immediately after the Florida shooting but has not talked about it in recent days. Trump lunched recently with leaders of the NRA, which opposes the proposal.

Republican leaders, who have majority control of the House and Senate, are reluctant to lead on legislation without knowing they have Trump's full support and can rely on his popularity with a core flank of the GOP electorate to shield them from political blowback.

But Trump, who met with 17 senators and representatives from both parties, has proven an inconsistent partner in such policy debates, offering sweeping proposals — including his tweet for stronger background checks — only to drift from them.

"The political reality we're living in today is if President Trump doesn't get behind something they won't have the cover," Manchin said.

At the White House, the discussion was billed as a session focused on "school and community safety," and one of those attending, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has proposed new federal grant funding to stem school violence. Hatch's bill would offer money for law enforcement and school staff training, campus infrastructure upgrades and mental health resources.

House and Senate Republicans have been talking about boosting school safety resources, and House Speaker Paul Ryan has mentioned that effort.

But Ryan has shown little interest in stricter gun control proposals being floated in Congress, largely leaving the issue in the hands of Trump and wary Senate leaders.

GOP leaders did not promise votes on the various gun-related bills, and they stopped short of offering solutions beyond pending legislation aimed at increasing participation in the existing federal background check system.

Even as he endorsed the measure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell downplayed its significance, saying it would not be a "panacea" for the rash of gun violence.

But McConnell said he wanted to "at least show some progress toward dealing with one element of the problem."

The legislation from Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., would strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, though votes were not yet scheduled amid resistance from within the GOP ranks and demands by Democrats to vote on other measures.

The "Fix NICS" bill, similar to one approved last year in the House, would reward federal agencies and states that utilize the background check system, and penalize those that don't properly report required records used to determine whether someone can legally buy a gun. It was introduced last fall after the shooting of churchgoers in Texas. At the time, authorities acknowledged having failed to report the Texas gunman's domestic violence conviction to the database.

"Let's do what we can and build from there," Cornyn said.

One of Trump's proposals, to prohibit sales of bump stocks —— the devices that turn rifles into automatic-style weapons and were used in the Las Vegas mass shooting last fall — is being considered by the Justice Department.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said top officials believe the hardware can be banned through the regulatory process, a departure from the Obama administration's approach. The approach is preferred by the NRA and could relieve Congress of pressure for legislative action.

exclusive top story
Sioux City's Aalfs Manufacturing sold to Mexican garment company

SIOUX CITY | Aalfs Manufacturing Co., one of Sioux City’s oldest family-owned businesses and one of the largest textile manufacturers in the Western Hemisphere, has been sold to a Mexico-based garment company.

Grupo Siete Leguas, a family-owned jean and denim producer headquartered in Lerdo, Durango, Mexico, purchased Aalfs in a transaction completed Feb. 8. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Alex Rodawig, one of Aalfs' managing partners, confirmed the sale to the Journal Wednesday.

Rodawig is a grandson of Wilbur Aalfs, who led the family’s transition into the apparel manufacturing business after acquiring the former H.A. Baker Company in 1939. 

“The Aalfs office on Historic Fourth will continue as is and Aalfs will continue to operate as a subsidiary of Siete Leguas, so really all that kind of took place on Feb. 8 was the ownership change from our family to the family that owns Siete Leguas,” Rodawig said. “Aalfs continues as a U.S. company, as it has in the past, and all the employees continue doing what they’re doing.”

Aalfs has an American workforce of about 100, with 40 of them based at the corporate offices in the historic Boston Block at 1005 Fourth St.

About 15 employees are in the sales and marketing offices in Dallas and Minneapolis, and the remainder work at Aalfs' distribution center in Mena, Arkansas.

Alex Rodawig; his brother Andy, a partner in the business; and another relative, Kevin Kelly, a managing partner based in the Minneapolis office, will help oversee the company’s transition.

Prior to the sale, Aalfs and Siete Leguas had done business with each another for more than 25 years. Alex Rodawig described the relationship as a “friendly competition.”

Having that type of long-term association with the firm is why he and other family members felt comfortable selling to them.

“One of the really attractive parts of this was the fact that this is another family-owned business that we’ve known for a long time,” Rodawig said. “The main advantage to this is, obviously, is size. By putting the two companies together overnight it becomes the largest denim manufacturer in the Americas.

“That’s going to enable Siete Leguas to continue to flourish and prosper in the future and be able to compete with other large manufacturers that are in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.”

The combined company will employ more than 10,000 in the United States, Mexico and Nicaragua, produce up to 20 million pairs of jeans annually, and export to more than 40 counties.

The expanded business plans to focus on the production of jeans, denim fabrics and other textile products for major clothing brands and department stores, including Levi’s, Polo Ralph Lauren, JCPenney, Target, Lucky Brand and other popular U.S. labels.

While the Aalfs name will live on, the sale does mark the end of an era of ownership for one of Sioux City’s most prominent business families.

The Rodawig brothers and Kelly represent what Alex Rodawig calls the third generation of ownership for the modern version of Aalfs Manufacturing.

The second generation included his late father, William Rodawig, who worked as a company senior vice president for more than 40 years, and his uncle Jack Aalfs, Wilbur’s son, who served as the company’s president and chairman for nearly 50 years.

H.A. Baker began manufacturing work shirts, pants and overalls in this building located between Jones and Jennings streets in 1892. The company later became known as Aalfs Manufacturing, which was sold earlier this month to a Mexico-based garment business.

The company history dates to 1892 when H.A. Baker began manufacturing work shirts, pants and overalls in a building located between Jones and Jennings streets, in addition to running a small general store.

In 1929, Baker moved his business to the Boston Block, where the company shared space with Aalfs Paint and Glass Co., which was operated by Nittert Aalfs, Wilbur’s father.

When Baker Co. fell on hard times in 1939, Wilbur Aalfs led the charge for the family to take over the garment business, which was renamed Aalfs-Baker Manufacturing Co.

DDreeszen / Sioux City Journal file photo 

An assembly line at the Aalfs Manufacturing Co. plant in Sioux City is shown in a 1940s-era photo. The 126-year-old Sioux City-based company has been sold to a Mexico-based garment manufacturer.

The newly formed company caught its first big break when it was awarded a contract to produce jeans for the U.S. Navy during World War II, followed by securing its first contract with department store chain JCPenney in 1943.

As sales grew, Aalfs increased its footprint in Iowa by opening plants in Le Mars in 1943, Sheldon in 1955, Spencer in 1962 and Storm Lake in 1966. The Sioux City-based firm eventually crossed the border into South Dakota when it opened a Yankton plant in 1993.

The company also built what eventually became a 144,000-square-foot manufacturing/distribution facility in Sioux City’s Bridgeport industrial area in 1976. Today, that building houses Industrial Design and Fabrication and Installation Inc.

At its peak domestic employment, Aalfs had more than 1,000 workers in the region, a number that slowly trickled down as the 1990s approached.

Aalfs shuttered its Storm Lake plant in December 1989. In the 1990s, the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade deal between the United States, Canada and Mexico that removed tariffs and other barriers, kickstarted Aalfs' burgeoning international production efforts.

Aalfs had already opened its first full-service Mexican plants in 1992, and, by 1999, it ceased production at all of its remaining U.S. plants, eliminating 500 jobs.

In addition to being one of the region’s largest job creators for decades, the Aalfs/Rodawig family has long been a major community supporter.

The downtown public library that opened in the late 1980s was named for Wilbur Aalfs in recognition of the family's $500,000 naming gift.

Various family members have served and continue to serve on boards for numerous organizations, ranging from the Boys Club of Sioux City to the United Way of Siouxland.

Aalfs Manufacturing timeline

In 1984, Aalfs Manufacturing also started a major restoration of the Boston Block, uncovering the structure’s original façade. The project sparked the revitalization of Fourth Street in subsequent years, as other architecturally significant buildings were renovated, turning the street into a burgeoning entertainment and shopping district.  

While the Aalfs family will soon no longer have a direct connection to the 126-year-old business that bears their name, Alex Rodawig noted family members still plan to be active in Sioux City.

“We’ve always cared about the community. We care about all of our employees. We’re very grateful to have the opportunity that we have had for so many years,” he said.

“To be able to grow a business like this in Sioux City, it means everything to us and so does the community. I hope that we will be remembered as good stewards.”

Before/after photos: Historic Fourth Street

See images of buildings on Historic Fourth Street from the Sioux City Public Museum archives compared with images from 2017.

Move your mouse across the photos to reveal the before and after photos.

Archive photos courtesy Sioux City Public Museum. Photos by Amy Hynds

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Senate Republicans approve massive tax cut plan

DES MOINES | Majority Senate Republicans passed a sweeping tax relief and simplification plan Wednesday they called a “bold” initiative that will cut individual and corporate income tax rates by $1 billion and spur growth, but a minority Democrat warned they are riding “a bobsled to bankruptcy.”

Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called the plan a bold approach that simplifies Iowa’s complicated system, improves the state’s competitive position and delivers “the largest tax cut in history of the state of Iowa.”

Senators voted 29-21 to approve Senate File 2383 and sent it to the Iowa House. All 29 GOP senators voted for the bill while independent Sen. David Johnson joined 20 Democrats in opposing the measure.

“Today is a monumental day for Iowa families and Iowa workers,” said Feenstra. “Today we’ll vote on a bill that lets hard-working Iowans keep more of their paychecks because this will be the largest tax cut in Iowa history.

“Today we’re taking a bold step in making Iowa’s economy more competitive. Currently Iowa has the most complicated tax system in the nation. These issues have been stifling the Iowa economy,” he added. “Yes, this is bold. Senators, we must be bold if we want to drive Iowa’s economy by creating higher wages, more jobs and more opportunities.”

The plan, called the Iowa Working Families Tax Relief Act, seeks to eliminate Iowa’s federal deductibility feature in favor of cutting personal income taxes by 30 percent over a two-and-a-half year period of indexing. Iowa’s top individual income tax rate will be lowered from 8.98 percent to 6.3 percent and the corporate income tax rate will come down from 12 percent to 7 percent. The number of brackets will be compressed from nine rates to five for individuals. On the corporate side, Iowa’s four brackets will be reduced to two rates of 7 percent and 5.5 percent, providing about $240 million in relief over five years.

However, minority Democrats questioned how Republicans would pay for the massive cuts, noting the state budget lawmakers have to put together yet this session would take a $246 million hit in revenue under the Senate GOP plan. They also noted that majority Republicans in the Iowa House planned to work off Gov. Kim Reynolds’ tax cut plan rather than the Senate approach.

“This is a bill that’s going nowhere,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, noting the bill was put on a one-week fast track from the time it was introduced until it came before senators on Wednesday. “We literally were flying blind into the abyss and I believe that this is the height of fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement.”

Democrats said the plan was being pushed with no public input and they predicted the tax cut would have “catastrophic consequences” for public education, public safety, managed health care or other vital services with the affect felt hardest in rural Iowa. They also said 4 percent of Iowans in the upper tax brackets would reap 22 percent of the benefits.

“We are taking a drastic, dark and disastrous path tonight,” said McCoy. “We seem to be on a fast track. Sen. Feenstra, I know you mean well, but you are about to pilot a bobsled to bankruptcy for the state of Iowa, I have no doubt about it.”

According to a state Department of Revenue analysis, the 566,405 Iowa income-tax filers who make $10,000 or less in 2023 would see an average cut in their individual income tax liability of $178, or 240 percent. The dollar averages would grow, but the percentage increases would decline among the various income brackets with those making $250,000 experiencing a $1,702 reduction and the 11,017 Iowans making over $1 million annually would receive a 12.7 percent tax cut averaging $5,796. Overall, state income tax collections would drop by $1.031 billion, an average cut of $610 or 22.7 percent, for the estimated 1,690,920 state income-tax filers.

A separate analysis of S.F. 2383 by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency indicated that the multi-year GOP tax plan would reduce general fund revenue by more than $1.163 billion in fiscal 2023 in a state that has an annual budget currently at $7.2 billion. The cumulative effect of the yearly tax reductions would top $4 billion by fiscal 2023.

According to the LSA analysis, the state general fund impact of the Senate GOP plan would be a reduction of $207.8 million in the 2019 fiscal year that begins July 1. In the following fiscal years, the revenue impact is a $770 million reduction in fiscal 2020, $941.3 million in fiscal 2021, $1.069 billion in fiscal 2022, and a $1.163 billion overall revenue reduction in fiscal 2023. The overall reduction to the state individual income tax collection would be $979.4 million and $267.4 million in state corporate income tax receipts by fiscal 2023.

Reynolds told reporters Wednesday it was a “positive” development that elected officials were discussing Iowa tax-law changes which she said was made possible by a federal tax package that was signed into law by President Trump last December.

“I’m excited that we’re talking about tax cuts,” the governor said. “They put a plan together, I put a plan together and now the conversation begins.” She said any changes to the state’s tax code have to be “responsible.”

Reynolds unveiled her plan last month to cut Iowans personal income taxes by $1.7 billion over five years, revamp rates by phasing out federal deductibility and equalize sales tax collections by treating Main Street and online businesses alike. Her plan did not address corporate income tax changes.

“I feel very good about the proposal that we put forward,” Reynolds said. “It reduces taxes, reduces rates and really modernizes the tax code, which needs to happen.”

David Roederer, leader of the state Department of Management who also serves as the Reynolds-Gregg administration budget director, said the governor’s tax-cut proposal fits within the five-year state budget projections and includes triggers that delay implementation if the economy slows down or stops growing.

“We need to be able to sustain it, we need to do it in a responsible manner,” Reynolds said of state tax reductions, adding that she also wants to honor commitments that have been made to education and to “continue to fund priorities of our administration” which her approach would do.

Sioux City Public Museum 

Aalfs Manufacturing has occupied the Boston Block on Historic Fourth Street since 1929.

Steve Alexander