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Sioux City applying for new program to spur investment in low-income areas

SIOUX CITY | Sioux City plans to apply for a new federal program meant to spur private investment in low-income areas.

The city is putting together an application to designate as many as 12 of the city's 22 census tracts as "Opportunity Zones," meaning that businesses and property within those areas would be eligible to receive future investments from "Opportunity Funds" being set up by the federal government. 

The program, which is still in the works, is part of the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which President Trump signed into law late last year. The Opportunity Zones are intended to draw from the billions of dollars of capital gains in the U.S. as a result of the robust stock market.

Under the program, private investors will receive tax incentives to reinvest their unrealized capital gains into the Opportunity Funds. Those funds will then invest 90 percent of those dollars into the qualifying low-income census tracts.

To qualify, the census tracts must have a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater or family income at less than 80 percent of the area's median income. States can nominate up to one-fourth of the qualifying census tracts to the federal government, meaning the city must go through a competitive application process to receive the designation. 

Iowa has 239 eligible census tracts, meaning 60 can be nominated by the state. Sioux City has 22 census tracts, of which 12 qualify for the program.

The Sioux City Council will vote Monday on a resolution showing its support for the city's application. 

City economic development director Marty Dougherty said that if approved, the designation would be another valuable economic development tool to help fund private development in the eligible areas. 


"This is a tool we've never had before," Dougherty said. "Attracting capital investment into businesses or developments in Sioux City will be very beneficial to Sioux City."

Dougherty said the highest-priority census tract on Sioux City's application will likely be the one that includes downtown and a portion of the city's industrial area. Dougherty said it provides a large amount of land and a combination of commercial, residential and industrial property. 

He said he hopes the city is able to receive the designation for multiple tracts. Other eligible areas include much of central Sioux City, the west side and east side. 

To make its selection, the state will use criteria including community vision, economic hardship, past successes, average unemployment rate and the plan of the community if the designation is awarded. Applications are due March 19. 

Hoping for a good robot run
Sioux City robotics team heads to super regional

SIOUX CITY -- A group of 11 technologically savvy students from three metro high schools are about to see in a top-tier competition if their robot Pete will be able to run through a set of skills, such as placing a foam ball into a column without human guidance.

Students in the local 4-H Robotics Club will take part in the FIRST Tech Challenge super regional, for a chance to move into the world championship in Detroit.

"You have to come up with a creative solution," team member Shelby Murray said. "We are hoping to keep going through. I think we have a good chance to make it through the qualifying rounds."

The 11 pupils are Murray, Areeha Ilyas and Wajeeha Mariam of Sioux City North High School, Ethan France, Beth Burbridge and Tori Nelson of East High School, and Brody Williams, Andrew Jochum, Hannah Meehan, Sebastian Gonzalez and Joey Franco of Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School.

Some students have teamed up in prior years. They have taken the name Avengers Tech, because they like superheroes. The robot this year is named Pete, after Peter Parker, the alter ego of Spider-Man.

They will take Pete -- roughly 18 inches tall and 18 inches wide -- to the Relic Recovery competition, where robots are pitted in tests of speed and precision. During the competition, sometimes Pete will be moving without student help, and other times the Avengers Tech team will use a controller similar to that used in Xbox games.

The robot was built using Android cellphone technology, plus metal gears, motors, sensors and game controllers.

Over many weeks, the students worked out the kinks and technical bugs to get the robot to where they wanted it to be. Murray said team members over time have gotten Pete well-versed to replicate tasks.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Tori Nelson, a senior at East High School and member of a local 4-H robotic team, demonstrates her team's entry in the FIRST Tech Challenge super regional this week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The team will be in the North super-regional tournament at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where about 70 teams from 12 states will compete Thursday through Saturday. They all advanced out of qualifying tournaments.

University of Iowa College of Engineering representative Rebecca Whitaker, who is the FIRST Tech Challenge affiliate partner in Iowa, said the challenge promotes exciting, project-based learning in a fun environment.

The two parent coaches of the Avengers Tech team are Dave Nelson and Scott France, of Sioux City.

Dave Nelson said the team members have good rapport in spite of coming from three schools, as they all are high-functioning students who have strong interests in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Nelson said the majority of team members have done robotics competitions since middle school.

"They've had interest in it from way back," Dave Nelson said. "They're so good because they've been doing it so long."

Tori Nelson is one of five seniors on the team, and among several who plan to study engineering in college. Nelson said the Pete project is the best since she began robotics competitions in seventh grade.

"Once I got into it, I had so much fun being creative," Tori Nelson said. "It is really fun to do hands-on stuff and learn as I go."

The team has been functioning since the beginning of the school year, and usually had intensive two-hour practices twice per week. In the run-up to Cedar Rapids, practices are now daily, explained Jochum, a junior at SB-L.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

A detail from a robot is seen at a 4-H robotics meeting in Sergeant Bluff.

Jochum said the final few days will see team members finalizing ideas recently shared to get Pete's front arm to function very consistently.

"Our team has good synergy, we can work together very well," Jochum said. "We have never just showed up (for a competition) without being completely ready."

Three other super regional events will be taking place in Spokane, Washington; Athens, Georgia; and Scranton, Pennsylvania.


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GALLAGHER: Kentucky paramedic sees parallels in officiating basketball

SIOUX CITY | One works in insurance. Another has semi tractor-trailers that haul portable shower units to fire fighters on the front lines.

One bicycles in corners throughout the U.S.

Another serves in the automotive industry, while one toils in information technology.

I'm referring to the officials adjudicating the action this week at the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Championship. You can't play the games without dedicated men and women who do their level best to see that it all plays out safely and fairly.

When they're not running up and down a 94-foot court, you see, they're serving their companies, families and communities in a variety of occupations.

Hannah Ingle joined the fun as the tournament tipped off at the Tyson Events Center on Wednesday. Ingle, who hails from Lexington, Kentucky, made her national tournament debut in the process.

Her career? She's a paramedic, one who works 24 hours on, then takes 48 hours off.

"I was a social worker coming out of college," she says, noting how she served as a family preservation specialist who worked on the counseling side to keep families together.

After a few years, she transitioned into medical care and now works as a paramedic, sometimes finding herself in the eye of the storm, making quick decisions, doing all she can to show a steady hand in moments of grave crisis.

I asked for examples.

Ingle spoke of a multi-vehicle crash involving an ejection and a rollover in which she and her coworkers attempted to stabilize the victim without success. The man died.

"There are also good outcomes," she said, recalling an occasion last year where a man called to say he was sweating and wasn't sure what was wrong. And while it sounded rather benign, it wasn't.

"When we got to his residence, his heart rate was in the 20s and he was alone," she said. "He was pale and ashen and sweating profusely."

In short, the man was on the verge of suffering what laymen might term, "The Widow-maker."

The paramedics beat national standards in time for getting the patient from his door to the emergency room. He was then rushed to surgery and saved.

"The man and his wife came to visit us at Christmas, to thank us," she said.

Does work as a paramedic have much in common with that of a basketball referee?

According to Ingle, a basketball referee must show a great degree of certainty and calm, making flash-point decisions while demonstrating control.

This is often done while those involved in the game treat it like a "life-and-death situation."

While I made that remark humorously, Ingle backed the assertion and did so in a way that didn't demean coaches, players or fans who remain serious about having a basketball game called correctly.

In short, she said, people take basketball seriously because it means so much to them. Players and coaches, she understands, devote so much time and energy to this pastime. They demand the same of those who work make the calls.

"You want to hustle as much as the players do," Ingle said. "You want to get it right for those who are out there competing."

The rush of adrenaline while working an intense game of basketball can mirror the work of a paramedic in a speeding ambulance. Ingle said she might not be cut out for the typical 8-to-5 office job.

Ingle, 33, has officiated basketball for 14 years, and has worked NCAA Division II and III hoops in addition to women's games at the NAIA Division I and II levels. After having worked in the high school ranks for several years, she's worked exclusively at the collegiate level the past five years.

"I'm enjoying this immensely," she said while standing just beyond the baseline at the Tyson Events Center. "It's been a great experience. This city has made us over so big, we're delighted to be here."

Interestingly, the former high school basketball player didn't compete in this sport at college. Ingle, instead, played shortstop at Northern Kentucky until a torn labrum in her right shoulder forced her to put down her glove for a season.

"I was 18 or 19 years old, and, for the first time in my life, I wasn't an athlete," she said. The predicament led to some soul-searching and, eventually, a maturation process.

"I learned I had to grow emotionally, socially, and in other ways," she said.

She began officiating basketball and found it be not only a source of income to help replace the loss of an athletic scholarship, but an incredibly rewarding athletic outlet for her. She's been working basketball games ever since.

And enjoying the journey, one that's taken her and her whistle from the basketball hot-spot of Lexington to another hoops epicenter of sorts, Sioux City, Iowa.

Trump backs off call for raising minimum age to buy gun

WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday pledged to help states pay for firearms training for teachers and reiterated its call to improve the background check system as part of a new plan to prevent school shootings.

But in a move sure to please the gun lobby, the plan does not include a push to increase the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21, which President Donald Trump had repeatedly championed.

Instead, a new federal commission on school safety will examine the age issue, as well as a long list of others topics, as part of a longer-term look at school safety and violence.

The plan forgoes an endorsement of comprehensive background checks for gun purchases, which the president, at times, seemed to embrace.

In a call with reporters Sunday evening, administration officials described the plan as a fulfillment of Trump's call for action in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that left 17 dead.

"Today we are announcing meaningful actions, steps that can be taken right away to help protect students," said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who will chair the commission.

DeVos said that "far too often, the focus" after such tragedies "has been only on the most contentious fights, the things that have divided people and sent them into their entrenched corners." She described the plan as "pragmatic."

The plan was immediately panned by gun control advocates, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Americans expecting real leadership to prevent gun violence will be disappointed and troubled by President Trump's dangerous retreat from his promise," said Avery Gardiner, the group's co-president.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called the plan "weak on security and an insult to the victims of gun violence." In a statement, he added, "When it comes to keeping our families safe, it's clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are all talk and no action."

The plan is less ambitious than the changes Trump advocated in a series of listening sessions in the weeks after the massacre. In televised meetings with lawmakers, survivors of recent school shootings and the families of victims, Trump made a strong case for arming teachers, but also increasing the age for purchasing long guns.

"I mean, so they buy a revolver — a handgun — they buy at the age of 21. And yet, these other weapons that we talk about ... they're allowed to buy them at 18. So how does that make sense?" he told school officials last month. "We're going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18."

White House spokesman Raj Shah had said earlier Sunday in an interview with ABC's "This Week" that "the president has been clear that he does support raising the age to 21" and that that would be a "component" of the announcement.

But Trump also has spoken repeatedly in recent weeks with the heads of the powerful National Rifle Association, which considers increasing the age of purchase to be an assault on the Second Amendment. The NRA on Friday sued Florida over a new gun law signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott that bans the purchase of firearms by anyone under the age of 21.

Instead, the issue will be one of manyf topics to be studied by the DeVos commission, which will then provide recommendations to the president. Administration officials said they had not set a deadline for the commission's recommendations, but expected they'd be made within a year.

Trump's embrace of another commission appears at odds with comments he made Saturday night mocking their use, at least when it comes to fighting drug addiction.

During the meetings, Trump also advocated arming certain teachers and school staffers, arguing that gun-free schools are "like an invitation for these very sick people" to commit murder.

"If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could end the attack very quickly," he has said.

As part of the plan, the White House has directed the Justice Department to help states partner with local law enforcement to provide "rigorous firearms training to specifically qualified volunteer school personnel," said Andrew Bremberg, director of the president's Domestic Policy Council. The White House did not immediately say how much money would be made available.

Trump also called on states to pass temporary, court-issued Risk Protection Orders, which allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from individuals who pose risks to themselves and others, and temporarily prevent them from buying firearms. And he called for the reform and expansion of mental health programs, as well as a full audit and review of the FBI tip line. The bureau has been criticized for not following up on warnings about the suspect in the Parkland school shooting.

During the often free-wheeling conversations, Trump also seemed to voice support for "universal" background checks, which would apply to private gun sales and those at gun shows, instead of just from licensed dealers. He also raised eyebrows by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate guns from those they deem a safety risk even before a court has weighed in.

"Take the guns first, go through due process second," Trump said.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later walked back both suggestions, saying "Universal means something different to a lot of people." She said the president wanted to expedite the court process, not circumvent it.

Instead, the White House reiterated its support for improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check through the "Fix NICS" bill, which would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences.

The White House called on Congress to pass a second bill that would create a federal grant program to train students, teachers and school officials how to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early. The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote on the STOP School Violence Act next week.