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Some familiar issues and challenges await Siouxland in the new year. Here's a look at five top stories we'll be watching and talking about in the 12 months ahead.

Will the courts find MRHD breached its contract with Penn National Gaming?

In September 2012, the Belle of Sioux City, a subsidiary of Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn, the nation's largest gaming company, sued Missouri River Historical Development, the state-licensed nonprofit group that had held Woodbury County's gambling license since 1989, claiming that MRHD schemed to replace the Argosy with another operator even before their 20-year contract expired in July 2012.

MRHD denied the allegations and countersued, claiming that Penn interfered with MRHD's prospective relationships by sending letters threatening legal action against potential operators with whom MRHD might pursue an agreement. After the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission solicited bids for a land-based casino in Sioux City, MRHD partnered with the owner of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which was awarded the license and opened Aug. 1, 2014. An IRGC order forced the Argosy to close two days earlier.

A key test of whether the case will go to trial will come in early January, when a Polk County District Court judge will hear oral arguments in MRHD's motion for summary judgement. 

Will Seaboard Triumph Foods encounter trouble staffing a second shift?

STF, a joint venture between Seaboard Foods and Triumph Foods, opened its $300 million pork plant in early September with a single shift and has since ramped up to 1,100 employees. With construction on an expansion nearing completion, the company has started recruiting for an additional 900 hourly workers for the second shift anticipated to start in early summer.

With the metro Sioux City unemployment rate remaining below 3 percent, the company likely will have to look beyond the tri-state region to attract enough candidates. Helping to settle refugees from other countries remains an option for supplementing the labor pool.

Will Siouxland incumbent office holders win re-election?

With dissatisfaction with President Trump at a pitched fever, the political winds seem to be blowing against Republican candidates who will be on the ballot in the midterm elections. Democrats hope that will create an opening to finally unseat controversial Iowa 4th District Rep. Steve King, who also faces a challenger from within his own party.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who replaced longtime Gov. Terry Branstad after he resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China last year, will run for her own first term. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts is expected to seek his second term, while South Dakota will have a new governor in 2019, with two-term Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard term-limited.

Locally, Republican Woodbury County Board of Supervisors members Matthew Ung and Jeremy Taylor, the last two chairmen of the five-county board, will face re-election for the first time in November.  

Will ambulance service suffer?

When Siouxland Paramedics ceases emergency response Jan. 1, Sioux City and North Sioux City will take over providing ambulance service to their residents. At the same time, the outlying areas that relied on SPI for paramedic assists in critical situations will no longer have that service.

Sioux City could be on the hook for $600,000 to $1 million in additional costs over the next six months as it takes over in-town ambulance services. It will have to figure out as it goes what the exact subsidy will be and how it’s going to pay for the ongoing service in future budget years. Meanwhile, the rural areas across the region will also need to figure out what they can do to address the gaps in paramedic care SPI has left.

Will Spectra deliver on its promises?

Philadelphia-based Spectra takes over management of the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre Jan. 1. The private firm has pledged to increase the number of shows at the venues, to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars for improvements and reduce the city’s subsidy by $270,000 in the first year.

The city is banking on a smooth transition from public to private management and the promised reduction in the subsidy it pays for Tyson operations. How well Spectra delivers will be among the things closely monitored by the city this year.

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