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$1.8B fertilizer plant under construction in Iowa

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WEVER, Iowa (AP) — The construction of a $1.8 billion fertilizer plant is having a significant impact on southeast Iowa, but many people still debate how much the project will boost the economy over the long-term.

The plant Orascom Construction is building is supposed to create 165 permanent jobs after construction is done, the Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/1iGlaNV ). In return, the company received $100 million in state tax breaks.

About 1,500 construction workers are building the plant near Wever, and that number is expected to grow to nearly 2,500 later this year. The plant is expected to be completed in late 2015.

Lee County Sheriff Jim Scholl said area residents have already noticed the heavy construction traffic.

"We're taking a rich farmland area with lots of flat land, and suddenly we have a huge industrial complex being built," he said. "You have a small community that recognizes every vehicle that passes by, and suddenly they have hundreds of cars going by."

The project's supporters expect the plant to provide an economic boost to the region and state.

Larry Kruse with the Lee County Economic Development Group said he hopes the plant will lead to other projects in the future.

"We're looking to bring in opportunity throughout the county, not just in this area, but having this plant located here makes it attractive for other companies to potentially locate here," Kruse said.

But Iowa State University economist David Swenson said the state overpaid because the project isn't likely to have a significant lasting impact on the economy.

"I think this was by far the dumbest economic decision made in Iowa," Swenson said. "We overpaid, we over-subsidized on all levels."

Iowa economic development officials offered Orascom Construction such significant incentives because of the size of the project. And at times the Iowa site was competing against a site in Illinois.

Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham said she remains confident that this project is a good one for the state.

"I own this deal, and I stand behind those numbers because the data, the independent studies, show that this was a good deal," she said.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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