Dubuque city, business leaders pitch priorities at D.C. Fly-In

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, left a meeting with Dubuque city and business leaders at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday with a clear sense of the local officials’ top priorities for federal lawmakers.

“First and foremost, they said the first, second and third priority for them is air service,” Ernst said following the meeting.

A delegation of city government, business and nonprofit leaders brought their top needs to federal officials at the nation’s capital this week during Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce’s D.C. Fly-In. The group spent two days meeting with members of the area’s congressional delegation and with staff from federal agencies, wrapping up their visit Thursday.

“Our goal is to build a better Dubuque, and our vision is to do it through people, planning and partnerships, and that’s what we represented in D.C.,” said Teri Hawks Goodmann, the city of Dubuque’s director of strategic partnerships.

At the top of the Dubuque delegation’s priority list was reinforcing to federal lawmakers and agencies the importance of restoring daily commercial air service to Dubuque after American Airlines halted service to Dubuque Regional Airport in September 2022.

Local leaders have been working since then to return daily air service to Dubuque, efforts that have yielded, among other things, a $1.5 million federal Small Community Air Service Development Program grant that officials can use to help attract a new carrier.

“Air service is a high priority for all the organizations and governmental agencies in Dubuque — city, county, Greater Dubuque Development (Corp.), the chamber, Travel Dubuque,” said airport Director Todd Dalsing.

While city and chamber leaders have been advocating to federal lawmakers as they seek to bring additional air service to the community, there’s nothing that replaces a face-to-face meeting with legislators, said Molly Grover, president and CEO of the Dubuque chamber.

“Making this trip a priority says way more than a phone call or a letter ever could, and they heard loud and clear there’s no doubt that air service is indeed the No. 1 priority and that we are going to continue to work every angle until we are successful in achieving that goal,” she said.

Among the Dubuque delegation’s meetings was a stop at the office of U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa. Hinson noted afterward that her office has worked to connect local leaders with airline officials and worked on additional funding opportunities such as the grant the Dubuque airport received.

Hinson said she was impressed by the broad coalition the Dubuque community has built around support for air service.

“It is amazing to see a community come together in this way, and I almost would say it’s unprecedented to see so many people working this well together on an issue that everybody is so passionate about,” she said.

While air service was top of mind for attendees of the D.C. Fly-In, they also made sure to highlight other priorities to federal lawmakers, such as the protection and enhancement of historic tax credits, immigration reform to help bolster the workforce and support for the city’s grant applications.

“It’s important that we have a realistic and effective immigration system in the United States so that people can immigrate to this country and become a part of the workforce,” Mayor Brad Cavanagh said. “… I think that somehow we need to figure out a way to have an actually effective immigration policy in the United States, and that will take congressional action.”

The trip also came with some positive news in an announcement from U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, which noted that the city of Dubuque and East Central Intergovernmental Association had been awarded a $2 million grant to support a future phase of the city’s Smart Traffic Routing with Efficient and Effective Traffic Signals — or STREETS — project, which seeks to develop a smart traffic management system for the city.

The first phase of the project has focused on developing technology for signals and signage on major corridors to manage traffic more efficiently. That phase is expected to begin rolling out this year.

The latest grant will be used to help develop an open “Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything,” or C-V2X interface. The technology uses transportation information to detect hazards, reduce traffic congestion and alert drivers to collision trajectories in near-real time, according to a news release.

Assistant City Engineer Bob Schiesl noted that he learned about the grant just before their meeting with Grassley on Thursday morning.

“It was a really nice opportunity to celebrate with Senator Grassley and his staff, because it’s such an important component to be able to get the funding to keep advancing this state-of-the-art project,” Schiesl said.

Grassley said following his meeting with the local delegation that he was pleased to announce to the group their receipt of the grant. He also noted the value of opportunities, such as the Fly-In, that highlight what is most important to communities.

“When we get people that are together in their own community, and that means people of all political persuasions, different businesses, civic leaders … you come out unified, and it makes our job a lot easier,” he said.