Mahdi Eghbali, founder of Verdilife. PHOTO JPEC 
A University of Iowa startup has won $50,000 for a new technology cleaning and speeding a formerly dirty agricultural process, moving it one step closer to market. 
Verdilife, founded by Mahdi Eghbali, now a Ph.D. candidate in economics at the UI, uses a proprietary process to transform wood and other biomasses into wood vinegar, an all-natural pesticide and fertilizer used by farmers since ancient times, with no emissions or pollution. The system, known as the Nano-Intelligent Smokeless Bio-Char System, is self-powered and capable of being transported into the back of a truck, allowing it to make use of wood waste anywhere.
The company has already won its share of accolades, including a first-place win at the John Pappajohn Student Venture Competition in April, but snagged its biggest in mid-May, beating out nine other collegiate startup teams from around the country to win first place and $50,000 at the Department of Energy-sponsored MegaWatt Ventures competition in Orlando, Florida.
Verdilife will now move on to compete for an additional $50,000 prize at the DOE's Cleantech University Prize national competition, to be held in June at Rice University in Houston.
"Our presentation was pretty sophisticated - all of the judges were older and had experience in energy and clean tech, so they asked the most technical questions," Mr. Eghbali recalled of the competition experience. "Having the best technology is not enough to win those prizes, so the presentation has to be sophisticated."
Verdilife is currently working with organic farmers in Scott and Johnson counties to test its wood vinegar product and is registering its technology with the Environmental Protection Agency. Once that's done, the company will have to seek product approvals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture before it can sell its product - a process that's just two to three months out, according to Mr. Eghbali.
He added that the company is already in negotiations with a distributor to sell the product to organic producers around the country - a fast-growing segment in need of better pesticide solutions.
"We were talking to Earl May about the product, and on the fertilizer side it's been fine, but on the pesticide side, there's not that many organic options," he said. "As Mr. Pappajohn mentioned at last month's competition, we're in the right place at the right time."
UUnited Technologies announces $15B domestic investment plan 
United Technologies Corp., which is poised to complete its acquisition of Rockwell Collins this summer, announced plans last week to invest $15 billion in capital expenditures and R&D in the United States, and to add several thousand new jobs over the next five years.
"United Technologies is growing globally and [the company is] growing the fastest in the United States," Gregory Hayes, UTC's chairman and CEO, said in a release. "Over the past three years, we have created more jobs in the U.S. than in the rest of the world combined."
About $9 billion of the investments planned by UTC will go towards R&D, including initiatives to accelerate its digital strategy. The remaining $6 billion is expected to go towards capital expenditures to drive innovation and improve capacity and efficiency. 
UTC, based in Connecticut employs more than 200,000 people in more than 75 countries, including 67,000 in the United States. It expects to hire for 35,000 positions in U.S. over the next five years. Most openings will result from workforce retirements or normal turnover. Several thousand positions are expected to be entirely new jobs.
The company said its investments will add capacity to serve customers in the aerospace and commercial building industries, which are benefitting from rapid urbanization, a growing middle class and the growth of air travel.
"Our investments reflect our core belief that, similar to U.S. economic goals, United Technologies' continued success will be dependent on a highly-skilled workforce, world class manufacturing facilities, and workforce education programs that enable employees to improve their skills and remain competitive in an increasingly digital economy," Mr. Hayes said.
The company also released a website dedicated to highlight its domestic investments.
Para3This week's CBJ: Hydroponics spurring new growth at MV farm
A employee inspects early-season organic lettuce growing in a new hydroponic greenhouse, which extends Bass Farms' growing season.
Chris Bass says his new hydroponic greenhouse enables Bass Farms to adapt to changing markets for locally sourced produce.
"It's the future, it really is," Mr. Bass, 33, said one recent morning. "It uses less water than the field and you don't have to rely on the weather. Right now, nobody has lettuce in the field. I have a couple thousand heads sitting in the nursery. I don't care anymore what the weather does, and that's a big help."
Bass Farms is one of 4,068 Iowa farms - about 5 percent of the state's total - that sold about $194 million worth of food directly to consumers in 2015, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey. The Iowa State Extension Service estimates $31.4 million of that total to be from fresh produce, with the balance coming from meat and dairy products.
Iowans spent about $8 billion on food that year, just 14 percent of it grown in-state.
The greenhouse near Bass Farms' retail store on Highway 30 and west of Mount Vernon became operational Jan. 1. The 24-by-70-foot structure boasts security cameras and its own computer-controlled climate, both linked to Mr. Bass' smartphone.
In the works for two years, Mr. Bass expects the greenhouse to pay for itself in just three. Inside the warm, humid structure, "sunlight" comes from 16 LED lights endlessly rolling back and forth on overhead tracks - his alternative to an expensive fixed lighting system.
"Lighting that greenhouse would have been about $35,000," he said. "So we put them on trollies and made them mobile, and we were able to cut down [on costs]. That was a really good deal."
The greenhouse allows Mr. Bass to supply lettuce and edible flowers year-round to area restaurants, a market segment that's proven tough to crack for most local growers.
"They're just really busy people and they tend to work odd hours," Arlene Enderton, coordinator of the ISU Extension's Local Food Program, said of restaurateurs. "They need a pretty consistent supply because they can't change their menu every week. If the restaurant is using local food, they're going to need to change their menu seasonally and the farmer has to provide a consistent supply."
"It's consistency they want, and the clean product," agreed Mr. Bass. "And we're able to do it with the hydro house."
Read the full story in this week's print or digital editions of the CBJ.
In what it calls "a first of its kind resource for the state of Iowa," the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) has launched its Iowa Profile, a centralized and interactive collection of demographic, economic and housing data.
"The Iowa Profile will provide useful data to city, county and state planners, developers, Realtors, housing advocates and others interested in the health and change in Iowa's housing markets, economy and population," said IFA Interim Executive Director Carolann Jensen of the service, which was commissioned by IFA and developed by Western Economic Services LLC.

The Iowa Profile provides interactive and downloadable data on a statewide and county-level basis, as well as on Iowa's largest 28 cities.

Available data includes demographic information such as population changes by gender, race and age; economic data; housing resources such as housing production, household composition, current and future housing demands and HUD-defined "housing problems"; and rental vacancy survey results, which provide timely information on the state rental market.
State officials are already using the Iowa Profile to highlight some interesting statistics, including:
  • Average housing costs in the state have risen in recent years, from $176,325 in 2000 to an all-time high of $235,749 in 2016.
  • The most common housing problem for Iowans is being housing cost-burdened, with 23.7 percent of Iowa households falling into this category by having housing costs exceed 30 percent of their income.
  • According to the 2017 survey of rental properties, which covered 62,050 units across the state, the statewide vacancy rate was 5.8 percent, and it took an average of 35.4 months for a rental unit to be filled. The average two-bedroom apartment rent was $738.70 and the average rent for a three-bedroom house was $913.90.
  • Iowa's homeownership rate has followed national trends and declined since 2000 when it peaked at 75.2 percent. By 2016, the homeownership rate for the state was 70 percent, which is still higher than the national average of 63.4 percent.
"This tool will allow us to enhance our planning capability and make data-driven decisions as we assess future housing needs," said Forest City Economic Development Director Beth Bilyeu in a release, adding it would allow the city to save money and "strategically advance housing priorities in our community."  
Para5STEM Advisory Council receives $200k from Rockwell Collins
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (left) accepts a check for $200,000 from Rockwell Collins leaders for the Governor's STEM Advisory Council.
The Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council recently received $200,000 from longtime corporate partner Rockwell Collins.
The gift, given at a recent STEM Council meeting, will help support the state's STEM initiative for the next three years, officials said in a press release.

"At Rockwell Collins, we are committed to fostering Iowa's economic development opportunities," Adriana Johnson, community program manager in Diversity and Community Relations for Rockwell Collins. "The STEM Council is making significant strides towards helping prepare students for future careers. We believe our investment in STEM is essential to help grow Iowa's talent pipeline."
Established in 2011, the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council is a public-private partnership of educators, companies and Iowa students addressing policies and programs designed to improve the state's educational system focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The council handles a variety of initiatives, including awarding grants to school districts for STEM activities, helping to launch and scale new STEM programs around the state and connecting educators with STEM-related resources and educational opportunities.
"STEM is a driving force in Iowa's strategy to educate our children for the knowledge economy. Rockwell's significant investment maintains our momentum toward this goal and will help change the lives of students across the state," Gov. Kim Reynolds, co-chair of the STEM Council, said in the release.
For more information on the Governor's STEM Advisory Council, click here.
aroundthewebFrom around the web: 
  • ICYMI: CBJ columnist Jen Neumann urges readers to be curious about automation (and here's why).
  • The White House just announced it will impose a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of Chinese goods with "industrially significant technology," with the full list to come, Iowa Public Radio reports.
  • A new "Innovation Lab" at the Science Center of Iowa will focus on technology, WHO-TV reports.
  • Iowa Select Farms has introduced electrostatic fence technology designed to reduce the odors that come with raising hogs, Feedstuff reports.
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Principal Financial PFG 55.24 -2.99 -5.13%
QCR Holdings QCRH 47.75 -0.40 -0.83%
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Short-Term Event Planner
May 29
Emotional Intelligent Leadership , by Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Cedar Rapids Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids. This hour-long session will introduce effective coaching tools and offer new ways to look at leadership and human potential. Free. For more information, visit bit.ly/2vjvcTU.
May 30
1 Million Cups, by 1MC, 9-10 a.m., Geonetric, 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids and MERGE, 136 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City. Join for community connections, startup pitches and free coffee. Free. For more information, visit facebook.com/1MCICR.
Fastest Growing Companies , by Corridor Business Journal, 5:30-8 p.m., Coralville Marriott, 300 E. Ninth St., Coralville. This annual event identifies and honors the region's most dynamic companies that have made significant contributions to the local economy. Tickets: $70. To register, visit corridorbusiness.com/events or contact ashley@corridorbusiness.com .
May 31
Ground Breaking: Prospect Meadows , by Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Marion Chamber of Commerce, noon, 1890 County Home Road, Marion. Help celebrate the ground breaking for this major baseball complex. Free.
Ribbon Cutting: Office Evolution , by Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Marion Chamber of Commerce, 4 p.m., 1120 Depot Lane SE, Ste. 100, Cedar Rapids. Help welcome Office Evolution to the Cedar Rapids business community. Free. For more information, visit bit.ly/2Kr9UqH.
Headlines from CBS2/FOX 28 
These news items are provided by CBS2/FOX 28 
An AMBER Alert issued Tuesday morning for 4-month-old Rashaun Graves Jr. out of Waterloo has been canceled after Rashaun was found safe, the Iowa DOT says. The alert was issued at 9:29 a.m. this morning.

Those needing relief from the heat are now able to utilize a free service from the Salvation Army. The organization is now taking appointments to receive a free box fan while supplies last. Last summer, the Army distributed 201 fans to households in the Linn County area. Those interested in receiving a fan this year must not have received a fan from The Salvation Army in the past and need to bring their Iowa issued picture identification card. There is a limit of one fan per household. Appointments can be made by calling (319) 364-9131.
T hese news items are provided by CBS2/FOX 28 
CBS2 Chief Meteorologist Terry Swails' Weather First Forecast
It's not going to be record-breaking today, but it's still going to be hot. Temperatures will climb into the low 90s this afternoon. With the humidity it will feel like the upper 90s to 100 degrees at times. With more moisture around today there will be the chance for scattered showers and thunderstorms. Some storms could be strong with gusty winds and hail. A few scattered showers will continue through the night and on and off into Wednesday afternoon. Temperatures will be held down in the mid 80s. It will be dry and warm through the end of the week with sunshine and temperatures near 90. Another round of storms will be possible Saturday and temperatures will be in the upper 70s to mid 80s through the weekend.