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From Site Selection magazine, May 2024

Seeing the Whole Court

Two growing companies from Cedar Rapids shoot to national prominence by knowing how to dish off value for others.

Nabyl Agourar is one of more than 800 employee-owners at Cedar Rapids–based Van Meter Inc., which operates 25 locations in seven states.
Image courtesy of Van Meter Inc.

by Adam Bruns

aitlin Clark brought what Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague reported was an $82.5 million economic impact to his city during her years playing basketball for the University of Iowa. But women have been leading Iowa companies to national prominence from headquarters in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City region since long before Clark’s shot to stardom.

There is no shortage of nationally prominent firms with roots in this region known as the Corridor, where the two cities are only 30 miles apart and have a combined population of around 474,000.

Eight of Iowa’s 30 INC. 5000 companies last year are based in either Iowa City or Cedar Rapids (four each). One of them is Van Meter Inc., a wholesale industrial and electrical supplier serving contractors, electricians, builders and engineers from Cedar Rapids since its founding in 1928. The firm is one of Iowa’s 137 ESOPs, or companies with employee stock ownership plans as their retirement and cultural framework, that can tally 31,000 employee-owners in the state. Van Meter has more than 800 employee-owners in 25 locations across seven states.

“ESOPs provide an incredible framework to really engage your workforce around ownership,” says Van Meter President, CEO and Employee-Owner Lura McBride. “Midwest values of our Midwest workforce have a strong tie to this mindset. And successful Midwest ESOPs love to share their success with others and the power in this business model.” It’s a “high tides raise all boats” mentality, she says. “While ESOPs are not for every company, those that are not ESOPs can see the power in the unification it brings to companies with a common goal of creating value for others in order to grow the value of their ESOP.”

Shive-Hattery President Jennifer Bennett
Shive-Hattery President Jennifer Bennett
Photo courtesy of Shive-Hattery

Van Meter recently introduced the Spark Your Success scholarship program awarding $2,500 to up to four individuals who have completed a high school degree or GED and are pursuing a field related to the electrical trades.

“Our state is doing a nice job in preparing the future workforce,” she says. “City View Community High School in downtown Cedar Rapids is the first magnet high school in the state,” she says, connecting students with a strong sense of their educational or career pathways. “Our regional community colleges are engaging in new ways with high schools as well. The trades, robotics and mechanical skills have the spotlight on them in Iowa.” 

Building Out from the Corridor

Shive-Hattery employs 550 professionals across 16 locations that include Tacoma, Omaha, Kansas, St. Louis, Tucson, South Bend and Cleveland. But it’s firmly anchored in Cedar Rapids. “We’re proud to be a national full-service architecture and engineering firm headquartered right here in Iowa,” Shive-Hattery President Jennifer Bennett tells me. The company has grown swiftly through a series of acquisitions. Bennett says, “Our growth allows us to strengthen and diversify our offerings, capabilities and portfolio. Our growth creates new opportunities for our employees which are great for employee development, recruitment and retention.”

Asked for an example of opening the eyes of clients, prospects or talented individuals to what Iowa and the company’s home community have to offer, Bennett says, “This winter, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance reached out to us about joining them for a meeting with a confidential company from the South. They were looking to build their first facility outside of their home state. They really couldn’t have picked a better state than Iowa to start with. Our Shive-Hattery team was excited to get to join the Metro Alliance [and the City of Cedar Rapids, Midwest Equities, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy] to share the story of welcome.” The conversations with the confidential company are still ongoing, she says. But, she notes, “they’ve commented several times about how easy our ‘welcome committee’ has made it to keep Iowa at the top of their list.”

Investing in workforce is on Bennett’s wish list for the state’s business ecosystem.

“Iowa has long been known for the quality of its education system,” she says. “We need to continue investing in our education system to attract and retain families while preparing our students for our communities’ workforce needs.” Placemaking and transportation are in her sights too: “Interstate 80 and a network of rail make this an attractive state for many businesses. We need to continue investing in our transportation infrastructure, including air and passenger rail.” Eastern Iowa Airport (CID) set a new passenger record of 1.4 million in 2023, a year which saw new flights to Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Washington, D.C.

Bennett notes with pride that Shive-Hattery recently delivered one of the fastest builds in the nation for an Amazon fulfillment center in Bondurant, Iowa. And she says one of the great things about the region is the diversity and collaboration of the business environment.

“Our major corporations and small and medium-sized businesses work together to improve the region and spur economic growth though organizations like Economic Alliance, ICAD [Iowa City Area Development Group] and others. We have incredible entrepreneurial, innovative and agile SMEs here, especially when it comes to technology and software. These innovative businesses can respond to market changes quickly while supporting larger corporations with designing new technology and support systems which are ultimately implemented by our larger employers.” 

Adam Bruns
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns is editor in chief and head of publications for Site Selection, and before that has served as managing editor beginning in February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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