Business & Consumer News

Inc. 5000

Twenty-eight Iowa companies are on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing privately owned firms nationwide. Most are located in urban areas, although a few small town enterprises landed spots.

Inc. magazine lists West Des Moines-based Ivy Lane Corporation as the fastest growing company in the state. Revenue for the owner of 35 Valvoline oil change stores has grown by 693 percent over the past three years to put it at 658 on the list.

Grape Tree Medical Staffing in the small, lakes-region town of Milford landed a few spots behind at 665.

Alliant Energy

Alliant Energy is launching a new program for customers who want more of their electricity to come from renewable sources. 

The program called “Beyond Solar” could get underway once a new solar power plant in Dubuque goes online this fall.  

But a challenge from environmentalists may stand in the way.   

At a recent workshop at the Iowa Utilities Board, Alliant Energy made the case for “Beyond Solar.” 

Nan Palmereo/flickr

The Iowa Utilities Board today issued an order deregulating landline phone service quality in Iowa.  

That means that local telephone exchanges will no longer be required to meet customer service and quality standards.   

With the growing use of cellphones, deregulating landlines has become more common across the country.  The Iowa order cites the widespread availability of effective competition for local service, including mobile wireless and cable.  

Lee Enterprises

Total revenue for Davenport-based Lee Enterprises is down for the third quarter ended June 30. The company is earning increasingly more from the digital side of newspapers.

The owner of newspapers and specialty publications in 22 states is reporting a 6.6 percent decrease in total revenue from the previous quarter. But Lee Enterprises Chief Executive Officer Kevin Mowbray says revenue from digital advertising is up nearly eight percent.

“In the June quarter, digital retail advertising represented 29.1 percent of total advertising revenue for the company,” he says.

Principal Financial Group

Des Moines-based asset manager Principal Financial Group is showing a solid second quarter for fiscal 2017. The company is also ending a long streak of quarters with positive cash flow.

Principal had gone 24 straight quarters with positive net cash flows until now. Company chairman, president and CEO Dan Houston says there were a number of primary contributors to this result.

“First and foremost, it reflects the volatility inherent in the global institutional asset management and retirement space as large deposits and withdrawals can occur unevenly over time,” he says.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio / Iowa Public Radio

Des Moines-based Meredith Corporation is closing out fiscal 2017 with record profits and revenue. The media company is riding a strong year for political and digital advertising.

The owner of magazines and TV stations is reporting a four percent increase in overall revenue from a year ago to a record $1.7 billion. A key reason was the all-time high $63 million in political advertising. Meredith chairman and CEO Steve Lacy also credits rapidly growing digital and social platforms.

Heartland Financial

Dubuque-based Heartland Financial is adding to its bank holdings. It’s completing a deal to buy a Colorado chain of banks.

Heartland is acquiring Citywide Banks of Colorado in a deal valued at around $211 million. Citywide is headquartered in the Denver suburb of Aurora. Heartland CEO Lynn Fuller says the purchase will make his company more competitive in the rapidly growing Colorado market.

“We’ll be the third largest community bank in the Denver area," he says. "And we’ll be the 11th largest bank in Colorado.”

Rick Fredericksen, IPR

Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture is leading a delegation to Kosovo. The group includes representatives from business, education and sports.

Bill Northey is being joined by a number of representatives from higher education, including the presidents of Des Moines Area Community College and Iowa Central Community College. Northey says their work is of interest to educators in Kosovo.

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles

Winnebago Industries’ purchase of an Indiana company last fall is continuing to pay off for the Forest City-based manufacturer of recreational vehicles. Third quarter earnings are way up from a year ago.

City of Cedar Rapids

The latest report on existing industries in the Cedar Rapids area shows employers remain concerned about the number of available workers. The outlook, however, is more positive than a year ago.

Each year, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance surveys around 85 business executives and plant managers from a wide spectrum of industries to get their views on the area’s economic climate. The Alliance’s local business projects specialist, Mike Lukan, says workforce availability continues to be a challenge in Cedar Rapids. But things are looking up.

Casey's General Stores

Ankeny-based convenience store chain Casey’s General Stores is reporting it fell short of some of its goals for fiscal 2017. While in-store traffic was up almost three percent at the nearly 2,000-store chain, executives had hoped for 6.2 percent growth. Casey’s President and CEO Terry Handley says the company faced the same pressures in 2017 everyone in the grocery industry confronted.

anamika chandel
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

An Iowa City mom is starting a company this summer that she describes as "Uber for kids." 

Bees Knees Drive will be Iowa's first child ride service app. When it launches in the Iowa City area, parents will be able to order transportation for their kids to school or activities.

Founder Anamika Chandel says she got the idea when she spent a few months working as an Uber driver.

"I met a lot of people, a lot of mothers, families, who said they'd like someone like me to drive their kids around," Chandel says. 

GEICO

The auto insurance company GEICO is planning to move its Midwest regional office from Coralville to a new building going up in North Liberty. This is another piece of development news for one of Iowa’s fastest growing towns.

GEICO has been in Coralville since 1997. By April of next year, the auto insurer will be in a 50,000-square-foot office building just east of I-380 in North Liberty. That town’s mayor, Terry Donahue, says GEICO was looking to expand.

EntreFest

An event billed as the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in Iowa returns this week after a year off. EntreFest is coming back to downtown Iowa City Thursday and Friday.

The conference for start-up business owners was launched in 2008 and managed for several years by the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Business Growth and Innovation. But EntreFest went dark last year as operation of the event switched to Cedar Rapids-based New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative. Its events director, Jill Wilkins, says she’s glad to see Entrefest return.

Dean Borg/IPR

Iowa’s Board of Regents has elected Dr. Michael Richards as the new board president.  He’s a 1970 University of Iowa Medical School graduate now living in West Des Moines.

Richards is a physician and former Unity Point health care executive. He was appointed to the board a year ago this month.  Richards lists setting tuition and getting a new president at Iowa State as the most immediate issues. 

Iowa Lt. Gov.'s office

The alliance of business leaders and educators assigned the job of developing strategies to prepare tomorrow’s workforce in Iowa is hearing from its co-chair, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. She says the group is on track to meet its stated goals.

Joey Gannon/flickr

After bitter partisan debate, the Iowa House last night approved a bill to change the rules for Iowa workers filing asbestos-related lawsuits.   

Critics say workers exposed to the cancer-causing substance could be harmed by the bill.   

But backers say meritless cases are clogging up the courts.

University of Northern Iowa's Center for Business Growth and Innovation

Economic development officials in the state are on the hunt for the next great idea. They are a launching a contest to find a new batch of innovative start-up companies.

The Center for Business Growth and Innovation at the University of Northern Iowa is behind the Great Idea Challenge. A senior program manager at the Center, Patrick Luensmann, says winners of the contest will be guided on how to build a strong, sustainable business.

“We really want to try and grow the pipeline for new, innovative companies to start and grow in Iowa,” he says.

Photo by Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media

Mexico may be ready to hit America – and especially Iowa – where it hurts. Namely, in corn exports. Mexico is one of the top buyers of American corn, and Iowa is one of the top corn-producing states. In response to President Trump’s threats against Mexico, a Mexican senator said this week that he would introduce a bill that directs Mexico to buy its corn from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The West Des Moines-based bank holding company West Bancorporation is continuing a string of record-setting quarters. The parent company of West Bank is enjoying a commercial building spree in two key Iowa markets.

Michael Leland/IPR

Des Moines-based Meredith Corporation is riding revenue from political advertising to another record quarter of earnings. The past presidential campaign proved to be a windfall for the media company.

Meredith operates 17 television stations nationwide, including CBS affiliates in the fast-growing markets of Phoenix and Atlanta. Company chairman and CEO Steve Lacy says the record-setting second quarter was powered by a 27 percent increase in total advertising revenue for the stations.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Popular new network transportation services such as Uber and Lyft now face state regulations for the first time, which backers say will provide protection for drivers and passengers alike.  

Under a new law that went into effect January 1st, the companies will have new requirements for insurance, background checks, and zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use.  

Manuel Alarcon/flickr

Iowans shopping at Amazon.com have a surprise in store when they go online today.  

Starting January 1, the retail giant will be collecting sales tax for the first time on purchases in Iowa, as they do in 30 other states.   

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says it will be good for state coffers and for other retailers.

“It is leveling the playing field for the main street merchants,” Roederer said.  “Main Street merchants are required to collect sales tax.  The online was not.  So that levels that out.”

Stuartia.com

Thousands of people across Iowa are starting their holiday shopping today, and many communities are hoping you’ll give locally-owned small businesses some attention tomorrow.  The annual “Small Business Saturday” campaign urges people to spend some of their shopping dollars in independent stores.  Jennifer Pruden of the Czech Village-New Bohemia Main Street District in Cedar Rapids says local businesses there are hoping a good holiday season will help them recover from September’s flood.

Amy Mayer/IPR

If Dow and DuPont succeed with their proposal to merge and spinoff three companies, one focused on agribusiness, the new companies will open a fresh chapter in the corporate histories of two titans of American industry.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

Five of the six biggest companies that produce and sell seeds and chemicals to the world's farmers are pursuing deals that could leave a market dominated by just three giant, global companies. They say getting bigger means bringing more sophisticated and innovative solutions to farmers faster, but opponents say consolidation has irreversible downsides.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The massive industry that supplies farmers with the tools to raise crops is on the brink of a watershed moment. High-profile deals that would see some of the largest global agri-chemical companies combine are in the works and could have ripple effects from farm fields to dinner tables across the globe.

Flickr / Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures

Iowa now has statewide regulations for ride-sourcing companies like Uber and Lyft.  Gov. Terry Branstad signed legislation into law on Monday, requiring ride-sourcing companies in Iowa to conduct driver background checks.

Drivers must also have a $1 million insurance policy and may only provide pre-arranged rides, meaning they are prohibited from being hailed like a traditional taxicab.

The new law stops cities from implementing tougher local regulations, and trumps ordinances created in Des Moines and Iowa City, where Uber currently operates. 

Photo by Amy Mayer

The country's top attorney on national security issues told Iowans Wednesday that all Internet-connected computers are potentially vulnerable to outside attacks.

John Carlin, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, visited central Iowa to share with business leaders what the government sees as threats, and how companies can protect themselves.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill advanced at the statehouse today to regulate new app-based transportation companies.    

Companies including Uber and Lyft use mobile apps for drivers to find fares and for passengers to arrange rides.   The companies currently operate in Des Moines, Ames, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport.

Mount Auburn Republican Dawn Pettengill says the bill spells out insurance requirements for the benefit of both drivers and passengers.

“I think they will feel safer than what we have now,” Pettengill says.

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