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CEDAR RAPIDS — The pending acquisition of Rockwell Collins by United Technologies Corp. has made the most headlines, and dreams of landing Amazon or Toyota captured imaginations.
But another major deal could have a large upside for Cedar Rapids and has floated largely under the radar, the city's economic development manager Jasmine Almoayed said.
Last month it was announced some 800 Transamerica employees would shift to Tata Consultancy Services, an information technology and consulting company based in Mumbai, India, as TCS takes over administration of Transamerica's insurance and annuities business this spring.
'TCS is enormous,' Almoayed said noting the company is larger than UTC. 'They have 371,000 people. They just don't have a huge U.S. presence.
'This is a massive company that because of the Transamerica partnership they are entering into is going to be located here in Cedar Rapids. It's not every day you have an opportunity for a business of that size coming in and setting up a fairly substantial operation.'
The Cedar Rapids business sector has seen several raucous months, and likewise a busy time for Almoayed, whose job is to keep her finger on the pulse on industry in Cedar Rapids, as well as serve as a liaison for companies considering relocating here.
Here's a few of the deals underway, in addition to TCS-Transamerica and Rockwell-UTC:
- Motion Industries, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Genuine Parts Co., agreed to acquire Apache Inc.
- Cargill announced plans to acquire animal nutrition company Diamond V.
- Kuvare US Holdings plans to acquire United Fire Group's life insurance subsidiary.
The wave of proposed mergers and acquisitions has caused concern for some, and questions for Almoayed and others in City Hall about what they are doing to respond. Almoayed said shortly after each announcement was made she was meeting with executives to learn as much as she could about plans and see what resources they might need.
She called each of the deals a 'net positive,' noting there isn't much duplication in units being merged, so it could lead to good things for Cedar Rapids, such as expansion or job growth.
'I get people are freaked out,' Almoayed said, referring specifically to the Rockwell-UTC deal. 'But it's not such a doomsday thing. Kelly (Ortberg, the Rockwell, chief executive) is a Cedar Rapids guy.
'People say, Jump on a plane and go to UTC. Why? They aren't requesting anything. We should be talking to the CEO here, and that is what we are doing.'
'Getting them to come here'
Almoayed, 34, a Cedar Rapids native, attended the University of Iowa for undergraduate school, and earned her master's at Iowa State University while working as a program manager of business outreach at Kirkwood Community College.
While Almoayed is from the area, her family has an interesting back story for landing in Cedar Rapids a couple of generations ago.
Almoayed is of Bosnian decent, formerly Yugoslavian. Her grandfather Arif Kenjar had been in a refugee camp in Austria and, after leaving there, wound up in Cedar Rapids in 1952 because of the strong Muslim community.
Her father Raif Kenjar had thought for years his father was dead — he had been orphaned and hadn't seen him since he was a young child — but learned he was alive in Cedar Rapids, along with an uncle.
Leaving everything behind and speaking no English, he relocated to Cedar Rapids in the 1960s and laid down roots and worked his way up the ranks at Iowa Steel and Iron Works.
Almoayed's last name comes from her husband, Andrew, who is of Bahraini heritage.
Almoayed took a position with the city in 2013 as it began creating an internal economic development division to draw attention to Cedar Rapids as external economic development groups, such as the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, recruit businesses to the region.
'We focus on putting our best foot forward and getting them to come here,' she said.
With existing companies, Almoayed tries to keep tabs on whether a business foresees growth or change, and if so, tries to lay out all the options available to them in Cedar Rapids — possible locations, state, local and federal financial grants and incentives, incentives based on workforce, and others.
She also works to connect company officials with the right people in City Hall for other needs such as utilities, traffic or roads.
'A developer or CEO of a company is not there to know this stuff,' she said. 'That is what we are here for.'
In the case of downsizing, Almoayed can help connect a company to resources for its workers.
Another part of her job is to be a resource for those considering the area, including targeted retail recruitment.
This past Wednesday, Almoayed met with representatives from Des Moines-based Fong's Pizza, who are planning to open in the former Bata's location in the New Bohemia District. While development related incentives may not be available in this case, there are other programs she can offer, such as loan funds that could help Fong's or other small or medium-sized business get going.
Almoayed worked with Les Garner, president and CEO of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, to create the microloan program for businesses in 2015. In its third year, it's been a success, Garner said.
The fund has distributed 10 loans with most reaching the $10,000 cap and created or saved 50 jobs, he said.
'When she saw how the pieces could fit, she takes an idea and can run with it,' Garner said. 'She is insightful and intuitive. When she sees an opportunity she's eager to pursue it, and able to pursue a lot at the same time.'
Knowing where to go
Almoayed had also been part of a project to determine market sector strengths, such as logistics and transportation, and another team that created a website presenting the economic development tools available in Cedar Rapids.
The website was the entry point for Brian Shiu of Texas-based Anthony Properties, who found a tax incentive for urban housing, which spurred plans to build a $20 million, 183-unit apartment complex in Cedar Rapids near Rockwell Collins.
Almoayed and her colleague Caleb Mason, an economic development analyst, helped as he investigated eligibility of different sites, he said.
'It helps developers like us when looking for new markets,' he said. 'It helps us know where to go.'
When Shiu contacted Almoayed, she said he questioned the incentive.
'He said, 'Is this right?,' which is funny because they are from Texas,' she said. 'Everyone is always saying Iowa can't be competitive with incentives, and Texas has so many incentives. And, this man is like, 'This is great you are willing to do this.''
While the nature of Almoayed's day-to-day interactions with prospective businesses and officials from existing companies can be confidential, she offered a few hints of things to come.
First, developers are eyeing a hotel for the Guaranty Bank building and surrounding parking lot in downtown Cedar Rapids, which she called exciting and could be a boost for the downtown.
Second, areas along First Avenue East and in the College District are getting interest.
Third, developers have been lining up with questions about available land in NewBo, particularly parking lot 44, which is on the east bank of the river between Eighth and 12th Avenues SE. Unfortunately, she said, the future of the parking lot remains on hold as the city develops a flood-control system.
'I have a whole list of people waiting in the wings,' she said. 'If and when property comes available we have some ideas for sizable projects. I am not worried about prospects falling off the radar because of time.'
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