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CEO of Cedar Rapids popcorn company joins State of the Union guests
Almost Famous Popcorn expanded from 2012 NewBo City Market debut
CEDAR RAPIDS — A year ago, Sydney Rieckhoff made the leap to being the full-time chief executive officer of a family-owned, gourmet, ready-to-eat popcorn company based in Cedar Rapids.
On Tuesday, she’ll be among a select group of guests invited to the U.S. Capitol to watch President Joe Biden deliver his State of the Union address to Congress.
Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst on Monday announced the 24-year-old CEO and co-founder of Almost Famous Popcorn as her guest for the State of the Union. Ernst last week was named the top ranking member on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
“Our job creators and entrepreneurs are the backbone of Iowa’s economy, with small businesses making up 98 percent of businesses across our state,” Ernst said in a statement. Ernst said she is “thrilled” to have Rieckhoff with her in Washington to “highlight her successes and discuss solutions to her challenges.”
Established in 2012 as an inaugural stand inside NewBo City Market, the company has grown to become a multimillion-dollar enterprise, with retail stores in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, as well as production facilities in Cedar Rapids and Sac City. Almost Famous last February acquired Noble Popcorn of Sac City.
With a team of more than 50 employees across the state, the company is working on regional expansion, with a goal of becoming the go-to gourmet popcorn brand in the United States, according to a news release.
Almost Famous can be found across the country, including in some Scheel’s Sporting Goods, Hy-Vee and Fareway grocery stories, Casey’s convenience stores and online at almostfamouspopcorn.com.
Rieckhoff, a 2020 Stanford University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in international relations, also is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, launched in 2018, which Rieckhoff described as akin to “an accelerated MBA” program.
Rieckhoff, in a video posted to social media by Ernst’s office, said she’s “excited to join (Ernst) on the steps of the Capitol to show D.C. what two Iowa women can do.”
Other Iowa guests
Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson of Marion announced retired U.S. Army Sergeant Trent Dirks, a Grundy Center native, will be her guest at the State of the Union.
Dirks served in Afghanistan and, like many veterans, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse following his deployment. He found support, according to Hinson’s office, through Retrieving Freedom in Waverly. The organization trains service dogs for veterans, and Dirks was paired with his K-9 companion, Tracer, who accompanied him to a hospital for intensive treatment and now lives with him.
Hinson, in a news release, said the duo inspired her efforts in Congress to improve veterans' mental health care access. She was the lead Republican co-sponsor on the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans' Mental Health Act. This legislation, signed into law last year, seeks to improve mental health care access for veterans in rural areas.
Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn of Bondurant announced his guest will be Des Moines resident Nabi Mohammadi, a refugee from Afghanistan who served as a translator for the U.S. Army and Iowa National Guard in Afghanistan.
In 2013, with the help of those he worked with in the Iowa National Guard, Mohammadi immigrated to Iowa with his wife under a special immigrant visa. He became a U.S. citizen in 2019.
After the fall of Afghanistan, Mohammadi’s extended family was in danger of being targeted by the Taliban. With the help of a private group Nunn co-founded to rescue Americans and Afghan partners trapped in Afghanistan, Mohammadi’s brother — an Afghan National Army major — his brother’s wife and their three children were evacuated from Afghanistan. Other members of Mohammadi’s extended family, though, remain at risk in Afghanistan, according to Nunn’s office.
Nunn has advocated for increased assistance for those still trapped overseas, including expanding the special immigrant visa program and providing a pathway to citizenship for those who served alongside U.S. service members.
Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley invited Dan Van Alstine, president and chief operating officer of Des Moines-based Ruan Transportation Management Systems.
Grassley supported the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, which the senator has said will continue to improve transportation and supply chain management in Iowa and throughout the country. Grassley’s office as well noted the transportation industry, particularly surface transportation, was instrumental in keeping supplies moving during the COVID-19 pandemic while many other businesses were shut down.
Iowa Republican Rep. Randy Feenstra of Hull announced Chad Tentinger, lead developer of Cattlemen’s Heritage Beef Company, will be his guest for the State of the Union.
Cattlemen’s Heritage Beef Company is building a $450 million beef processing plant on 132 acres in Mills County. The facility, which is expected to open in late 2024, will process approximately 2,000 head of cattle a day, “creating good-paying jobs in our rural communities,” according to Feenstra’s office.
Feenstra has advocated for greater transparency and accountability in the cattle market to benefit independent cattle producers in Iowa.
Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa has invited David Barker, a member of the Iowa Board of Regents. Barker also serves on the Governor’s Rural Empowerment Initiative “and has proven his commitment to Iowa’s economic growth,” said Mary Collins Atkinson, Miller-Meeks’ communications director.
How to watch State of the Union address
President Joe Biden’s speech begins at 8 p.m. Iowa time and will be carried live by all major news networks and by C-SPAN. Many will begin programming before the speech is scheduled to start.
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