A manufacturer of piglet warming technology, a former Hawkeye football player turned developer and a law enforcement officer who developed bulletproof car mats were among the 21 recipients recognized at The Gazette’s fifth-annual Business Awards banquet, held Tuesday evening at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center.
Around 160 attendees, including local business and government representatives, gathered in support of the winners, who were chosen based on above-and-beyond achievement in the Corridor between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019.
Jenny Schulz, founder and executive director of the Cedar Rapids-based Kids First Law Center, won the evening’s Trailblazer award for her organization’s work helping more than 1,500 children caught up in custody and divorce conflicts each year in Linn, Johnson and Polk counties.
Schulz shared a story about how, when hiking in Colorado growing up, she would run ahead of her family and use a stick to mark an ‘X’ on the dirt path — “I thought I was a trailblazer, but what I didn’t understand is that I was following on a path that millions of people had walked before me.”
That still rings true, Schulz said, in dedicating her award to her mentors, including her father.
“Everything we do at Kids First boils down to a peaceful childhood for kids, and it’s the idyllic childhood that I had, with parents who showed real acceptance of each other, did not argue and filled their home with love and laughter,” she said.
One of the nation’s fastest-growing privately owned hotel businesses, Coralville-based Hawkeye Hotels won the Hospitality award because of its expansion since 1982.
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The business owns and operates more than 50 hotels in 20 states, with an additional 50 hotels under development, constituting more than $1 billion in assets across the country.
“As my family and I grew up in Burlington, we were heavily rooted in southeast Iowa, and it was a dream of ours to grow throughout the state, in strong and vibrant markets such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Des Moines and others,” said Raj Patel, chief development officer with Hawkeye Hotels. “We’ve been able to do that and more over this last decade.”
Award recipients were chosen by a panel of judges that included Jamie Toledo, of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance; Oather Taylor III, diversity, equity and inclusion consultant; and John Wasta, of Tallgrass; as well as Gazette Executive Editor Zack Kucharski, Business Editor Michael Chevy Castranova, Community Outreach Manager Quinn Pettifer and Event Manager Elizabeth Kimmell.
The evening’s keynote panel, moderated by Gazette reporter B.A. Morelli, outlined big ideas that could make a difference in the area.
Kevin Monson, principal with Neumann Monson Architects, encouraged densifying local cities’ cores with accessible and convenient housing as a means for reducing “needless traffic” putting a strain on infrastructure.
“If we can have living and working in the hearts of our communities so, if you choose to, you don’t even have to get in a vehicle, that would be the best of all worlds,” he said.
Lori Sundberg, president of Kirkwood Community College, noted she foresees the emergence of new jobs dealing with virtual and augmented reality and artificial intelligence, including as an evolution of the manufacturing sector.
“It’s exciting because this is all really cool technology coming down the pike that I think we could really be on the front lines for ...,” she said.
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The only thing holding Cedar Rapids back from future growth is itself, if leaders and stakeholders stop taking risks or become complacent, said Ron Corbett, business expansion and retention strategist with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.
“Certainly, the last 10 years for the Cedar Rapids area has been strong, healthy,” he said. “People are very proud of what’s been accomplished since the flood, but you can’t rest on your laurels. You need to keep challenging yourself.”
Bobby Hansen, regional director for the Better Business Bureau of Cedar Rapids, presented the Better Business Bureau Business of Excellence Award to Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust.
TrueNorth was presenting sponsor for the event.
2019 Gazette Business Awards recipients
Trail Blazer: Jenny Schulz
Young Professionals: Eric Langston, Nate Kaeding
Commercial Real Estate: Q4 Real Estate
Residential Real Estate: CA Ventures
Not-for-Profits: Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
Made in the Corridor: Attack Mats
Technology: Farr Pro
Health Care: Eastern Iowa Health Center
Food and Drink: Wild Culture Kombucha
Inclusion: Exide Technologies
Transportation: The Eastern Iowa Airport
Sustainability: Grow Solar
Hospitality: Hawkeye Hotels
Community Engagement: NewBo City Market
Community Improvement: Prospect Meadows
Better Business Bureau Business of Excellence Award: Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust
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