Presenting the Business 380 Excellence Awards honorees for 2015

And the finalists are ...

To keep the economic engine running in the Corridor, business needs to continue to grow, expand and explore new avenues. On Thursday, Sept 3, 18 companies and organizations that have done just that will be honored in 11 categories at the Hotel at Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids as part of The Gazette and KCRG-TV9’s Business 380 Excellence Awards banquet.

Also that night, Debi Durham, Iowa Economic Development Authority director, and Paul Trombino, Iowa Department of Transportation director, will present the keynote speech on moving Iowa forward in terms of economic development.

Here are this year’s finalists:

Apache Inc.

• 4805 Bowling St. SW, Cedar Rapids, 52404


• Chief officer: Tom Pientok

• Number of employees: 300

• Number of years in business: 52

Apache supplies a variety of hose, belting, custom fabrications and on-site belt services to industries and organizations across the United States.

Bob South, its founder, sold the company to its employees in 1985. Because it is employee owned, each employee is involved in understanding and improving the steps toward success.

Apache ships nationwide with a network of dealers, distributors and retail customers. To continue to grow, Apache has acquired additional companies, such as Hose Central, Ex-Cel Industrial Belting, AG Belt Inc., Seals Unlimited Inc. and Trico Belting and Supply Co. As a result, the Cedar Rapids-based company is one of the largest belt suppliers in the country.

Having Cedar Rapids as its home base, Apache engages with the community, especially with youth programs. Within the past year, employees have raised funds for United Way, volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters programs and supported Junior Achievement, an organization that educates youth about business. In addition, they raise funds to support causes connected with MDA, MDS and ALS.

Over the past year, Apache has made improvements in employee wellness and recognition but also took steps toward a 90,000-square-foot expansion. In May, work began on its Cedar Rapids production facility. In the application, Jill Miller with Apache wrote “the additional space will provide more production and warehouse space, as well as add additional jobs to the company.” Over the past five years, the company has made five “strategic acquisitions.” It also is interested in a $7 million expansion project, “to accommodate significant growth seen by the company in recent years.” Also over the past five years, it has seen double-digit increases in sales to its core business area.


Apache was named as Iowa’s Healthiest State Small Business. Members of the organization’s global sourcing team were active over the past year in the International Traders of Iowa, working with other Iowa companies. They also worked with the Advancing the Future program, promoting manufacturing employment opportunities.

Area Substance Abuse Council

• 3601 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, 52404


• Chief officer: Barbara Gay

• Number of employees: 187

• Number of years in business: 53

The Area Substance Abuse Council is a not-for-profit corporation that provides prevention and treatment services for alcohol, tobacco and other drugs for area residents and other Iowans.

The organization originally formed in 1962 as the Citizen’s Committee on Alcohol. The committee eventually merged with Reality 10 Drug Abuse Program to become the Area Substance Abuse Council or ASAC.

ASAC became one of the oldest and largest substance abuse treatment agencies in the state and primarily serves people in Linn County and surrounding counties. The Iowa Department of Public Health licensed the organization to provide prevention and treatment for the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

ASAC’s longtime executive director, John Garringer, retired in January after working for the organization for 30 years. Garringer is just part of a larger culture of long-time service in the organization as ASAC now has four employees with more than 31 years of service.

“The supportive culture that is given to ASAC employees is carried over to ASAC clients, prevention program participants and community partners,” said Emily Logan, a member of the ASAC’s board of directors, “We have very caring staff that work to help individuals and families in need.”

ASAC is one of Iowa’s largest and most comprehensive substance abuse treatment agencies.

In the past year, ASAC raised more than $314,000 to improve its youth residential substance abuse treatment program called CD+. The money was used to make the facility safer with secure entrances and exits, security mirrors and a new security system.

ASAC also has run a campaign in the past year to be involved with the policy and practices of community members and businesses in the Corridor. The organization helped 16 businesses, schools and apartments go nicotine-free, 21 colleges, businesses and events adopt policies to reduce the risk of alcohol and create 10,000 prescription drug tool kits for Linn County.


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ASAC also has tried to combat the effects of traumatic childhood experiences such as living with a family member with a substance abuse problem or seeing violence in the home. After a national study showed these experiences can have long-term negative health and quality-of-life effects on the children, ASAC joined a United Way subcommittee to help develop best practices and trainings to area professionals on the subject.

“The effectiveness of our treatment programming makes the individuals, families, workplaces and communities healthier,” Logan said. “We are saving and changing lives through our substance abuse treatment programming.”

Clickstop Inc.

• 202 Blue Creek Dr., Urbana, 52345


• Chief officer: Tim Guenther

• Number of employees: 130

• Number of years in business: 11

Clickstop Inc. is an online sales company that focuses primarily in the cargo control industry. Clickstop’s owner, founder and CEO Tim Guenther, saw the way customers purchase cargo control equipment and decided he could make the process better.

Guenther believed the Internet had the opportunity to improve the industry and wanted to use a website to sell cargo control equipment directly to the people or companies that would use it. This would allow users of these products to skip the traditional distributor and dealer process.

In 2004, Guenther launched US Cargo Control. In the process, he learned about online search marketing, search engines and keywords and how to use them to improve his business.

Guenther realized this process could be duplicated in other industries and began launching more e-commerce websites. In 2009, the company name was changed to Clickstop.

Since then, Guenther and his company have made an effort to create a unique culture within the business that helps it employees be successful.

“Clickstop’s competitive advantage is its culture. This approach provides a framework for high performance, flexibility for employees to do what they do best and taking ownership over their work,” said James Mayhew, chief culture officer at Clickstop.


In the last year, Clickstop has made significant gains in three major areas including manufacturing, creating an award-winning workplace and introducing additional employee benefits.

US Cargo Control began manufacturing straps and other products for cargo to get it safely from one place to another. The company said by building products such as these in Iowa, it reduces warehouse spaces and cuts down on delivery time of custom products.

In the midst of developing light manufacturing, the company has won two awards for its workplace culture. These include the Coolest Company in the Corridor and the No. 2 top workspace in Iowa.

Mayhew said the internal culture can be credited with the companies growth and recognition. He noted the company’s culture and communications team developed the Clickstop Code, a combination of a mission statement and core values, to help create this culture with current and potential employees.

The company also developed a profit-sharing system so its employees can earn up to 20 percent of their salaries in bonuses. Clickstop created a formula to ensure it keeps enough profits to sustain growth and shares the rest with employees and its outreach program, Clickstop Cares.

Diamond V

• 2525 60th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404


• Chief officer: Jeff Cannon

• Number of employees: 300

• Number of years in business: 71

Founded by C.W. Bloomhall in 1943, Diamond V is a global nutrition and health company that develops and manufactures products that improve nutrition and health in animals. The company also focuses to improve food safety and boost performance in animals.

Born in the late-1880s, Bloomhall grew up on a farm and noticed animals would be healthier and gain more weight when they added fermented food scraps to animal feed, said John Bloomhall, CW’s grandson who now serves as the company’s chairman of the board.

Those observations would be the idea behind the Diamond V fermentation product that helps animals boost their performance — Diamond V Yeast Culture — which the company continues to sell today.


In 1988, Bloomhall said the company created a more concentrated product and expanded its operations into international markets.

And the company continues to grow.

In 2015, the company has plans to invest millions in research, hire 40 new employees and complete a $32 million plant expansion project that will double its manufacturing capacity.

The company also launched its newest dairy program product entitled NutriTek that promotes rumen health and balanced immunity in pre-fresh and lactating dairy cow diets. By providing antioxidants to the cow, NutriTek helps to minimize inflammation and support the animal’s health.

Collaboration, trust and mutual respect are at the core of Diamond V’s business culture.

“This empowers individuals with the personal freedom to go out and execute, improving their own success as well as that of the company,” wrote Diamond V President and CEO Jeff Cannon in the company’s application.

The company also has given back to the Corridor community by raising funds for Operation Backpack, which provides weekend food to children in need.

Diamond V recently became a founding member of Farming to Fight Hunger, a not-for-profit organization that educates and informs customers about issues surrounding modern agriculture and food security.

The not-for-profit premiered its movie, “The Ivy League Farmer,” about the use of technology on a family dairy farm, and raised more than $250,000 for Operation Backpack.

Discovery Living Inc.

• 1015 Old Marion Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids 52402


• Chief Officer: Bob Hebl

• Number of Employees: 200

• Number of years in business: 34

Discovery Living Inc. provides individualized residential support, supervision and community integration for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Corridor.


Discovery Living came about as a result of a shortage of housing and residential support services for Corridor residents with disabilities. It was incorporated in 1977.

Today, it provides individualized residential support, supervision and community integration for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Patients who receive services from Discovery Living can choose the types of activities in which they want to be involved.

The program now has 28 homes with five or fewer residents in the Cedar Rapids area. Each of those homes has access to 24-hour support services.

The organization serves 150 people, 40 percent of whom have received services from Discovery Living for more than 10 years. Three of them have been with Discovery Living since 1981.

In the past year, Discovery Living worked to buy, modify and adapt homes and vehicles to meet the needs of the people it serves and those on its 40-person waiting list.

“People should not have to leave their home and live in a nursing home or other institution because their age or health necessitates their needing a higher level of support,” the organization wrote in its application.

The modifications included installing entrance and exit ramps, lift chairs, walk-in showers grab bars as well as widening doorways.

“Regardless of your level of disability, you are entitled to be a full member of your community,” Executive Director Robert Hebl said.


• 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, 52401


• Chief officer: Eric Engelmann

• Number of employees: 70

• Number of years in business: 16


Launched 16 years ago, Geonetric provides software solution, content writing and social media for hospitals across the country.

For seven years, the company has been named to the Inc. 5000 list and is a two-time recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness.

The company supports local entrepreneurship efforts with its Operation Overnight event, during which its web developers, designers and marketers work with not-for-profits.

“For 24 hours, we work together to strategize, code, design and write websites that help these organizations fulfill their missions,” Anne Ohrt, from Geonetric events and facilities, wrote in its application.

The company also provides tips, strategies, and training opportunities for maintaining the new sites. Over the three years this event has taken place, 13 not-for-profits have benefitted from new websites.

Over the past two years, Geonetric has made it a goal to focus on creating what it calls a “democratic workplace,” which included eliminating the position of manager.

Last year, employees came up with five core values that were most ideal to them, involving everyone in the process. Following this, each employee was given “Geomoney,” meant to encourage employees to recognize their colleagues.

Immediately following the organizational changes, the company saw a drop in revenue growth but was able to bring it up 13 percent and growing. The business has seen similar trends with net income.


“It’s been great watching the teams motivate each other without the help of managers,” Ohrt said. “Since implementing the agile environment, our client satisfaction scores have been the highest in company history.”

In August 2014, Geonetric moved into a new building in the NewBo district, allowing it to have a space to work and still be connected to the community, and share the building with other businesses.

Higher Learning Technologies

• 2500 Crosspark Rd., Coralville, 52241


• Chief officer: Alec Whitters

• Number of employees: 43

• Number of years in business: 3

The company creates apps to help students study for tests on mobile devices.

Three Xavier and University of Iowa graduates teamed up to found Higher Learning Technologies, a company that develops apps to help students study for tests on mobile devices. Since 2012, when the company was founded, it has acquired a user base of more than 1 million in more than 175 countries.

One of the company’s apps, NCLEX Mastery, is the No. 1 grossing education app for the App Store and Google Play, and five total apps have ranked in the top 50 grossing apps for both of those stores. The company has been recognized by a variety of awards, among them Mobile App of the Year by the Technology Association of Iowa in 2014, Breakout Company of the Year by the Technology Association of Iowa in 2015 and Best New Startup of the Year by Silicon Prairie News in 2013. Inc. Magazine recognized it as a startup to watch in 2013.

In the past year, the company grew from 12 employees to 50 full-time equivalents. Higher Learning Technologies increased its sales more than 400 percent, reaching millions of users.

The company also raised $1 million in a seed investment round in January 2014 and then followed up with a $5.5 million Series A investment round in January 2015.

It added New York-based McGraw-Hill Education, an education company that provides textbooks and web solutions to students over the world, as a corporate partner.

“These numbers continue to trend upward, and we believe HLT will continue to grow rapidly over the coming years,” the company said in its application.


The company also closed a deal with Manhattan Prep, a company that specializes in GMAT preparation.

Innovative Software Engineering

• 2850 Coral Court, Suite 100, Coralville, 52241


• Chief officer: Hass Machlab

• Number of employees: 55

• Number of years in business: 12

Hass Machlab founded Innovative Software Engineering in his basement in 2002. Within 10 years, his company moved to an 11,000-square-foot facility.

But there were a few steps along the way.

After its basement location, the Coralville-based company found a home at the University of Iowa’s Technology Innovation Center and later moved to the Oakdale Research Park before its current facility.

The company creates end-to-end software systems, which are complex software systems that allow companies to submit and retrieve information from the cloud, said Joe Barry, vice president of business development at ISE. The end-to-end software systems allow companies to do remote diagnostics on machines, such as a tractor in a field, then transfer that information to the cloud where another person can pick it up.

The company works with customers from many different industries, including transportation, health care and education.

Barry said the company has created software for an education application that helps improve reading proficiency in grade school students. The business also has created software that helps commercial fleet companies follow government regulations by electronically tracking how long drivers have been on the road.

There are outings to hockey and baseball games, the office has a pingpong table and there are even regular but unscheduled Nerf gunbattles.


The company takes part in local STEM-related events by partnering with schools. It also participates in a number of local philanthropic programs, including the Ride 4 Youth initiatives and domestic Kids Against Hunger.

Company leadership sits on a number of local community boards.

Iowa BIG

• 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, 52401


• Chief officer: Brad Buck

• Number of employees: 5

• Number of years in business: 2

Iowa BIG is a program to help teach high school students to meet core standards with interdisciplinary community projects and partnerships with the public.

Iowa BIG began as a pilot project two years ago with students in the Cedar Rapids and College Community School Districts.

With the pilot project, the founders of Iowa BIG, Trace Pickering and Shawn Cornally, wanted to test the idea that students could meet core standards by working on various interdisciplinary projects or initiatives and partnering with members of the community to complete the work.

“We had success by inviting the public back into public education because partners are the secret to real-world student experiences,” said Troy Miller, Iowa BIG’s director of strategic partnerships.

During its second school year, Iowa BIG worked with 70 students in the area. The organization has served a total of about 120 students and taken on 40 initiatives during its two years in operation.

Iowa BIG is about to begin its third school year and serves students at Washington, Jefferson, Kennedy and Prairie high schools.

Here’s how it works: Iowa BIG has created a new form of education for area high school students.


The organization has made it a goal to teach students skills and expectations they will have in a professional setting after school. Students do this by choosing a problem or idea from real companies or not-for-profits to complete as part of their curriculum.

“These collaborations are necessary because oftentimes student outcomes are interdisciplinary, and the standards that they’ve met must be verified by a teacher certified in each different discipline,” Miller said.

Miller said Iowa BIG has done this without increasing the per-pupil cost of education all the while accepting kids with a wide GPA range — 1.8 to 4.3 — to show the “methods are scalable across Iowa.”

Iowa BIG received a $25,000 grant from Iowa STEM and will present its findings from the past few years to Gov. Terry Branstad.

Kirkwood Community College

• 6301 Kirkwood Blvd SW, Cedar Rapids, 52404


• Chief officer: Mick Starcevich

• Number of employees: 1,500

• Number of years in business: 49

Kirkwood Community College provides two-year educational opportunities for students in Iowa, as well as education and training services and economic and community development partnerships.

In 1966, the college was created as a Merged Area X Community College, beginning with only 199 students. It has since grown to accommodate more than 23,00 credit students and 60,00 area residents who have educational opportunities through the Continuing Education and Training programs.

Since its inception, more than 70,000 graduates of Kirkwood have worked in Iowa.

The college aims has hosted or co-hosted a variety of community events, such as the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, the Out Loud programs through the Cedar Rapids Public Library and multiple Freedom Festival events. Kirkwood also hosts a culinary teaching facility in the NewBo Market.

In terms of the people associated with the school, Kirkwood prides itself on having a high number of volunteers, trustees and board members in all of its seven-county area. Todd Prusha, the executive dean for Distance Learning, said in the application that “that also includes several current and retired Kirkwood people in elected positions at the city, county and state levels.”


In the past year, Kirkwood has made strides in providing close-by educational tools and resources, most notably in three high school districts — the Jones Regional Center, the Linn Regional Center, and the Washington Regional Center.

The college hopes to increase its reach in the fall of 2015 with the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa. The center will have a STEM Hub and the Grant Wood Area Education Agency area office. In the application, Prusha wrote the center will hopefully provide an avenue to further education but also to place an emphasis on “awareness building from elementary schools through senior year.”

Over the year, Kirkwood also made steps to become a more green campus, receiving one of 12 Environmental Excellence awards and the sole Special Recognition in Waste Management award from the Iowa governor’s office. The community college was also awarded with the national-level Green Campus award.

Kirkwood also gave away more than $3 million in scholarship awards, as well as honoring veterans through the 2014 Kirkwood Purple Heart Scholarship, given to wounded veterans.

LL Pelling Co.

• 1425 W. Penn St., North Liberty, 52317


• Chief officer: Chuck Finnegan

• Number of employees: 224

• Number of years in business: 66

LL Pelling Co. is an asphalt contractor and producer. It does other construction services such as pavement markings and concrete repair.

Lloyd Pelling Sr. established the business in 1949 in the Williamsburg area. In the time when roads were transitioning from mud to gravel before going to pavement, Pelling created a company to oil area roads.

The company’s first major expansion came in 1956 when it grew to Iowa City. LL Pelling took another major stride in 1968 when it became a sister corporation of Cedar Rapids Asphalt and Paving Co.

The partnership lasted until 1993 when the Cedar Rapids Asphalt and Paving dissolved and began operating under the LL Pelling Co. name, in both the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas.


The company has grown into an asphalt contractor and producer with a variety of different types of clients including industrial, commercial and municipal organizations. It has asphalt plants in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Marion.

LL Pelling Co. also provides concrete construction, repair and maintenance along with pavement markings and shingle recycling.

In the past year, LL Pelling completed a $20 million project — the paving of the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 380. The project included three different contracts and more than 10 subcontractors.

During the run of the project, the company used Iowa-based subcontractors and materials suppliers.

“The LL Pelling Co. considers I-380 their greatest accomplishment last year for several reasons — the financial value, work it provided to Iowa employees and companies, difficulties that were overcome and the end result to Corridor residents,” said Carrie Diaz, a marketing representative for LL Pelling.

It used both recycled asphalt pavement and recycled shingles on part of the roadway. In addition, it was required to do all its work at night so as to not inconvenience drivers.

Despite this challenge, the company completed the project on time.

LL Pelling donates time, money and resources to organizations such as Special Olympics Iowa, Johnson County United Way and the Iowa Children’s Museum.


• 2600 University Parkway, Coralville, 52241


• Chief officer: Chris Klitgaard

• Number of employees: 300

• Number of years in business: 8

MediRevv started off with just six employees.

Eight years later, the health care revenue cycle management company has nearly 300 employees and is planning to build a third facility.


MediRevv works as an extension of a hospital’s business office — working with insurance companies to collect funds for hospital services. When a patient pays out-of-pocket costs, the company also works with them to resolve accounts and makes sure patients understand claims.

The company serves a wide range of clients that includes individual hospitals, physician groups and academic medical centers, such as the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

The Coralville-based company saw a 38 percent increase in revenue in 2014 and expects a 25 percent increase in revenue in 2015.

The growth fueled the creation of two additional divisions within MediRevv — coding services and eligibility management, which began in June.

Certified coding employees have worked with medical providers to assist them in a major transition between insurance billing coding systems while the eligibility management division helps patient’s enroll in Medicaid and other medical assistance programs.

That growth has not gone unnoticed.

The Technology Association of Iowa and the Inc. 5000 List have all recognized MediRevv over the years.

The company also works to create a company culture that recognizes community service, with a volunteer time off program that gives employees 16 hours of paid time off to volunteer at a charity of their choice, including Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the North Liberty Community Pantry.

Mercy Medical Center

• 701 10th St. SE, Cedar Rapids, 52403


• Chief officer: Tim Charles

• Number of employees: 2775

• Number of years in business: 114

More than 110 years ago, the Sisters of Mercy created a medical center to provide health care for the sick and poor.


“Although the faces and technologies have changed throughout the years, our vision and mission still reflect our commitment to continuing the Sisters’ work today and for years in the future,” the organization wrote in its application.

Mercy works to support the community, hosting and participating in a number of events and causes in the past year alone, including Especially For You Race Against Breast Cancer, KCRG-TV9 Show You Care Sponsorship, JDRF Walk, North Liberty Blues and BBQ and Relay For Life.

In addition, the organization aims to “decrease cost, increase value, improve access and provide the highest quality of services to larger populations within the Corridor.”

It does that through innovative partnerships, such as the telehealth clinic it launched in April with Rockwell Collins.

Rockwell employees can talk with a Mercy physician via a secure video feed for acute conditions such as sinus infections, ear infections, urinary tract infections, rash and flu. Physicians are able to view images from diagnostic equipment through a separate video feed.

The telehealth clinic creates “faster access to medical care, lower health care costs, and convenient care … reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and increased employee satisfaction,” according to Mercy’s application.

“While telehealth has increased the business line of what Mercy can offer to the community” the hospital said, “it will also change the future of the we deliver health care.”

Merit Construction Co.

• 1000 29th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, 52404


• Chief officer: Stuart Slaymaker

• Number of employees: 60

• Number of years in business: 41

Merit Construction started in 1974 when stockholders from Rinderknecht Associates Inc. bought Voightman Construction Co. Two years later the company renamed itself Merit Construction.


The employee-owned company specializes in commercial and office buildings along with assisted living and medical facilities. Merit also offers construction management and safety services along with project management and administration.

Almost all of the company’s office employees volunteer for Meals on Wheels, with two to three Merit employees volunteering their time every Friday to deliver meals to residents in southwest Cedar Rapids.

“We love bringing joy and a hot meal to those in need,” the company’s application said.

The construction company sponsors the Corey Baker Memorial Fishing Tournament, with the proceeds going toward Eastern Iowa youth and conservation programs.

“We know how important it is to invest in our future and give back to the communities which give so much to us,” the company’s application said.

Focused on building strong relationships, the company has snagged repeat business from Corridor companies that include McGrath Family of Dealerships, Mercy Medical Center and Modern Piping in addition to building the $42 million Merrill Hotel and Conference Center in Muscatine.

“We have been cultivating long-term relationships from the beginning,” the company said. “But over the last year we’ve made it a priority to strengthen and grow those client relationships.”

MidWestOne Financial Group Inc.

• 102 S. Clinton St., Iowa City, 52240


• Chief officer: Charles Funk

• Number of employees: 730

• Number of years in business: 81

MidWestOne provides banking, mortgage, commercial real estate, investment, trust and property management services.


Established in 1934 as the Iowa State Bank & Trust Co., the business grew in Johnson County to acquire the former MidWestOne Bank based in Oskaloosa. After taking the name in 2008, the organization continued to grow, opening 25 locations throughout Eastern Iowa.

MidWestOne was the first financial institute in the Corridor to become certified as a Blue Zones worksite and to have a LEED Certified building.

The organization maintains internal support for the Corridor by awarding a $50,000 grant to the winning bank branch location to establish a project in its community through the MidWestOne Community Impact Grant. The organization also is a presenting sponsor for major area events and fundraising efforts such as Taste of Iowa City and the Iowa City Run for the Schools.

It also provides funds to area projects and organizations, such as Hancher Auditorium and the Iowa City Animal Shelter. In total, the MidWestOne Foundation and MidWestOne has provided $500,000 in philanthropic giving.

In May 2015, MidWestOne acquired Central Bancshares Inc., the parent company of Central Bank in Minnesota. Central Bank has 22 locations in the Twin Cities area and in western Wisconsin as well as two in Florida. In combination, it reaches 60,000 households.

In 2016, Central Bank will merge with MidWestOne completely, growing the company from 25 locations to 47. Nick Pfeiffer, second vice president and marketing officer, said in the application that through this, “an investment in the future will be more than $143 million,” allowing it to grant promotions and provide greater technology to its customers.

Oaknoll Retirement Residence

• 1 Oaknoll Court, Iowa City, 52246


• Chief officer: Patricia Heiden

• Number of employees: 205

• Number of years in business: 49

Oaknoll Retirement Residence, which provides a variety of independent senior living, assisted living and health care options, has a long history of growth.

The retirement community began in Iowa City in 1966 with the intention of providing a safe living environment for retired people and a guarantee of nursing care if needed. It started with one- and two-bedroom apartments and a 48-bed health center.


Since then, the organization has gone through numerous physical changes. The facility underwent additions in 1983, 1998 and 2006 and a renovation of its health center in 1993.

Oaknoll began offering assisted living in 21 apartments in the fall 2000 before doubling the number of those apartments in 2007. Just more than 10 years ago, Oaknoll moved into a newly configured Health Center where it is licensed for skilled and intermediate nursing care, and it will expand the building this year.

Within the past year, Oaknoll had its largest expansion.

The facility added 70 independent apartments for senior living to the existing campus. The expansion cost $46 million and added 150,000 square feet.

Patricia Heiden, executive director of Oaknoll, said the expansion was an opportunity for Oaknoll to show it is an environmentally conscious organization. The structure includes geothermal heating and cooling along with natural and LED lighting and more.

“The trend toward environmentally responsible construction and private health care rooms is helping Oaknoll stay in the forefront of our industry.” Heiden said. “As Oaknoll incorporates new technologies and services, we invite more retirees to look at the Corridor as a place to thrive in their later years.”

She also said this allows Oaknoll to add more positions to support the local workforce and economy. The organization already has added 25 jobs with more expected as the project continues.

The addition is expected to increase Oaknoll annual revenue from $7.8 million last ear to $10.6 million this year.

“With this expansion, Oaknoll becomes large enough to level the impact of unpredictable apartment turnover rates and reduce the strain of uneven budget years,” Heiden said. “Harder to measure but certainly apparent is the impact this project has had on the well-being of those who move into our Oaknoll community.”

Pear Deck

• 316 E. Court St., Iowa City 52240


• Chief officers: Michal Eynon-Lynch, Riley Eynon-Lynch

• Number of employees: 8

• Number of years in business: 1


Pear Deck provides teachers with the ability to facilitate live, electronic presentation sessions to engage their entire classrooms using students’ devices.

Pear Deck is made up of a team of former teachers. Their program, among other options, allows educators to give electronic presentations that students log in to from their own laptops at their desks using a code. The program gives the teacher the power to track student success and gage student understanding through anonymous polling.

Instead of singling one student out to answer a question, the entire classroom can participate. All their answers appear on teacher’s main screen.

The company launched a beta product in early 2014, and it publicly debuted the program five months later. During the first school year that Pear Deck was available, users increased at 30 percent every month.

In the past year, Pear Deck won the John Pappajohn Business Iowa Business Plan Competition, and it was awarded $100,000 from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Pear Deck also won Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Competition at South By Southwest, a competition “aimed at bringing investment dollars to entrepreneurs outside of typical investment areas, like Silicon Valley,” said Michal Eynon-Lynch via email.

It competed for funding from Village Capital EdTech Accelerator in Washington, D.C. It further was recognized by the Technology Association of Iowa in 2015. The company was selected to pitch for the Google Demo Day in 2015, and it received mention on CNBC and ABC News.

Pear Deck’s revenue grew 500 percent, and its staff doubled.

“It has been remarkable to build and launch a product in a matter of months and obtain customers so quickly,” the company said in its application.

Western Fraternal Life

• 1900 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids, 52402


• Chief officer: Craig Van Dyke

• Number of employees: 35

• Number of years in business: 117

Its name may have changed names several times, but Western Fraternal Life’s mission and Czech heritage has stayed consistent throughout its 117 years of business.


Western Fraternal Life is a not-for-profit financial services organization that sells life insurance as well as annuity products. The institution then uses those resources to fund member benefits and support communities.

“We are unique,” according to the company’s application. “As a fraternal society, our revenues are returned to members and their communities, not Wall Street investors.”

The not-for-profit, formed in 1887, was created by immigrants from what later became Czechoslovakia with the purpose of sharing the cost of life insurance and supporting their shared heritage. It began to insure women two years after its formation and started to insurance children in 1919.

In 1949, the not-for-profit opened its membership to everybody and at the national convention in 1971, its members decided to change the name to the Western Fraternal Life Association to reflect the organization’s inclusive nature.

It has donated to a number of local organizations throughout last year, including FourOaks, Eastern Iowa Arts Academy and House of Hope. The organization takes part in fundraising for the Big Brother and Sister Program and serves at their holiday meal.

Western Fraternal Life also hosted their three-day national convention in July — an event that brought more than 300 people to Cedar Rapids.

The not-for-profit set out on a rebranding initiative last year with the goal of sending “one clear message that says who we are and what we do,” according to Freeman.

“It has served us well, but the letters are often confused with a radio station and do not reflect our heritage,” according to its application.


As the average age of the active member is older, the not-for-profit is focused on attracting younger members. The organization has also expanded its presence on social media in an effort to communicate with members.

• These profiles were compiled by Lily Abromeit, Maddy Arnold, Ryan Tarinelli and Lissandra Villa and taken from the submitted information and interviews.

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