The Cedar Valley's business community is a vibrant mix of large, small and startup companies.
Over the years, the Cedar Valley business community has created a vibrant local economy. Major companies have begun or relocated to the region, bringing employees with them. In addition, those residents have made the area a wonderful place to live and provided the highly skilled workforce necessary for business growth.
In short, it’s an ever-renewing, solid formula for a great region to live, work and play, says Cary Darrah, president and CEO of Grow Cedar Valley.
“In addition to our focus on diversifying and ensuring that our workforce is trained to meet new challenges, we also are placemaking,” Darrah says. “That means elevating the Cedar Valley as a place of choice for individuals and businesses and overcoming any barriers to that goal.”
Major industries across the Cedar Valley include manufacturing, logistics, food processing, financial services, information solutions and agri-based biotechnology. Major employers in the region include manufacturers such as John Deere, Omega Cabinetry, Bertch Cabinet and Viking Pump, as well as a food processing sector that includes Tyson, Nestle, ConAgra Grocery Products, Richelieu Foods and Deb El Food Products.
They are joined by an equally strong tech sector that includes companies such as Visual Logic, DISTek Integration Inc., which just celebrated its 30th anniversary, and Talk to Me Technologies.
“The growth in the Cedar Valley in terms of people, businesses and technology is incredibly exciting, and something Talk to Me is honored to be part of,” says Amanda Buhrow, director of human resources for Talk to Me Technologies, which creates speech-generating devices for children and adults.
Employers and workers alike benefit from the 10-gigabit service provided by municipal utilities in Cedar Falls and Waverly, which have been recognized for their ultrafast speed. Even rural communities, like New Hampton, for example, have broadband access.
Proximity in Perspective
The Cedar Valley area’s proximity to major Midwest markets has allowed DISTek, a company that designs software-based operations systems for agricultural and construction-type vehicles, to celebrate 30 years of growth and success. Distek routinely develops and tests its products in tandem with clients such as John Deere in several nearby states, says Jeff Sandvold, employee-owner and vice president of human resources.
“A lot of times, the vehicle hasn’t even been built yet, or a new piece of hardware has not been built, so we can do a lot of simulation with the clients,” Sandvold says. “We have four offices around the Midwest, and from our Cedar Falls location, we are close enough to work directly with those clients on-site for testing and can get there quickly if a system goes down.”
Buchanan County is just one example of a community powered by homegrown industries. While family-founded businesses like Geater Machining and Manufacturing, Wapsie Valley Creamery, Weiland and Sons Lumber Co., and Pries Enterprises started in the area, they will be making a collective $5 million investment back into the Cedar Valley in the next five years.
The local startup scene continues to grow rapidly, thanks to a robust infrastructure of training and coworking spaces, like UNI Student Incubator, Gravitate and the Cedar Valley Makerspace.
Thought leaders can move from college to career through programs such as the Iowa Student Internship Program and Accelerated Career Education Program while connecting to employment through the Iowa Registered Apprenticeship program.
Then there’s the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) Business & Community Services, or BCS, which operates a student incubator alongside 13 other unique outreach programs.
“We’ll work with 20 or 30 students a year who are beginning a new venture in our incubation space,” says Randy Pilkington, director of BCS. “We have a strong track record there. We also host a regional small business development center, which has helped a lot of Cedar Valley companies start and grow.”
The BCS works with entrepreneurs, communities and governments across Iowa’s 99 counties, helping with everything from marketing research and business incubation to building economic development programs.
“There are a lot of technology companies starting, growing and moving here that have goods and services sold online,” Pilkington says. “They may not need a lot of capital to start and grow, but they do need space and mentoring, which we have been providing since the late 1990s at Gravitate. The graduates from there become ‘sticky,’ which means they stay within 10 minutes of where they began. That has helped fill up a lot of the area and create an ecosystem for startup development and business growth we did not have 20 years ago.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Cedar Valley area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Cedar Valley, Iowa.