AABP Award 728x90

13th annual readers’ poll


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Nothing unlucky about 13 in this case. The Business Record’s annual poll of readers has determined the fortunate winners in 71 categories in the 13th annual Best of Des Moines competition. This week and next week, we’ll announce the winners and tell you a little bit about them.


Someone needs to set the course, and these people are among the best at it in Central Iowa.

Building Iowa

Projects are always under way around here; the readers selected these companies as key players.

Business basics

Every day brings new demands in business, and the winners here know how to satisfy those demands.


Here are the leading experts in a field that has come to dominate the world of business at every level.


Brian Griffin, Griffin Transfer & Storage Inc.

Serving as president of the African-American Business Association of Des Moines and being on the board of the Better Business Bureau of Central & Eastern Iowa have helped this Illinois native expand his business and find a place in the community. But Brian Griffin’s real focus is on creating a better life for his wife, Deb, and children (Hailey, 11, and Quincy, 5).

He started Griffin Transfer & Storage Inc. more than six years ago, when, after working for a trucking company in Minneapolis for 10 years, the owners gave him the opportunity to take over work in Des Moines. This year he also started Griffin Services LLC, a courier service for businesses.

The former football player at Arizona Western College and Bemidji State University runs his business like a team. “Everything that I do is based upon team,” Griffin said. “I wouldn’t be any of this if it wasn’t for my team at Griffin Transfer.”

Business at Griffin Transfer picked up during this June’s floods, with major clients such as the city of Des Moines, Qwest Communications International Inc. and the Scholastic Book Fair. He also has been busy working for the African-American Business Association in setting up a business incubator program.

But his “charity of choice” is the American Diabetes Association, which he serves as a volunteer and is on the board in honor of family members who have had the disease.

“Motivation is not an issue,” Griffin said. “I’m all over the place. It doesn’t take me much to get up and rock ‘n’ roll. Everybody that pretty much knows me knows that motivating me is not hard to do at all. I’ve got two kids that I need to support. I concentrate on the business thing, and I concentrate on the community so my kids can have a better life than I did.”

RUNNERS-UP: Suku Radia, Bankers Trust Co.; Malcolm Goodwin, Promise IT Solutions


United Way of Central Iowa

In 2007, Central Iowa became the No. 1 United Way community in per-capita giving. United Way of Central Iowa has led the nation in campaign growth the past few years and has the largest Tocqueville Society (people giving $10,000 and above) for a community its size.

But that’s not all the nonprofit wants to be known for. This year,

United Way of Central Iowa is joining the national organization in launching a Live United branding campaign focused on encouraging people to give, volunteer or advocate.

“Our brand for about five years was centered around what matters,” said Shannon Cofield, president of the local organization. “It was really trying to redefine our work to what matters; focusing on community-level issues, not just funding agencies, and I think that helped lay the groundwork for what Live United is all about. We simplified our messaging.”

United Way is especially focused on a few key issues related to education, financial stability and health care. In addition to these efforts, it can respond to a crisis, such as deploying 2,000 volunteers during the floods this year, and has been lobbying the Iowa Legislature for the past two years. This year it was successful in encouraging some policy changes, such as ensuring that children in kindergarten through 12th grade receive financial education.

A slowdown in the economy has led United Way of Central Iowa to strive for a modest increase in its annual campaign this fall. It is trying to raise $26.25 million, up from $25 million last year, but not as dramatic as the 8 to 10 percent increases it has had in prior years.

Still, said Cofield, “the campaign chair and I have gone to all the

big companies, and so far, we’re impressed with their continued commitment to support United Way at or above the level they have in the past.”

RUNNERS-UP: Animal Rescue League of Iowa; American Red Cross


U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley

From H-1B visas to ethanol to international trade agreements, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley stays involved in many high-profile issues of concern to the business community.

When the government’s economic stimulus package was being debated last winter, Grassley focused on including incentives to help businesses buy equipment or add employees.

As the debate over the nation’s fuel policies rages on, Grassley continues to argue the case for ethanol, the production of which has become an important sector of Iowa’s economy.

He also has pushed Congress to extend the full wind-energy production tax credit; he sponsored the legislation creating the wind energy production tax credit in 1992 and has led several efforts to extend the incentive.

Grassley supported the nation’s trade agreement with Peru in 2007, and he continues to push for trade expansion, including our pending trade agreement with Colombia.

The New Hartford farm owner, who turns 75 in September, has served as a U.S. senator since 1980. He currently is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee and was nominated for Time magazine’s 2008 list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

RUNNERS-UP: Gov. Chet Culver; Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie


David Stark, Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Iowa Lutheran Hospital

Teamwork is central to David Stark’s approach to leadership and helps explain why the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Iowa Methodist Medical Center and Iowa Lutheran Hospital (under Iowa Health – Des Moines) also plays an active role in the community.

Among his many civic and professional involvements, he is the chapter president of the Iowa Association of Healthcare Leaders and serves on the boards of United Way of Central Iowa and First American Bank and the advisory board of the Ronald McDonald House.

“I feel a responsibility to give back to the community and participate in community activities,” he said. “It’s a personal belief of mine, which was given to me from my parents.”

Health care is probably his biggest passion, with his greatest challenge yet being to build Iowa Health’s West Des Moines hospital.

“It certainly was a once-in-a-lifetime project,” Stark said.

The Fort Dodge native became inspired to go into health-care management by a family friend and an older sister who is an executive at a health-care system in Chicago. He earned a management degree from Iowa State University and a master of health-care administration degree from the University of Iowa before joining Iowa Health. He was named chief operating officer of Iowa Lutheran in 1999 and assumed the same role at Iowa Methodist in 2002.

Having a daughter who had open-heart surgery when she was 4 months old also has made Stark and his wife, Becky, dedicated to the American Heart Association. They served as chairs for the organization’s Heart Ball Gala a couple of years ago.

“I think I have a great responsibility to continue to serve and make a difference for many more years,” Stark said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that I’ve arrived. There’s more work to be done and more opportunities to provide leadership and vision for our future and our community’s future.”

RUNNERS-UP: Aaron Kennedy, Flynn Wright; Kyle Gamble, CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial


Principal Financial Group Inc.

Principal Financial Group Inc. doesn’t have just one way to donate to charity; it has a bunch of them. From the volunteer efforts of employees to charitable giving to community grants, the Des Moines-based financial services company with a global presence has had a major impact on local good works.

The company and its employees raised more than $3.37 million for the 2007 United Way of Central Iowa campaign; the Principal Financial Group Foundation matched those funds to produce a total donation of $6.6 million.

Principal and its foundation also gave more than $10 million in grants to more than 800 nonprofit organizations.

Through the Principal Volunteer Network, employees used company-approved time off to donate 30,000 hours of work to nonprofit organizations. Principal offers each employee eight hours of paid time per year for such efforts.

Principal also participates in Day of Caring, a community-wide event sponsored by United Way of Central Iowa, and in March introduced Days of Action. This program focuses on smaller projects on a year-round basis.

In the realm of charitable giving, Principal supports these designated organizations: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, United Way, Holiday Food Drive, Holiday Adopt-A-Family and Toys for Tots.

The company’s Dollars for Denim program gives employees the option of wearing jeans to work in exchange for a donation of at least $1 to a nonprofit organization. In 2007, Dollars for Denim raised nearly $43,000 for eight local agencies. The company also gave $120,000 worth of in-kind items – including office supplies, paper, computers and furniture – to 97 nonprofits last year.

RUNNERS-UP: Wells Fargo & Co.; Hy-Vee Inc.

Best CEO

J. Barry Griswell, Principal Financial Group Inc.

He’s a “former” CEO now, but nobody accused J. Barry Griswell of coasting to the finish line. His final year as the top executive at Principal Financial Group Inc. was embellished by more honors for the company, showing that he helped create a top-rate work atmosphere during his seven years in the job.

Last fall, Fortune magazine placed Principal 77th on its list of the 100 best places to work in the United States. More recently, coming after Griswell’s May 31 departure as CEO but still reflecting on his efforts, Computerworld ranked Principal No. 26 on its list of the 100 Best Places to Work in Information Technology and Latina Style magazine named the company as one of the 50 best places for Latinas to work in the United States.

“All of those awards say you’re doing the right thing,” Griswell said. “If you’re not doing those things, you’re not really a holistic CEO.”

Griswell became president of the company in 1998 and CEO in 2000, placing him at the center of the action when Principal issued its initial public offering of stock on Oct. 23, 2001. He added the title of chairman in 2002 and will retain that post until the end of the year.

Principal hasn’t escaped the current economic slump unscathed. Its stock price has dropped from nearly $71 last December to the mid-$40 range recently.

But in the longer term, Principal reached a market capitalization value of more than $9 billion under Griswell’s leadership, expanded its interests in far-off markets such as India and China, and reached a level of more than 16,000 full-time employees worldwide.

“I hope I have a reputation for running the company with integrity, fairness to the employees and giving back to the community,” Griswell said.

RUNNERS-UP: Steve Chapman, ITAGroup Inc.; Craig Damos, The Weitz Co.


J. Barry Griswell, Principal Financial Group Inc.

His job title has changed, but it’s likely that J. Barry Griswell will continue as an important business leader in Central Iowa. Griswell stepped down as CEO of Principal Financial Group Inc. last spring, then immediately became president of the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation.

The question is whether the community will see him in the same light now that he’s not in command of thousands of employees.

“Realistically, when you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, your visibility is going to be pretty high,” Griswell said. “I would be pleased to see someone else recognized with this award going forward.”

However, he said, “I hope I’m still seen as an important leader.”

Among other achievements, Griswell has been a force behind the major downtown project known as the Principal Riverwalk, and he’s an automatic choice for a leadership position when groups are formed to deal with business issues.

He also has led on a larger stage, having chaired the United Way of America National Tocqueville Council for three years. He traveled to dozens of cities around the country to encourage donations of at least $10,000 to local United Way campaigns.

Griswell sees his new role as another platform for leadership, not just fund raising.

“The Community Foundation has got to have the broadest view” of any social-issues group in the city,” he said. “It’s the most respected people in the community trying to solve problems.”

What he brings to the task is “a willingness to roll up my sleeves and work for people,” he said. “That’s much more important than business acumen. People want to know the foundation will be well-run, but that’s almost a given.”

When Gov. Chet Culver wanted to put someone in charge of fund raising to help with recovery from June’s floods, he tapped Griswell and Fred Hubbell. For a leader, saying yes was an easy choice.

“When you think of the flooding,” Griswell said, “it’s hard to say, ‘Instead of doing something to help people, I’ll go play golf.'”

RUNNERS-UP: Steve Chapman, ITAGroup Inc.; Jim Cownie, JSC Properties Inc.


West Des Moines

When Steve Gaer was elected mayor of West Des Moines, he and City Manager Jeff Pomeranz initiated a policy of conducting regular meetings with business leaders. “Several times a month, we sit down with a CEO and ask how they think we’re doing and how we could do better,” Pomeranz said. “We try to take action on those suggestions.”

Their proactive approach is one way West Des Moines is working to continue its impressive success in the business arena. Pomeranz has been in his job for 10 years, and said, “We’ve had over a billion dollars of development in our community in that time.”

The most recent coup was landing the new headquarters for Aviva USA, which had also considered downtown Des Moines as a building site.

“We want to compete with other states and regions around the country. That’s what we’re targeting,” Pomeranz said. “We work closely with the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Choose Des Moines Communities and the Greater Dallas County Development Alliance. Everything is based on partnerships.”

A strong track record and solid infrastructure work to the city’s advantage when companies from other states are in the market for a new location. There’s more to the process than that, however. “Companies are more willing to ask for incentives than in the past,” Pomeranz said, “and they’re hiring consultants who are experts in working with cities and maximizing participation in existing incentives.”

Runners-up: Des Moines; Urbandale


Terrus Real Estate Group

The properties Terrus Real Estate Group manages are visible throughout downtown Des Moines, including Iowa’s tallest building, 801 Grand.

About half of Terrus’ 150-person staff is dedicated to this service. Unlike other companies that manage properties, most of Terrus’ work is for other building owners, not on property it owns.

“We have a very big service bent to us,” said Randy Minear, president and CEO of the company. “We try to keep our clients happy, have good financial reporting capabilities, and because of our size, we have good relationships with vendors and service providers.”

Terrus currently manages 5 million square feet of space, most of which is in Greater Des Moines, including the Bank of America Building, West Towers and Colony Park in West Des Moines, the Finkbine Mansion on Grand Avenue and the Blood Center of Iowa’s facilities. It also works with a couple of properties in other locations, including Mason City and Nebraska.

The company hasn’t had much growth in this area in the past year, but has seen a slight pickup recently as some properties, especially multifamily units, have been foreclosed upon, leaving lenders needing someone to manage them.

“Our pipeline is pretty steady right now,” Minear said. “There’s no blow-your-socks-off type of deals. It’s just blocking and tackling every day.”

RUNNERS-UP: Hubbell Realty Co.; Knapp Properties Inc.


Hubbell Realty Co.

Rick Tollakson talks about land development and you tend to listen.

As the president of Hubbell Realty Co., he has been involved in key renovations of downtown buildings, construction of apartment and condominium buildings, not to mention more than 1 million square feet of office, retail and medical space and 12 business parks in Central Iowa.

Though residential and commercial development has slowed due to the economy and wet weather that has persisted winter through summer, Hubbell just keeps plugging along. Company statistics indicate that its buildings are nearly 98.5 percent occupied.

In tough times, Hubbell is a company with a smile on its corporate face.

There’s a reason for the company’s perseverance: It doesn’t take the development game too fast or too slow.

“We like to be the best,” Tollakson said. “We’d like to stay the best.”

Tollakson adheres to a basic development philosophy that admonishes its followers to keep cash on hand; resist the temptation to hoard land and buildings; communicate both good news and bad to your staff; have the discipline to walk away from just any old deal that comes along; and analyze to exhaustion deals that have promise.

“In this day and age you have to know what you are getting yourself into,” Tollakson said.

RUNNERS-UP: Ladco Development Inc.; Knapp Properties Inc.


Hubbell Realty Co.

When Rick Tollakson, president of Hubbell Realty Co., weighed a major change in the company’s approach to building mini-communities of homes and shops, he didn’t do a lot of research. Instead, it was gut-check time.

“You have to go with your gut and find out whether you and the people around you believe those kinds of things are important, and I’m a strong believer, so I felt fairly confident,” Tollakson said, explaining the company’s decision to create native prairies with homes added to the mix.

Hubbell introduced conservation development communities, which expand on green building concepts by creating residential areas with less focus on high-maintenance lawns and more on low-impact, environmentally friendly open spaces.

The emphasis is on preserving the swells and hollows of landscapes, limiting lot sizes and restoring native prairie grasses and wildflowers.

These are not residential developments dominated by large lots with isolated swaths of green space. The lots sizes tend to be smaller, with public spaces of restored prairie occupying 25 to 45 percent of the development.

Hubbell has applied that concept to Glynn Village in Waukee, Danamere Farms in Carlisle, Meadowlark South in Grimes, The Greens at Woodland Hills in Des Moines and Ambrose Place in Altoona. There are tentative plans for a similar development in Johnston.

Tollakson said the company also is an area leader in installing geothermal heating and cooling units in its single-family homes and brownstone developments.

Stepping to the forefront in green building practices “puts us an edge ahead,” he said.

RUNNERS-UP: Jerry’s Homes Inc., Accurate Development Inc.


The Weitz Co.

The Weitz Co. is just a tad younger than the state of Iowa, so you would think the builder of skylines could take a breather now and then.

Not so.

Tracing its roots to German immigrant Charles Weitz, who hung his first window in Des Moines in 1855, the company continues to look for an edge in offering service and innovation.

“From my perspective, I think it’s our people, who develop a level of customer service and develop long-term relationships,” said Mike Tousley, president of Weitz Iowa.

If you’re a Weitz client, chances are you keep coming back. Tousley said that about 80 percent of the company’s clients are repeat customers.

And though Weitz handles most of the concrete and carpentry work on its projects in house, it also has developed relationships with subcontractors and material suppliers that are “really strong, and we rely on them heavily and without them we couldn’t do what we do,” Tousley said.

Tousley enjoys the “best of” recognition, which he considers a challenge. “When recognized as the best of anything, you want to stay there and the way you stay there is to continue to be innovative and to provide value,” he said.

RUNNERS-UP: Ball Construction Services LLC; Hubbell Realty Co.


Baker Group

The Baker Group’s success is hidden in the cellars and behind the walls of some of Central Iowa’s most prestigious buildings.

That’s not bad for a 45-year-old company that started as a one-man plumbing contractor with a small savings account and a pickup truck.

Today, the Baker Group has more than 200 employees and multimillion-dollar revenues.

Its sheet metal, heating and cooling systems and plumbing can be found at the elaborate Wells Fargo & Co. campus in West Des Moines, several retail outlets at Jordan Creek Village and Jordan Creek Town Center, and laboratory and research facilities at Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. in Johnston.

Baker currently is at work on the John Deere Credit expansion in Johnston, the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield headquarters downtown and the Iowa Clinic expansion in West Des Moines.

Plumbing and Heating Contractor News has named the Baker Group as one of the top 100 mechanical contractors in the country, and the company has gained recognition for several years as one of Engineering News-Record’s top 600 specialty contractors.

RUNNERS-UP: Waldinger Corp; Wolin & Associates Inc.


Iowa Realty

Brennan Buckley, vice president of marketing, attributes much of Iowa Realty’s success to the work of its 675 Central Iowa agents.

Though “it’s definitely been a challenging market, particularly in the last 12 months,” Buckley said Iowa Realty agents are focusing on customer service and many are achieving record sales this year.

In the past year, Iowa Realty also has invested a lot of money in new technology and making sure that its Web site gets more traffic than any other real estate company in the area. Buckley said www.iowarealty.com gets anywhere from 12 to 15 times more traffic than its closest competitor.

New technology has especially attracted young agents to the company, Buckley said.

In addition to dominating the market with 3,000 to 4,000 listings, out of 6,530 total listings in June, Iowa Realty also represents “the lion’s share of listings” downtown. It recently closed on a $1 million-plus condominium unit in the Equitable Building and has sold several units at the 4th Street Condos.

“We clearly recognize downtown Des Moines as an important part of the vibrancy of the metro,” Buckley said, “and getting people to live down there, in addition to working and playing down there, is very important.”

RUNNERS-UP: RE/MAX; Hubbell Realty Co.


Iowa Realty Commercial

The staff is down to about 15 agents from 20 last year, but still Kevin Crowley, Iowa Realty Commercial’s chief operating officer, said business is ahead of last year.

“While investments might be a bit off,” he said, “we’ve made up for it both in industrial and retail business.”

The company doesn’t reveal details about specific deals it has brokered, but Crowley said it has had some good retail transactions, including one with a health club in Clive, and helped close deals on some of the largest industrial properties on the market this year.

It also has two major downtown listings: the Des Moines and Equitable buildings.

Though some observers fear an influx of open office space in the near future, Crowley said, “we’ve been pleased with the amount of activity we’ve seen in a short amount of time of marketing those two buildings. … It’s not unlike five or eight years ago. The industrial market was very weak, high vacancy; now that’s the strongest market, with extremely low vacancy. We expect to see the same cycle downtown.”

Since Iowa Realty bought Crowley Commercial Real Estate about seven years ago, Crowley said it has become more well-rounded in its expertise. It hired two retail brokers this past year.

“We really have some great investment brokers that do multifamily, we have excellent experience in brokerage of industrial properties and have participated in some larger deals in the market this year, and have a lot of loyal repeat business clients in all categories,” he said.

RUNNERS-UP: CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial; R&R Realty Group


RDG Planning & Design

In 2008, RDG Planning & Design might not achieve the 40 percent growth rate it experienced last year, but it is capitalizing on a wide range of new services it can offer clients, including public art, graphic design, lighting design and hydrology.

These new integrated services have led RDG to work on “all kinds of interesting projects,” said Phil Hodgin, a principal at the firm, such as a bus advertisement for the “Share the Road” campaign, which won an award, and the Paragon Prairie Tower in Urbandale.

“We’ve always believed in integrated practice,” Hodgin said, “but more and more clients are asking for us to provide that.”

That doesn’t mean RDG’s primary focus on architecture has changed. Some of its recent Greater Des Moines projects include the Davis Brown Tower, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s new headquarters, major renovations to Dowling Catholic High School, improvements to Iowa State University’s Jack Trice Stadium, restoration of the Capitol and enhancements to Interstate 235.

RDG also is taking its services outside Iowa. Last year, it did work in 34 states and is now looking internationally, with a pro bono village project in Africa and potential work in India in restoration and health care.

The Des Moines-based company, which now has 195 employees in six offices across the country, plans to continue to grow as demand dictates.

“We aren’t getting a map out and throwing darts at it, saying it has to be in this state or we have to be in this city,” Hodgin said. But RDG is looking for new opportunities to let some of its younger staff members advance their careers. “We do have some folks who are looking at retirement,” Hodgin said, “but also more young folks that need to have key opportunities to grow, and we think the only way we can really make that happen is to continue to keep a mindful eye on growth.”

RUNNERS-UP: SVPA Architects Inc.; INVISION Architecture


Wells Fargo Bank Iowa

Small business owners in Iowa are likely to know Wells Fargo Bank. After all, Wells Fargo extended more than $227 million in loans under $100,000 to more than 8,800 small businesses in the state in 2006, the latest figures available. That represented a 21 percent increase in both dollar volume and number of loans from a year earlier.

The Wells Fargo commercial banking team also provides credit, treasury management, investment management, online services and other customized financial products and services through more than 80 offices in 30 states, including its regional commercial banking office at 666 Walnut St. in Des Moines.

Commercial and commercial real estate loans companywide have increased for 15 consecutive quarters, and were up in the second quarter of 2008 by $7.3 billion, or 19 percent from the first quarter.

“Wells Fargo is here to support our customers through every economic cycle,” said Tim Billerbeck, regional vice president of commercial banking for Wells Fargo in Iowa. “We’re focused on adding value to our customers’ businesses with our people and products. We’re known for being consistent, trustworthy and always acting in our customers’ best interest.”

RUNNERS-UP: West Bank; Bankers Trust Co.


Shive-Hattery Group Inc.

Shive-Hattery Group Inc. has kept its designing eyes and hands on the growth of Central Iowa; it also has been dealing with the immediate past.

The company’s Cedar Rapids office was forced to move during the June floods, and its engineers have been busy inspecting everything from foundations to roofs to make sure buildings are safe to occupy.

“It doesn’t leak when it doesn’t rain,” said Jim Lee, Shive-Hattery’s lead mechanical engineer in Des Moines, where 64 engineers and architects keep busy designing regional health centers and major street expansions, plus improvements and expansions at military centers around the country.

Shive-Hattery, which has been ranked by a trade publication as one of the top 500 design firms in the country, was founded in Cedar Rapids and currently has offices in Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and West Des Moines.

The employee-owned firm had revenues last year of $35 million.

Lee attributes the company’s success to those employees.

“Our clients hire our people; they don’t hire our company,” Lee said.

Because much of Shive-Hattery’s work is done months in advance of construction on a project, it gets a sneak peek at the health of the economy, long before contractors and equipment suppliers.

Lee noted that the company is seeing a “huge” slowdown in the commercial retail sector, but he said other Iowa industries appear strong.

“We do get a little bit of a clue and that’s why we are fairly optimistic that some of our other markets are continuing to move ahead with their projects,” Lee said.

RUNNERS-UP: KJWW Engineering Consultants P.C.; Bishop Engineering Co. Inc.


Baker Electric Inc.

Baker Electric Inc. is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and another in a long line of “Best Electrical Contractor” awards. John Irving has an explanation for his company’s longevity.

“The company has just had a long history of building client relationships, which is very important in this business or any business,” said Irving, Baker Electric’s director of business development.

Baker Electric is involved this summer in several Central Iowa projects, including the Aviva USA headquarters in West Des Moines, the 550,000-square-foot Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield headquarters downtown and the John Deere Credit expansion in Johnston.

And though Baker Electric focuses on its home territory, it also is wrapping up work on a new General Electric Co. plant in Batesville, Miss., that manufactures components for aircraft engines.

In addition, Baker Electric is in the second year of occupancy of a 100,000-square-foot warehouse and fabrication facility at 2301 Fleur Drive, where it prefabricates many of the electrical components that wind up on job sites. The company is one of few electrical contractors in the country that pre-assemble the components, which include receptacles, light fixtures and switches, Irving said.

“It helps with inventory and quality control and reduces construction time on the job,” he said.

Wet weather, both snow and rain, have combined with an economic slowdown to create a lull in the construction market, yet, Irving said, Baker Electric has remained occupied with commercial projects and is looking forward to a turnaround in both the commercial and residential markets.

RUNNERS-UP: Wolin Electric L.C.;

Webster Electric Inc.


Wells Fargo Bank Iowa

There are many reasons Wells Fargo Bank Iowa is considered the best bank by Business Record readers, from its focus on customers to its commitment to technology.

“Our success is a result of our commitment to our vision to helping our customers succeed financially,” said Scott Johnson, regional president for Wells Fargo in Iowa and Illinois, “and our emphasis on providing a satisfying experience to each and every customer who walks into a store, calls a banker or logs in online.”

The largest financial institution in Iowa, Wells Fargo operates branches in 45 communities, with 77 retail banking stores, six Wells Fargo Home Mortgage offices and 13 Wells Fargo Financial stores.

Wells Fargo continues to focus on improving the customer experience. For customers conducting transactions at the teller line, welcoming and wait time survey scores were up 50 percent companywide.

The company also continues to innovate with technology. In 2007, Wells Fargo rolled out its mobile banking service, which allows customers to handle routine banking transactions, such as obtaining checking account balances, from virtually any location simply by using a cellphone or other hand-held device.

RUNNERS-UP: Bankers Trust Co.; West Bank


Dale Carnegie Training

Though the past 12 months have been difficult for many businesses, the local office of Dale Carnegie Training has increased its customer base by 30 percent in that span, according to General Manager Michael Day.

“We have really done a better job of reaching out in different ways,” Day said. “We’ve done a lot more workshops for community groups like the Ames Chamber of Commerce, for example. Also, we partnered with the Des Moines Radio Group and delivered workshops for their clients. That helped us take our brand awareness to a new level.”

Missouri native Dale Carnegie began teaching his self-improvement course in 1912 and incorporated Dale Carnegie & Associates Inc. in 1954. Based in Hauppauge, N.Y., the parent company claims to do business in all 50 states and more than 75 other countries.

Michael D. Norman & Associates of Iowa Inc. operates the franchise at 6000 Grand Ave. in Des Moines as well as locations in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Newton; the franchise also covers all of Minnesota and part of Wisconsin.

Norman’s franchise is “consistently one of top three Dale Carnegie franchises in the world,” Day said, on the basis of revenues, number of clients and market penetration. “We’re in the running this fiscal year, ending Aug. 31, to be the top franchise in North America.”

RUNNERS-UP: Tero International Inc.; Wells Fargo & Co.


International Travel Associates

Travel has become more complex, and International Travel Associates (ITA) has had to deal with the added complications.

“We are in a very turbulent time,” said Lynn Ewing, general manager of ITA, a subsidiary of ITAGroup Inc.. “The airlines continue to have new policies and guidelines and procedures that have continued to make our travel agents work hard.”

The hard work will have to continue as ITA braces itself for more airline changes.

A lot of the airline cutbacks in flights and destinations will take effect Sept. 2 and 3, Ewing said. That means the travel agents at ITA haven’t even felt the roughest times yet.

Many of ITA’s clients are loyal customers who have been working with its tenured agents for more than 10 years. But even these loyal customers are cutting back on business travel.

“Our customers are conservative and are good stewards of their money,” Ewing said. “(They are) making sure that when they travel it is for the right reason. People are making one less trip or doing a conference call instead of flying for a meeting.”

Now, ITA agents are working extra hard to find the deals, connect the flights and save their clients the most money.

“It is tough out there and this partnership that we have with our clients has made all the difference,” Ewing said. “We love our clients and we want to keep them forever.”

RUNNERS-UP: Allied Travel and Cruises; AAA Travel Agency


Sigler Printing

With a 125,000-square-foot production facility in Ames and offices throughout Central Iowa, Sigler Printing advocates environmentally friendly printing practices and is one of Iowa’s first “green” printing facilities.

“Being in the Midwest, we really embrace the opportunity to look at the importance of our land and sustainable properties,” said Beth Cross, president of Sigler. “We became a green printer with Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative certification, which are given to printers who are using green practices.”

But “going green” wasn’t something Sigler was able to do overnight. With extensive training of employees and restructuring of its operations, it took Sigler nearly three years to complete the transition.

“We didn’t do it all at once because that is a very difficult thing,” Cross said. “We knew there were a lot of things we could easily do, and we began to reinstitute practices before we even went through the certification.”

The transition also required a large investment from Sigler for the implementation of new equipment and employee training. “It was a considerable investment on our part,” Cross said. “We took it step-by-step.”

RUNNERS-UP: Colorfx; FedEx Kinko’s Office and Print Center


Principal Financial Group Inc.

Edward Temple and five colleagues founded Bankers Life Association in 1879 to sell life insurance to bankers and their employees. Six months later, the enterprise had sold $108,000 worth of policies.

The company’s name, product line and bottom line have changed dramatically during the past 129 years. Its current incarnation, Principal Financial Group Inc., provides a variety of financial services but remains a major player in the life insurance industry.

Principal Life Insurance Co. ranks as the nation’s eighth-largest provider of life insurance, with more than 5 million group insurance members employed by more than 75,000 companies.

The largest Iowa-domiciled life insurance company, its life insurance offerings include plans that address estate planning, business continuation, executive benefits, financial planning and retirement income.

As of March 31, Principal Life Insurance held $137.5 billion in assets; the company overall had $152 billion in assets. For the three months ended March 31, the life insurance portion of the operation recorded $349 million in operating revenues.

RUNNERS-UP: Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.; State Farm Life Insurance Co.


Staples Inc.

Greater Des Moines businesses found it easy to choose Staples Inc. as the best place to buy office supplies. The world’s largest office products company, Staples operates 1,773 stores in North America, with Central Iowa locations that include Altoona, Ankeny, Ames and Marshalltown. Worldwide, the company serves businesses and consumers in 27 countries and does $27 billion in annual sales.

“From the business standpoint, we’ve really made big strides,” said Bob Hingtgen, general manager of the Ankeny store, which opened in 1998. “We’ve really emphasized two things: being in stock with things people need every day and customer service.” With Staples’ EasyTech computer service desk, small businesses can get their computers repaired right in the store or have new software installed, or receive tutorial help in using the software, Hingtgen said.

Next year, Staples plans to open a 21,000-square-foot store at Merle Hay Mall, which will be its first store within Des Moines’ city limits. The “junior anchor” store, which will have both an interior and exterior entrance, is a part of the mall’s overall renovation project for its east façade.

RUNNER-UP: Triplett Office Essentials; OfficeMax Inc.


Palmer Group

Ever hear of an executive who comes with a guarantee? It’s just an added benefit for companies that use Palmer Group for executive placements. If an executive Palmer recommends is terminated within 180 days of his or her start date, Palmer Group will provide a replacement at the same salary level for no additional charge.

For the sixth consecutive year, Palmer Group has been named “best executive search firm” by Business Record readers. The company’s recruiting professionals have an average of seven years of professional experience, which results in better interviews, screening and networking that lead to better candidates.

“I still think the cornerstone of the success we’ve experienced is the quality of the people on our team,” said company President Austin Palmer. “We have very little turnover and excellent teamwork here. We all get along and have fun. I think that combination allows us to provide excellent service.”

The recruitment firm has more than 10,000 active local candidates in its database for its clients to choose from, Palmer said, and on average receives more than 150 new applications each week on its Web site, www.thepalmergroup.com.

RUNNERS-UP: RSM McGladrey Inc.; Executive Resources Ltd.


RSM McGladrey Inc.

Iowa-born RSM McGladrey Inc. offers its business consulting, tax and accounting services through 120 offices located from coast to coast and from Miami to Duluth, Minn.

Its business services focus on financial management, human resources, operations, risk management, strategy and technology. Those services are spread among industries as diverse as construction, and real estate, to commercial fishing and tribal affairs.

RSM McGladrey has several publications specific to various industries and sectors of the economy.

A recent survey revealed that the prices for raw materials and energy are having a sudden impact on manufacturers and distributors’ profits. RSM McGladrey advised companies that in order to bolster growth they should turn to export markets, adopt lean manufacturing practices and take advantage of government programs and tax incentives.

RUNNERS-UP: BCC Advisers; McGowen, Hurst, Clark & Smith P.C.


Triplett Office Essentials

Triplett Office Essentials was founded 35 years ago on the principle that customer satisfaction is its No. 1 priority, and the family-owned business maintains that principle.

“Triplett’s people, culture and processes always make sure our customers are completely satisfied,” said Dick Triplett, the company’s president and CEO.

Triplett offers an inventory of hundreds of lines of furniture to make the selection process as easy as possible. The company’s salespeople help businesses choose the right furniture to fit their office needs and budgets.

The company’s 6,000-square-foot showroom in Urbandale features world-class furniture manufacturers that include Haworth, Paoli, Lacasse and HON. Triplett’s five-person creative design staff uses computer-aided design to assist customers with complete office interior renovations, including workstations, wall systems and furniture.

RUNNERS-UP: Storey-Kenworthy, Piggott Inc.


Palmer Group

The long list of customer testimonials posted on Palmer Group’s Web site provides some insight into why the firm has again been chosen as the best provider of temporary employment services.

Founded 10 years ago, Palmer Group now has 30 professionals in its West Des Moines office, providing more than 300 client companies with a broad range of employment services that include recruiting, professional temporary staffing, high-level contracting and outplacement

The firm puts temporary employee candidates through a rigorous interview process, which means client companies are provided with the best workers for the positions. Fewer than 20 percent of the temporary applicants that Palmer Group initially interviews are placed.

Palmer’s temporary staffing division also has a good working relationship with its executive search consultants, resulting in candidate referrals between divisions and a recruiting advantage over pure temporary staffing firms or recruiting-only firms.

RUNNERS-UP: Manpower Inc.; Kelly Services Inc.


Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield

Business Record readers for the 12th consecutive year have chosen Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield as “Best Health Care Insurance Provider.”

“We are honored to again be the winner,” said John Forsyth, Wellmark’s chairman and CEO. “We believe we are providing unparalleled value to our customers, and public recognition such as the Business Record award is confirming and greatly appreciated.”

Wellmark, which employs more than 1,700 Iowans and provides coverage to more than 1.7 million customers in the state, helps provide wellness information to its members to help them make better health-care and lifestyle choices. The company’s BlueConnection online self-service tools enable members to look up personalized health plan information and claims data, as well as locate doctors and hospitals within the BlueCard network for coverage outside Iowa.

In the past year, Wellmark launched Whole Health Dimensions, a new generation of health management programs and services that address health benefit costs by focusing on building wellness solutions to help keep employees healthy and prevent or delay chronic illnesses. Its key premise is the “medical home” concept, in which members have one central location for health care.

RUNNERS-UP: Principal Financial Group Inc., UnitedHealthcare


A+ Communications & Security

Fuel prices and travel expenses are keeping CEOs in their offices and off of planes, which means A+ Communications & Security is seeing a heightened demand for videoconferencing systems within companies, said Cory Vitzthum, general manager at A+.

“Videoconferencing is getting to be a real big deal, especially with CEOs’ (rising) traveling (expenses),” Vitzthum said.

Within the last year, A+ has become a certified distributor for Polycom Inc., a maker of videoconferencing systems, and A+ expects to see a lot of companies implementing Web-based systems.

“There is a very large growing interest,” Vitzthum said. “(Videoconferencing) utilizes the Internet as a video and audio platform and that makes it basically a free call.”

Vitzthum said a lot of larger companies with multiple offices across the nation and even worldwide are putting into operation this new system to save time and money. He said that companies are looking for “basically anything to keep a person out of a car or an airplane.”

A+ also recently became a certified Avaya Inc. dealer. Avaya is a telecommunications company that supports large platforms and can handle large business, Vitzthum said.

RUNNERS-UP: Baker Communications Inc.; Qwest Communications International Inc.


Mediacom Communications Corp.

Trying to keep up with the ever-changing and fast-growing demands of the Internet can be a challenge, but for the employees of Mediacom Communications Corp., it’s their job.

“With technology, we keep changing at a rapid pace, and consumer taste wants more and more,” said Phyllis Peters, the communications director for Mediacom’s North Central Division.

This means Mediacom must continually boost Internet speeds and always be looking 10 steps into the future.

“We won’t sit on the technology where it is today,” Peters said. “We are a company that is constantly reinvesting in our infrastructure. You always want to be paying for the best of today and on the verge of what’s going to be happening tomorrow.”

And to stay on the verge, Mediacom has been developing and building on its enterprise system that enables company networks to download large files at optimal speeds.

“It’s a service that offers as much capacity as a customer needs and it kind of stretches the imagination beyond what people are thinking,” Peters said.

This enterprise system connects businesses and provides them with large delivery options for the transfer of data files, audios files, images or even video clips.

Peters said that enterprise systems, which utilize fiber-optic networks, are being used by companies that are not physically located near each other, or by companies that want to share a lot of information within a secured capacity.

“(Our enterprise system has) been growing over the last two years and expanding,” Peters said. “With anything you want to walk before you run, but we are running now.”

Having these large infrastructures and Internet network capabilities has allowed Mediacom to bring Iowa customers up to speed with the rest of the world, Peters said.

“It’s showing how 21st-century Iowa is,” she said.

RUNNERS-UP: Qwest Communications International Inc., LightEdge Solutions Inc.


Verizon Wireless

Considering that the company invested more than $33.5 million to improve coverage in Iowa last year, it’s no surprise Verizon Wireless uses the slogan “America’s most reliable network.”

“The network is our pride and joy, and we do take that to heart when we talk about ‘America’s most reliable network,'” said Dennis Dohrmann, data sales manager for Verizon Wireless in Des Moines. “We really kind of do put our money where our mouth is.”

Verizon invested the $33.5 million in construction of additional cell towers and generators, and expansion of its broadband network.

“Our company invests a lot of money,” Dohrmann said. “We build our network so that when (customers) need that service, it’s there.”

And profits are there, too. The company recently announced a 12 percent increase in second-quarter net income, also boasting that it added 1.5 million net new customers nationwide.

But Verizon is always looking to do more. Dohrmann said Verizon is looking forward to 2009, as the company has some “great initiatives under way.”

One big initiative of 2008 was the launch of the company’s fourth-generation technology choice, Long Term Evolution (LTE), which it introduced last November. By providing LTE technologies, Verizon hopes to operate on a more global scale.

RUNNERS-UP: U.S. Cellular Corp.; Sprint Nextel Corp.


Spindustry Technical Training LLC

In the past, Spindustry Technical Training LLC has focused on information technology courses, but with changing customer demands, the company is in the process of developing new courses to add to its library of more than 200 courses.

“Everyone has been requesting (project management) courses,” said Angela Culbertson, general manager of Spindustry Training. “They want those office classes, and we also want to be able to offer them.”

With the addition of more courses, Spindustry is also hoping to maintain its ability to bring real-world experience into the classroom, giving professionals the tools they need in various work settings.

“We provide our clients with hands-on experience and we are able to customize to their needs,” Culbertson said. “We aren’t looking at the book. We’re asking them what are their problems in the real world and how can we tailor this class to their needs.”

Spindustry employs four full-time instructors but also has a network of qualified freelance instructors.

“We already know what our criteria are, and we only go to a select pool of instructors that we know can bring what Spindustry needs to the table,” Culbertson said. “If someone has unusual software that they need to be trained on, we can usually find someone who knows that software.”

RUNNERS-UP: New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc.; Alliance Technologies Inc.


Alliance Technologies Inc.

Actively working with about 500 clients in 2007, Alliance Technologies Inc. is moving ahead of the trends in the computer consulting industry.

Recently, Alliance became the first VMware Inc. authorized consulting company in the state, giving it a lead in the virtualization arena.

“That recent certification from VMware is just one piece of our virtualization expertise,” said Mike Lang, president and CEO. “That would be (something) that would set us apart – our focus on virtualization through information technology.”

VMware is a leader in managing and creating virtualization solutions for everything from single desktop units to whole data centers. And in order to get certification as an authorized VMware consultancy, Alliance had to go through a series of tests and its staff had to achieve a certain number of designations.

With approximately 100 employees – all of them dabbling in the computer consultancy sector of the business – Alliance is now able to manage and implement virtual infrastructures and virtualization solutions with its consultancy services.

“We are experts in providing the right server environment for virtualization,” Lang said. “Every chief information officer in Iowa is currently virtualizing their environment, or they are virtualized or they are looking at what it would take to become virtualized.”

RUNNERS-UP: Triple Point Solutions Inc.; RSM McGladrey Inc.


Spindustry Systems Inc.

Spindustry Systems Inc. likes to take a different path than other companies, and this path it isn’t complaining about. Adding staff and clients, Spindustry System is growing quicker than ever.

“At the moment, where a lot of business are contracting and concerned, we are actually hiring fast and fiercely,” said Stephen Fry, partner and chief operating officer of Spindustry Systems.

Fry attributes the company’s growth to its strong relationships with clients and superior follow-through.

“We think about our clients’ businesses as our own,” Fry said. “We do what we say we’re going to do, and we have the experience to back that up.”

Spindustry is currently developing new e-business forums on which area business professionals will learn and discuss how companies can use the Web to leverage new business opportunities. The forums will consist of six to eight non-competitive business leaders who meet in confidential locations once a month for eight months.

“It’s a great opportunity for people,” Fry said.

Registration for the forums closes at the end of August, and applications can be found on Spindustry’s Web site, www.spindustry.com.

Some of the topics that will be covered include: e-business hurdles and obstacles, understanding Web metrics and leveraging social networking in a business environment.

RUNNERS-UP: Innova Ideas & Services; Flynn Wright

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