AABP Award 728x90

Building Iowa


Best general contractor

The Weitz Co.

Like courses of brick, the “Best Of” honors keep stacking up for The Weitz Co. This year the company was named Des Moines’ best general contractor for the eighth straight time.

“Next year is our 150th anniversary,” noted Steve Eden, the company’s business development manager. “To be in business that long and have as many ongoing business relationships as we do, some of them decades long, kind of speaks for itself.”

Weitz has been around so long, it’s now building a Grinnell College athletic facility to replace the gymnasium it built in the late 1940s. The company also is managing construction of the Iowa Events Center, the downtown Des Moines Public Library and the Deerfield Retirement Community in Urbandale, among many other projects. It operates nine business units across the United States, including Weitz Golf International, which focuses on golf courses and clubhouses.

“It comes down to our people,” Eden said. “The fact that we have so many good people and craftspeople who have been with the company 20 or 25 years and more.”

RUNNERS-UP: Russell Construction; Neumann Brothers.

Best developer

Knapp Properties Inc.

“We’ve been fortunate because Bill Knapp is a great real estate buyer,” said Gerry Neugent, president of Knapp Properties Inc. Knapp is the chairman emeritus of the company, and “over the years, he has had a great eye for land to buy for future development purposes,” Neugent said. “We give him full credit for looking ahead and putting us in position to be ready when development reaches our property.”

Such preparation has made Knapp Properties the Business Record’s best developer for five years in a row.

The company is currently working on the grading and sewage installation for the Galleria at Jordan Creek, an upscale area of stores and restaurants adjacent to the Jordan Creek Town Center shopping mall. “The Galleria will occupy us for the next few years,” Neugent said, “and we’re also working on Timberline Village at 142nd Street and Douglas Parkway in Urbandale.” That project is a 175-acre development that will include commercial space, retail outlets and housing.

RUNNERS-UP: R&R Realty; Oaks Development.

Best residential real estate company

Iowa Realty

Iowa Realty set a sales record in the Des Moines area last year, and executive vice president Jim Koolhof sees another record shaping up for 2004. “We’re about 7 percent ahead of last year’s pace, when we set a record by a considerable amount,” Koolhof said. “Interest rates for last several years have been at historical lows, and people who might otherwise have rented have taken advantage of the opportunity to buy.”

Also chosen as the best residential real estate firm in 2003, Iowa Realty maintains its powerful presence in the metro with more than 650 sales associates in Des Moines. As the largest real estate company in the state, it boasts more than 1,000 agents and more than 40 offices across Iowa.

“Our listings have remained steady all year,” Koolhof said. “We’re seeing a balance between demand and availability, and that’s true in almost all price ranges.”

Iowa Realty’s parent company, Home Services of America, Inc., operates 18 real estate brands across the country and does business in 18 states. More than 17,000 agents in more than 330 offices work under the Home Services umbrella.

RUNNERS-UP: Coldwell Banker; ReMax.

Best real estate management company

R&R Realty Group

Proper management is a matter of attending to the basics. “If we’re doing anything different, it’s probably putting a more intense focus on customer service and communications with our tenants,” said Joe Price, president of Management Professionals Inc., R&R Realty Group’s property management subsidiary. “There’s no substitute for knowing your customer on a personal basis.”

R&R was chosen the best in its class this year, recognizing its efforts in managing 4.5 million square feet of space in the metro area. Most of that space is commercial, but it also includes a 418-unit apartment complex in Johnston.

In addition to emphasizing the personal touch, R&R has been “aggressive in implementing new technology,” according to Price, whose group employs about 45 people. “We put in a new accounts payable system this year, which helps us be a lot more efficient. We can respond faster and get work orders authorized quicker. A lot of things have to happen behind the scenes to make sure we’re diligently making repairs and using the best vendors.”

RUNNERS-UP: Terrus Real Estate; Ferguson.

Best commercial real estate company

CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial

The company’s signs seem to be everywhere around the metro, and CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial is a familiar sight in the “best commercial real estate firm” category, too. Success has bred stability, according to senior vice president and managing director Kyle Gamble. “We have the most experienced and highly professional agents and brokers, and we don’t have much turnover,” he said.

Breaking into that stable lineup isn’t easy. “We selectively add to our team if the right opportunity presents itself,” Gamble said. “We have added a couple of people in the past year, but chemistry is very important. Hiring someone takes up to six months sometimes because we want to make sure the fit is right.”

The company also produces extensive quarterly reports on the Central Iowa real estate scene. “We feel our research is the most comprehensive in the marketplace,” Gamble said.

Hubbell Commercial is a partner firm of CB Richard Ellis, a worldwide company with nearly 17,000 employees in 50 countries. In 2003, CB Richard Ellis posted revenues of $1.6 billion and completed more than 36,000 sale and lease deals.

RUNNERS-UP: Grubb & Ellis/Mid-America Pacific; Iowa Realty Commercial.

Best electrical contractor

Baker Electric Inc.

It has been a busy year for Baker Electric Inc., a perennial winner in the “best electrical contractor” category. While some workers finish wiring the Jordan Creek Town Center shopping mall, others will start on the Science Center of Iowa, already under construction, and prepare for the Wells Fargo campus project adjacent to Jordan Creek. “That’s probably the largest job we’ve ever done,” said company president Dave Hearn.

In addition to all of the high-profile jobs, this year Baker added a residential department. “There seemed to be very good market out there for apartment houses and condo units,” Hearn said. “There seems to be lot going on right now. We’re working in West Des Moines, Ankeny, Johnston – it’s pretty much metro-wide.”

All of the activity has boosted Baker Electric’s roster of electricians from the usual 250 to about 330 in recent months, he said.

At a recent conference of Midwestern electrical contractors, Hearn was surprised to hear a different tale from his peers. “They’re not quite so happy,” he said. “It’s surprising when you come from Des Moines, which seems to be a mecca for building projects.”

RUNNERS-UP: ABC Electric; Waldinger.

Best architectural firm

RDG Planning and Design

From big-name ventures to lesser-known but unique projects, RDG Planning and Design has made itself known in Central Iowa.

“We’ve got so many project types that it’s hard to focus on one that makes you feel good,” said CEO Phil Hodgin. His architectural firm was again named “Best of Des Moines” by Business Record readers.

RDG is based in Des Moines with four additional offices nationwide. The company this year consolidated its Greater Des Moines business centers into its downtown office at 301 Grand Ave.

Some highly visible RDG projects have been popping up in Central Iowa, including the Iowa Events Center and Principal Riverwalk, which are both under construction downtown.

“We are the architects for the Special Olympics facility, which is very meaningful to us,” Hodgin said.

This year saw the completion of Iowa State University’s indoor football practice facility. RDG has also been involved in projects within the West Des Moines and Waukee school districts, as well as renovations to the state Capitol. The company’s national client base is expanding.

Its positive public image is getting a boost from employees who aim to benefit Greater Des Moines through non-architectural means. “We have people who donate their time to social and civic causes,” Hodgin said. “There are people involved in the firm who are also involved in the community.”

RUNNERS-UP: SVPA Architects, Inc., Shiffler & Associates

Best engineering firm

Shive Hattery

Last week’s grand opening of the Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines gave Shive-Hattery Inc. the chance to flaunt some of its best work and show why it is once again Des Moines’ best engineering firm, as voted by Business Record readers.

“I think it’s customer service,” said Michael Kammerer, vice president and Des Moines office director. He pointed to the company’s mission statement: provide outstanding client service, provide fulfilling careers and professional satisfaction for employees and achieve financial success. “We have a great staff that’s very devoted to our clients,” he said.

The company, founded in 1895 in Cedar Rapids with a Des Moines office opening in the late 1960s, has served Central Iowa companies such as Hy-Vee Inc., Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino and Hubbell Realty Co.

Shive-Hattery was involved in the surveying, site design and landscape architecture at Jordan Creek, which has drawn the attention of consumers throughout the state as it opens to the public.

“We have provided a lot of support to General Growth (Properties Inc.) people, and some of that is ongoing,” Kammerer said. “Our people are excited about the mall opening just like everyone else.”

Kammerer estimated that 70 percent of Shive-Hattery’s business comes from repeat clients, which serves as testimony to the quality of the company’s work.

RUNNERS-UP: McClure Engineering, Snyder & Associates

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