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Business Feature

21 from 2021


Honoring business people who made a positive difference in the community in the past year.

For the third year, CITYVIEW’s Business Journal recognizes the contributions of outstanding business leaders.

The challenges of the past year have been many, as COVID-19 continues to impact the business community. An added challenge has been filling open positions. But, as strong leaders do, our 21 of 2021 have risen to address the difficulties with hard work, creativity and determination. Their efforts and accomplishments have earned them the designation as one of CITYVIEW’s 21 from 2021: Business People Who Made A Difference.

“There are very few things more enjoyable in life than honoring people who have made a significant difference to so many people,” said Shane Goodman, publisher of CITYVIEW. “We were fortunate to have many nominations who are all deserving. Ultimately, this year’s chosen honorees are truly deserving of recognition, as they impacted the central Iowa business community in ways beyond traditional measurements.”

Readers submitted nominations, and an advisory panel narrowed down the selected to 21 individuals it believed had made the biggest difference in the area.

Honorees will be recognized and presented their awards at a reception on Thursday, Nov. 4 from 5-7 p.m. at Sherwood Forest Events Center.

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Amira Islamagic

Director of Operations, Iowa Allergy

Amira Islamagic says her biggest accomplishment in 2021 was “expanding access to care for patients by adding another provider and planning construction for a bigger clinic.” She is also proud of “helping our team evolve in their roles and pushing them to their fullest potentials.” Her best business decision was “making transformational leadership a priority in daily operations.”

She advises others: “Lead with humility and integrity. The people around you can feel a genuine energy, and, in return, they know you have their best intentions in mind.”

Chad Smith

Owner/Operator, The Norwalk Shop

“Running a successful small business while also assisting/leading a variety of community-based events throughout the year” was Chad Smith’s biggest accomplishment in the last year, he says. He cites “moving my business location to a 100-year-old building in historic downtown Norwalk” as his best decision. “The investment involved saving a historic building in Norwalk but also increased our showroom space, growing the business.”

His advice to others:  “Strive every day to leave ‘it’ better than you found ‘it.’ ”

Rena Striegel      

President, Transition Point Business Advisors

“We launched the first online succession planning program for farms and ranches at the end of 2020,” Rena Striegel says of her biggest accomplishment in the last year. “It was wonderful to see the enthusiastic response to the program and to have requests for live workshops — which we developed this year.” She adds, “The best decision has really been the series of decisions to create The DIRTT Project and The DIRTT Project LIVE! It was a big leap of faith that has brought a fantastic community of people together to ensure farm families in transition have accessible resources.”

Her advice to others: “Chase the big idea. Be absolutely relentless.”

Brian Lohse

Representative, Iowa House of Representatives

“This past legislative session was spent focusing a great deal on the expansion of broadband connectivity in the State of Iowa,” says Rep. Brian Lohse about the year’s accomplishments. “Working with the Governor’s Office and Rep. Ray Sorenson, I take great pride in the work we were able to do to ensure good policy was enacted to target those in Iowa without quality Internet first and to ensure that the State of Iowa committed significant resources so that our commitment to quality of deployment was matched by speed of deployment.” He adds, of his best business decision: “In the legislature, my best decisions were always guided by listening to others and taking no pride in ownership of my own ideas that would get in the way of the great ideas and advice of others.”

“Listen to all, with respect and compassion, but stick to your moral compass and do what you know is right” is his advice to others.

Christine Crone

Waukee City Council Member

Chamber Ambassador – City of Waukee

“Volunteering to step in to help the Waukee Chamber when the president resigned,” was her biggest accomplishment in the last year, says Christine Crone. “I knew that, with COVID, starting to lift the Chamber would need all the help they could get to revive ribbon cuttings and events.” She says she is proud of winning the President’s Award for the Waukee Leadership Class of 2021. Her best decision? “Taking the leap and running for City Council. I’ve lived in Waukee for 21 years. This city has given me and my family so much. This was my opportunity to give back and become its biggest cheerleader and my opportunity to help make Waukee the best it can be for my grandkids.”

She offers this advice to others: “Find your passion, and the motivation will follow. I didn’t let my age or the number on my bathroom scale get in my way. My passion for my community is greater than those numbers.”

Loren Merkle

Founder, Merkle Retirement Planning

“2020 was a real challenge for business and keeping everyone together and focused on our mission of delivering world-class service to our clients,” says Loren Merkle. “Not only did I not have to lay anyone off, we put ourselves in a great position to enjoy a record-setting year in 2021 and even enhance the services that we provide our clients.” He adds, “Having a focus on hiring remarkable people with great character, internal motivation and desire to help others and putting less emphasis on skill sets is by far my best decision.”

“Always put people first,” he advises. “People before business equals a better business.”

Mary Jankowski

Owner, Coffee Cats

“Coffee Cats opened in the middle of the pandemic in July 2020, and we are grateful to continue to be open and thriving in 2021,” says Mary Jankowski. “As of October 2021, we have adopted 491 cats for our adoption partner, the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. This is a proud accomplishment, as well as providing a warm, relaxing and welcoming environment for customers and cats alike. The best business decision I have made is opening the cat café in Historic Valley Junction,” she adds. “We appreciate the support we have received from the Junction’s Foundation and the other merchants in the area.”

“My advice to others is to have faith in yourself and develop a network of people for support and advice.”

Rick Tollakson     

President & CEO, Hubbell Realty Company

As his biggest accomplishment for the last year, Rick Tollakson cites the fifth and final Hubbell Extreme Build – Care for Kids at Easterseals Iowa. “We completed a 13,000-square-foot child development center in less than seven days, which allows Easterseals to expand their childcare capacity from 60 kids to 120 and convert the current development center into a family crisis clinic.” He adds, “Diversifying our flex-office portfolio in 2007 to a multifamily-industrial focus has proved to be a great long-term business decision and one of the best business decisions we’ve made in recent years.”

His advice for others: “Along the theme of the Extreme Builds and what I challenge my Hubbell teams to do every day: ‘Think bigger!’ ”

Dr. Elizabeth Holland

Veterinarian, Veterinary Acupuncturist, Adel Veterinary Clinic

With the challenges of 2021, Dr. Elizabeth Holland says her biggest accomplishment in 2021 has been “recognizing that there was no going back to ‘normal’ and finding ways to embrace a ‘new normal’ with innovation and positivity.” Her best decision has been “having clear core values and talking about them regularly. Ours are positivity, empathy and teamwork — PET! Always bring the focus back to your ‘Why?’ We work tirelessly to support the amazing human-animal bond we have the pleasure of seeing every day. When we focus on that, the rest is easier.”

“Find something outside of work and family time to fill your bucket” is her advice to others. “The greatest thing for my work life integration has been getting involved in the community to make it a place I am proud to raise my family.”

Jim Sanders

City Administrator, City of Johnston

“For the community, our biggest accomplishment was the completion and opening of the Johnston Town Center in August 2021,” says Jim Sanders. “What began as a vision to revitalize the Merle Hay Road corridor in 2007 has matured into a commercial/residential/recreational center creating a ‘community square’ and gathering place Johnston did not have… When completed, the town center is estimated to generate $40-$50 million in new commercial tax base.” He adds, “I believe the best decision I have made is to build a career and raise my family in central Iowa in a community that I love and have hopefully been a part of making it a better place. In central Iowa, we are blessed  to have great schools, access to world-class arts, entertainment and athletic events.”

He advises, “Surround yourself with the most talented people you can find and entrust them to do their job.”

Dr. Megan Ries

Co-owner, Doctor of Chiropractic

Keystone Chiropractic

“As the stress of the unknown continued into this year, I helped provide a supportive environment where families can regain and maintain an active lifestyle through chiropractic care,” says Dr. Megan Ries. “As in years past, we’ve continued to give back when and where we can by partnering with WDM Human Services for food and school supply drives.” She says her best decision has been “choosing to not only locate my business in Des Moines, but more importantly become involved in the community… I’ve loved being involved within the chamber, young professionals group, as a Girls on the Run coach and volunteer, as well as my church.”

“Caring for your physical and mental health isn’t selfish,” she advises others. “Taking care of yourself allows you to be of better service to others.”

Matthew Goodman

President of the Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors

Owner and Creative Director of Valpak of Central Iowa

His nominator credits Matthew Goodman for stepping up “in the midst of chaos” to lead the Pleasant Hill Chamber during a difficult time, and growing the chamber membership. In his business, he says his biggest accomplishment was that he “broadened our marketing offerings for our existing Direct Mail clients to include Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, Email, Website, Reputation Management, Shopify and Google Shopping.” He says his best business decision has been “hiring Victoria, Ryan and partnering with Ariane, Katelyn, Harmony, Phil and Ajay. They are everything that makes Valpak work.”

As his advice to others, he offers, “Look for opportunities to be proven wrong; that’s when real learning happens.”

Jessica Dunker    

President and CEO, Iowa Restaurant Association

Jessica Dunker says her biggest accomplishment during last year has been “working with the Iowa Legislature, Iowa Economic Development Authority, and Governor’s Office to secure the Iowa Restaurant and Bar Relief Grant Program, a $40 million grant fund which provided financial assistance to more than 1,700 Iowa restaurants and bars last winter.” When it comes to her best business decision, she offers, “recognizing and respecting the home/life balance of working mothers by providing flexible hours and work-from-home options more than a decade ago. It reduces turnover and increases productivity.”

“Arm yourself with data,” she advises. “Survey members and customers. Read credible studies. Be prepared at a moment’s notice to share quotable facts and figures with media, public and legislators.”

Bob Andeweg

Mayor of Urbandale; Shareholder, Nyemaster Goode, P.C.

City of Urbandale; Nyemaster Goode, P.C.

“Being able to re-establish face-to-face connections with friends, family and business acquaintances” is what Mayor Bob Andeweg cites as his biggest accomplishment. “We all learned that virtual meetings are an efficient way to communicate, but they may not always be effective.” He says his best business decision was “joining my current law firm — Nyemaster Goode, P.C. I am constantly amazed by the talent within our law firm and what we can accomplish for our clients.”

“I keep a quote in my daily planner,” he says. “ ‘Urgent things shout, but important things whisper. Listen to the whispers.’ It’s a constant reminder to me that I need to filter out the ‘noise’ of life and focus on what truly is important.”

Meredith Wells

Co-Owner of MoMere

President of Board of Directors Historic Valley Junction Foundation

“In the last year, we expanded into the second floor of our historic building, doubling our square footage to make a unique shopping experience,” says Meredith Wells of the biggest accomplishment of the store she co-owns. “We were able to increase our product offering and partnered with local makers, artists, and other small businesses to support our community. We also give back to local nonprofits such as Bras for the Cause, One Iowa and Creative Visions among others. Of the Historic Valley Junction Foundation, she cites “reemerging from the pandemic and bringing back our events to support our businesses and community… There is a great momentum occurring with new businesses and revitalization efforts in Historic Valley Junction. It truly is an exciting time to be involved and give back to a community that has given us so much.” She is also the chair of the Historic West Des Moines Master Plan Update Steering Committee and cites the committee’s work “to make Historic West Des Moines and Historic Valley Junction the best it can be” as an accomplishment. Her best business decision? “To take the leap and open our store with my mom. Working for ourselves has many risks, but we started out small and over the years have grown to what we are now.”

Her advice to others: “Support those in your community and create an environment that celebrates each other’s successes. Surround yourself with not only talented people, but with passionate people. I am constantly motivated and inspired by my small business peers and fellow board members. Their efforts, accomplishments and energy are contagious.”

Timothy J. Heldt

Chairman of the Board, Charter Bank

“Completing a successful three-year management succession plan from the original founders to a three-person management team with an average tenure of 16 years,” is Timothy Heldt’s biggest accomplishment of 2021. “And we transitioned during the pandemic.” He says his best business decision was made 23 years ago — to charter a new de novo bank with his wife, Deb, and George and Sue Frampton. “It has been a blast! I couldn’t have better co-founders, bank officers, employees and customers. Charter Bank is by far the biggest achievement in my career.”

“When stuff happens, and it will, don’t get mad or sad,” he offers. “Just find the humor in the situation and laugh with your team. Then roll up your sleeves and find a solution. It will happen quicker and in a more positive environment with all aboard.”

Travis Gaule

Financial Advisor, Edward Jones

“As the Board Chair for the Waukee Area Chamber of Commerce, we have been able to continue to lead our membership through COVID-19 complications,” says Travis Gaule. “I am very proud of the accomplishments that our Board of Directors have been able to achieve, evolving and growing the Chamber by offering continued value and services to our fast-growing membership.” He adds, “The best decision I have made is joining Edward Jones almost six years ago. I love partnering and strategizing with individuals, families and small businesses to create everyone’s goal of the work optional lifestyle.”

He advises others to heed the advice of Confucius: “‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ I am fortunate to have truly found my passion. Balancing time between my family and my career has giving me the opportunity to also give back to my community.”

Julie Todtz

President/CEO, Ankeny Area Chamber of Commerce

“Leading the largest chamber of commerce in the State of Iowa through a pandemic, providing the services and programs the membership deserves and expects,” has been what Julie Todtz calls her biggest accomplishment. Her best business decision, she says, has been “hiring the best team possible to serve the members of the Ankeny Area Chamber of Commerce. The professional team, full of energy and ready to meet the needs of the business community, is the best asset a nonprofit organization can have.”

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind,” she advises others. “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”

Nick Kuhn

Chairman of The Justice League of Food

Owner of The Hall, The Beerhouse and The Clubhouse

As owner of three businesses, Nick Kuhn says his biggest accomplishment in 2021 has been “pivoting all businesses to succeed in the wake of the pandemic.” To do so, he cites his best business decision, “deploying technology to help the businesses successfully operate with the massive employment void created by COVID-19.”

“Taking time to pause and rethink your business model is a good exercise at any time,” he advises other business owners. “It took a pandemic to get that through my head.”

Dave Miglin

VP – Media & Digital Services, Strategic America

“Being appointed to the Board of Trustees for Broadlawns Medical Center and completing my quest to visit every incorporated city in Iowa,” has been his biggest accomplishment says Dave Miglin. His best business decision? “If you mean ever in my career, I would answer taking a chance and leaving a comfortable personal life and leadership position with one agency in Atlanta back in 2013 to create a digital marketing transformation at Strategic America in Iowa. There were no guarantees that things would work out or we would see the success that we have had and continue to enjoy. But, when every instinct was urging me to do this, I could not turn away from the opportunity. I’m grateful that I listened to those instincts.”

He advises others to “act with integrity — be honest and fair to others in everything you do; take calculated risks — you can’t win until you’re not afraid to lose; stay open to change — because it’s unavoidable; be objective — research the facts and consider things from opposing points of view, then trust your instincts; and, take time to love your life and those that make it worth living.”

Jill Altringer

Grimes City Council Member, City of Grimes

“It was another exciting year to be serving the residents of Grimes, making it impossible to pick just one accomplishment for 2021,” says Jill Altringer, a member of the City Council. “This year we had a ribbon cutting for Hy-Vee, a cornerstone business for a new development in town; ground breaking for the Grimes Plex; splash pad park design; new library going out to bid; increased transportation flow by adding needed stoplights on Highway 44; extending county line road past the new middle school; and we are currently bringing a new $20 million water treatment plant online. Best of all, we were able to accomplish all of these items while still lowering the property tax levy.” She says her best professional-life decision was running for City Council in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017. “The people I have met, the issues and subjects I have spent time on, and the experiences I have had along the way have all helped me grow as a person and gain a deeper understanding of the community that surrounds us.”

Her advice to others is simply “be kind, be funny, be informative on social media, but don’t be a jerk. In general, don’t be a jerk. There are no exceptions.” ♦

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