QC Business Leaders Excited to Host ‘Getting Down to Business’

April 8, 2024 | QC Business Leaders Excited to Host ‘Getting Down to Business' Emery Styron, Cooridor Media Group,

“It’s called ‘the Mighty Mississippi for a reason,’” says Quad Citian Scott Math when asked about must-experience attractions for attendees at ABI’s June 4-6 Taking Care of Business Conference at Davenport’s RiverCenter.

The shimmering Mississippi will never be far from view as ABI brings together more than 500 conferees to learn, network and share ideas on how to grow and strengthen Iowa’s business climate. Mr. Math, vice president of operations for restaurant-hotel operator Heart of America Group, welcomes the chance to hear top-notch main stage speakers and rub shoulders with other Iowa business leaders, but he’s just as excited for the opportunity to show off the hospitality and attractions his company and his hometown have to offer.

Representatives of long-time ABI and Quad Cities business stalwarts Arconic and Russell Construction say the conference is valuable at any location but having it return to the Quad Cities sweetens the deal.

“It’s important to showcase your backyard,” says Russell Vice President Matt Rebro, offering a welcome to first-time visitors and others for whom “it’s the first time in a while.” Mr. Rebro is “proud to have grown up” in the Quad Cities and to have been a part of its changes. “We’ve evolved,” he says. “I hope people embrace the dining, the brew pubs, the museums. Good things are happening here. It’s a good place to be.”

Headquartered in the Quad Cities since its founding in 1983, with branches in Kansas City and St. Louis, Russell has completed more than $3 billion in construction and real estate development services across 33 states. Russell’s involvement with ABI, starting with Business Horizons and Leadership Iowa in the late 1990s, “creates and forges relationships that have translated directly to business,” says Mr. Rebro. “We’re approaching 20-plus years of consistently supporting ABI and the ABI Foundation. We’re proud to do it,” says Mr. Rebro.“We look at ABI as our state’s chamber of commerce.”

Arconic, a key player in the Quad Cities industrial line-up since Alcoa opened its vast Riverdale aluminum rolling mill in 1948, has been an ABI member for decades, says Public Affairs Manager John Riches. The annual conference is “not just about advocating for business. It’s about educating and informing and providing different ways of looking at business issues. That’s why they get such a huge turnout when they have this event every year. It’s an opportunity for employees who attend to take solid info home and find ways to utilize in their operations.”

A tour of Arconic’s mile-long plant is an option for conference attendees, but likely to fill up fast. Mr. Riches says there are plenty of other attractions if you miss the tour.

“It would be great for people to see the Quad Cities. It’s changed a lot over the years. The river is a huge part of recreation, from bike trails to boating. It’s just an opportunity for Quad Cities to show itself in a good light to people and businesses around the state who might want to expand. We have a great location and a great workforce. We appreciate the ongoing support from ABI.”

Heart of America Group owns and operates a portfolio of restaurants, hotels and commercial developments across the upper Midwest, relying on operations support centers in Moline and Des Moines. Mr. Math looks forward to the opportunities to interact with ABI conferees from a wide range of industries. “It’s good for us as hoteliers and restaurateurs to see the concerns of the people we deal with,” he says.

Mr. Math, who has served on planning committees for the conference and began his hospitality career working at restaurants in high school and college, embraces the role of host of the conference known for world-renowned speakers, brainstorming, education, networking and fellowship.

“We love to entertain,” he says, welcoming visitors to dine at HOA’s founding restaurant, the original Machine Shed, opened in 1978 as a tribute to the American farmer; Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, occupying a refurbished historic building in downtown Moline; or the newer J Bar, “a chef-driven” culinary experience on Elmore Avenue in downtown Davenport.

Beyond dining, he encourages conference attendees to explore the Quad Cities’ myriad attractions, from John Deere’s Davenport Works — “It’s absolutely an iconic company that really puts Quad Cities on the map” — to the “Sweets & Spirits” and lock and dam tours.

“You get that exposure to the community. There’s so many different things to do and learn about the area,” he says. “You’re seeing it and hearing it from the folks that actually live it."

Company Snapshots
Arconic traces its heritage to the founding of Alcoa in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1888 and has helped shape the aerospace, automotive and construction industries since the days of the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford. Arconic was launched as a standalone company in 2016.
The former Alcoa Davenport Works opened for business as an aluminum rolling mill with 30-40 acres under roof in 1946, according to Public Affairs Manager John Riches.
In 2019, Arconic announced that it would split into two separate businesses. Arconic Inc. would be renamed Howmet and focus on engineered products. A new company, Arconic Corporation, would be set up to turn aluminum and other lightweight metals into engineered products such as turbine blades for sectors including aerospace and automotive. The separation was completed effective April 1, 2020 and in 2023, private equity firm Apollo Global Management completed the acquisition of Arconic.
Arconic Davenport Works has 6 million square-feet of floor space under roof — far more than enough to contain an 18-hole golf course, Mr. Riches says. Some 2,500 employees produces 40-50 different alloys, casting them into large slabs and rolling them into differing dimensions for aerospace, defense, automotive and other industries.
The plant, which celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The river location may have been important in the mid-1940s , but if the plant were sited today, it wouldn’t need the river, says Mr. Riches. Most shipping is done via truck and rail, though large equipment is sometimes brought to the plant via barge.

Heart of America Group
Starting with a 100-seat restaurant in 1978, the original Machine Shed at the edge of Davenport, Heart of America Group, founded by Mike and Kim Whalen, has grown to include a portfolio of award-winning owned and operated restaurants, hotels and commercial developments.
In addition to Machine Shed restaurants, with five other locations in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, with 14 locations from the upper Midwest to Houston, Texas, HOA’s other restaurant brands include Burger Shed, The Republic on Grand, Fifth Avenue Syndicate, Thunder Bay Grille and The J Bar.
Hotel properties range from locations affiliated with well-known chains such as Hilton Garden Inns, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Embassy Suites and Holiday Inns, to boutique brands including The Rewind Hotel, Revel Hotel, Wildwood Lodge, Hotel Renovo and The Axis Hotel.
The company has expanded development to include its first multi-family apartment complex, expected to open in June in Des Moines’ East Village. Other HOA brands include Hyper Energy Bar drive-up drink kiosks and Tommy’s Express Car Wash, which may share the same parking lot.
“We design, we build and we operate. Mike is so committed. When he builds something, he wants it to last forever,” says Mr. Math, praising HOA’s roll-up-your-sleeves, team-oriented culture. “We’re having fun with it. In an industry like ours, that’s a rarity.“

Russell Construction
Davenport-based Russell Construction, was founded in 1983 by Jim Russell, who leads the company, along with his spouse Michelle Solis Russell and daughter Caitlin, who serves as president. The company expanded with acquisitions to St. Louis and Kansas City in recent years.
A major focus for Russell is development for the federal government in various states and industrial development. “We definitely have a client-centric mentality. We endeavor to be more of an extension to the client than a vendor to the client. We have a lot of pride in our culture. It’s a differentiator for us,” says Caitlin Russell.
Recent projects Russell likes to showcase are the Mulberry Clinic for UnityPoint in Muscatine, bringing state-of-the-art healthcare facilities to a nearby community; the University of Iowa’s Stanley Museum of Art in Iowa City, recognized with a Master Builders of Iowa Award; and Russell Industrial Park at Interstate 80 and Northwest Boulevard in Davenport.
Russell is both developer and contractor for the industrial park, which Ms. Russell characterizes as “one of the first true industrial parks built in the Quad Cities in 20 years.”
The completed park will include more than 1 million square feet of “advanced space and innovative buildings,” built with pre-cast concrete panels, meet today’s industry demands for higher clear heights, wider column spacing and better daylighting.
“We work directly with many ABI members such as Deere, Kent, Alliant, A.Y. McDonald, companies that really want to support Iowa,” says Vice President Matt Rebro. “It will be fun to have everybody come together in the Quad Cities in June for the conference.” ABI