Taking Care of Business Conference in 'Key City' in 2022

March 10, 2022 | Taking Care of Business Conference in 'Key City' in 2022 Gigi Wood,

Dubuque, Iowa’s oldest, and one of its most happening cities, is hosting this year’s Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s Taking Care of Business Conference. Once called the “Key City” or the “Masterpiece on the Mississippi,” Dubuque is the state’s 11th-largest city and is the urban center of northeast Iowa. With a regional population of about 97,000, the city is located at the tri-state corner of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, along the Mississippi River.

It's one of the first cities to be settled west of the Mississippi, and back in the 1830s when it was founded, it was a gateway to the West Coast. The city was known for its fur trading, mining and logging, and its most prosperous citizens lived on the tall hill overlooking the river. In the 1880s, a rich banker constructed a funicular railway as transport to the top of the hill; today that railway and car are known as the Fenelon Place Elevator. The elevator takes thousands of visitors annually up 189 feet to an observation deck with majestic views of the Mississippi.

The city is steeped in history, as can be witnessed in the local architecture, town clock, Mines of Spain, landmarks and museums. At 617 feet above sea level, Dubuque is positioned to offer picturesque views of the river and surrounding area. While area museums can educate visitors about the fascinating history of Dubuque, what’s as interesting, or perhaps even more engaging, is the city’s recent history. Like most cities with a waterway, the town spent many years with its focus shifted away from the Mississippi River. The riverfront was beset by industrial sites and environmental issues throughout much of its past.

In the 1990s, though, that all changed. City leaders took on a bold vision of transforming the riverfront into a community asset. More than $180 million in revitalization grants and funding was used to clean up industrial sites and to create what is now the Mississippi Riverwalk, Smithsonian-affiliate National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Grand River Center, Grand Harbor Resort and Star Brewery.

More recently, the community worked to reinvigorate the Millwork District, located between historic downtown and the river. Historic milling factories were converted into coffee shops, fitness clubs, galleries, breweries and restaurants, some of which are now decorated with artifacts from the city’s past. It’s often referred to as the coolest part of Dubuque and as a successful example of a historic district’s revitalization.

This year, attendees of the Taking Care of Business Conference can explore Dubuque during the three-day event June 14-16. Visitors can experience the historic or modern sides of Dubuque, by staying at the 1839 Hotel Julien Dubuque or the more modern Grand Harbor Resort, which was part of the America’s River Project.

Why Attend

The conference brings together business professionals and industry leaders to learn, network and share ideas on how to grow and strengthen Iowa’s business climate. Speakers include Sheryl Connelly, chief futurist at Ford Motor Co., Scott Kubie, senior investment strategist at Carson Group Partners, and Clay Holderman, president and CEO at UnityPoint Health.

There are at least a handful of reasons to attend the conference, according to Jack Hasken, president and CEO of Jackson Manufacturing, this year’s ABI board chair and a respected community leader. 

“I can break this down into five major reasons: networking in person with fellow business leaders, three excellent speakers who will inform and educate, quality breakout sessions that cover today’s business concerns, excellent food/beverages/entertainment,and last, Dubuque’s fantastic location and venues on theMississippi,” he said.

Important business leaders and decision-makers from throughout the state will be at the conference, he added, which could be a boon to attendees.

“You will be with the business movers and shakers of Iowa. You will be guaranteed to learn more about Iowa business, plus maybe meet your next new customer,” Hasken said.

Julie Kronlage, vice president of sales for Travel Dubuque, has attended the Taking Care of Business Conference in the past and says it is valuable in many ways.

“This conference brings together businesses large and small to connect, share ideas and work toward making their companies and our state the best place to do business,” she said. “The opportunities to explore the community the conference is held in, to see firsthand successes of what the people of Iowa are doing and to be able to hear from amazing, energetic speakers who know what can be done when businesses work together, it’s just inspiring.”

The conference is a good place to learn new business techniques, said Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of the Greater Dubuque Development Corp. 

“ABI Taking Care of Business Conference allows employers from across the state to share best practices and recognize that their challenges may not be unique,” he said. “Attendees will be able to share both challenges and solutions, which will help them address their problems at home.”

That sentiment is echoed by Andrew J. Butler, executive chairman at Cottingham & Butler in Dubuque.

“Joining other Iowa businesses at Taking Care of Business is a great way to build bridges and relationships with people who have the same opportunities and challenges that we have,” Butler said. “The exchange of ideas and knowledge goes a long way to reinforcing the growth of each of our communities and businesses.”

Additionally, the conference can be highly valuable from an educational perspective, Kronlage said. “It’s not only the education that you get to experience (at seminars), it’s meeting someone from a county away who may be dealing with the same issue you are, and they can help you solve it,” she said.

Or perhaps attendees will learn about new products that can help their businesses. 

“It’s learning about a new product from one of the vendors in attendance that will save time and money for your organization,” Kronlage said. “It’s the opportunity to sit down at the end of the day with a group of people who you just met to enjoy a meal and amazing conversation. Each time I have attended this conference, I have learned omething new, made great new connections who have helped me personally and professionally, and you know, I can’t think of a time I haven’t left the conference smiling.”

One of the most notable aspects about Dubuque is the diversity of activities available, she said. There will be shuttles during the conference to take visitors to the Millwork District, but there’s also zip lining, winery tours, ax throwing, numerous trails and more. Hasken suggests visitors try one of the many attractions in Dubuque, such as going on a picnic at Eagle Point Park, taking a river cruise on the American Lady or visiting Dubuque’s casinos.

Butler recommends visitors check out the Grant Wood paintings and Edward Curtis photos at the Dubuque Museum of Art, the National Mississippi River Hall of Fame, the Heritage Trail, the riverfront and historical tours hosted by Heritage Works, as well as the city’s new Bee Branch Park.

“One of the newer places in Dubuque is the Bee Branch. This has been a multiyear project to convert an old, collapsed storm water drainage system into an active and living park and stream that is beautiful, and has brought new life to part of Dubuque,” Butler said. “It is a model of the community working together with the local, state and federal government to build something better that truly makes our community stronger.”

June is a great time of year to visit the city, Dickinson added. “The weather will likely be beautiful,” he said. “The views in Dubuque from the mighty Mississippi to the limestone bluffs and hardwood timber will be breathtaking and the restaurants in downtown Dubuque will exceed all expectations.”