Taking Care of Business Conference

March 11, 2021 | Taking Care of Business Conference Gigi Wood,


The Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) is moving forward with plans to host its annual Taking Care of Business Conference in June as an in-person event. While the COVID-19 pandemic put major in-person events on hold for the past year, business professionals from across the state will be able to connect in person from June 8 to 10 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville/Iowa City.

If conditions allow for an in-person event, the conference will likely be highly attended, business leaders said.

“I think there is a pent-up demand to interact with other business professionals in person and I’m hopeful that this conference will be one of the first major in-person events in the state since the pandemic hit last year,” said John Lohman, CEO and publisher of Corridor Media Group and the Corridor Business Journal, which covers business news in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area.

There is no shortage of reasons to attend the conference, said Steven Bradford, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of HNI Corp. in Muscatine. Bradford is also this year’s conference chair, and he serves as president of the ABI board of directors.

“There will be three days packed with speakers, small group forums and workshops, fun recreational activities and tasty meals,” Bradford said.

The conference will have plenty to offer small and large businesses in Iowa, he said.

“Many topics of interest to business owners and managers will be covered – employee attraction, engagement and retention, leadership development, marketing, public policy, business operations and succession, the changing office, and others,” Bradford said. “In addition, inspirational speakers will motivate and inspire, and networking opportunities will help us find and develop important business connections and build relationships.”


Those interested in education and technology may be interested in learning about Girls Who Code from the organization’s incoming CEO, Tarika Barrett, who is a featured speaker at this year’s conference. Girls Who Code, an international nonprofit organization, is of high interest to corporations such as Microsoft, which is continually searching for talented students and professionals to advance technology. As the name denotes, Girls Who Code offers education and programming to young women interested in learning computing skills, while working to close the gender gap in technology.

Barrett oversees the organization's free Summer Immersion Program and after-school Clubs Program, in addition to International Programming, Alumni Programming and People & Culture teams. Those groups have reached more than 300,000 girls globally. Barrett serves on the board of McGraw Hill, which produces educational content focused on science, and the board of Eskolta, a nonprofit dedicated to helping urban schools reengage at-risk teenagers.

Conference programming will be worth the drive, Lohman said.

“Most businesspeople I know have a pretty good handle on what’s going on in their local or regional markets, but don’t fully grasp what’s happening across the state with regards to business and industry,” Lohman said. “This conference is a great way to get up to speed with the amazing things happening across Iowa, as well as the opportunity to network with business leaders from across Iowa.”

The conference is also a way to connect with potential customers and clients, said Kevin Monson, founder and chairman emeritus of Neumann Monson Architects, with locations in Des Moines and Iowa City.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn from the many speakers and receive up-to-date information that is useful to your business and connect with potential customers and clients. It’s great networking,” Monson said.


The conference focuses on learning, networking and sharing ideas on how to strengthen Iowa’s business climate. If there is one person who knows about the state’s business climate, it is HNI’s Bradford. HNI, one of the largest furniture manufacturers in the world, is also one of Iowa’s largest employers. HNI was recently named to Newsweek’s 2021 list of America’s Most Responsible Companies.

“I believe Iowa has a strong business climate,” Bradford said. “Iowa consistently ranks high in national surveys of places to do business. The governor and the state Legislature strive consistently to create a favorable climate in Iowa to attract and retain employers and employees.”

ABI plays a role in the state’s business climate as well, he added.

“They (ABI) work very hard every day to support businesses in Iowa,” Bradford said. “All this, combined with the tremendous work ethic of Iowans, makes Iowa a great place to live and work.”

Iowa ranked 16th on CNBC’s Top States for Business in 2019 and 21st on Chief Executive’s 2020 Best & Worst States for Business, based on educational attainment of the workforce, number of available employees, net migration of college-educated workers, the concentration of STEM workers, the state’s economy, infrastructure, cost of doing business and quality of life. The quality workers in Iowa make it a great state in which to do business, Bradford said.

“The primary asset is Iowans. They are diverse, hard-working, caring, creative and wonderful neighbors,” he said. “In addition, construction and industrial costs are significantly lower than national averages. Because of its strong public and higher education system, Iowa develops a lot of great local talent.”

Another plus: the cost and supply of energy in the state, as well as competitive individual and corporate tax rates.

“Energy is affordable, and the supply is sufficient,” Bradford said. “Iowa is a leading provider of wind power to support sustainable energy.”

When it comes to Iowa’s business climate, public services, taxation and regulation come heavily into play. Bradford said the state is performing well in those areas, for the most part.

“Public services and effective taxation and regulatory policy can always be improved,” Bradford said. “Iowa is strategically set in the middle of the Midwest, with good transportation access to get you anywhere in the world, with major U.S. interstates and extensive rail, airport and barge terminal infrastructure. We also have a strong base of diverse businesses including farming, manufacturing, grain and meat processing, insurance and financial services, and emerging industries like bioscience. This diversity makes Iowa a stable place to do business.”

Among the state’s greatest business challenges are finding and retaining young, skilled workers, he said.

“Often young Iowans leave the state to get work experience elsewhere,” Bradford said. “The good news is that many of them return for the lifestyle offered in Iowa. Unemployment is very low in Iowa and many employers are searching for skilled and qualified workers. Finding these employees can sometimes be a challenge.”


While there won’t be any Hawkeye football or basketball games to enjoy, or any other scheduled University of Iowa athletics events for that matter, there will still be plenty to do, see and eat in the area.

The conference will take place at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center at Coralville’s Iowa River Landing District, just off Interstate 80.

“Iowa City consistently ranks as a top community to live, work, play and raise a family,” Bradford said. “As the home of the University of Iowa, it offers a wide variety of activities for everyone. It is a college town with a wonderful blend of Midwest hospitality. We are excited to be one of the first big events to be hosted at the new Xtream Arena in Coralville. It’s a beautiful new addition to this great area.”

Completed in September, the 5,100-person-capacity facility will be home to the UI volleyball team, and many hope to attract a hockey team to use the facility, as well.

It’s too soon to know if there will be public events at Hancher Auditorium, the UI’s premier performing arts center, or in Iowa City or Coralville city centers, but the locals say there are plenty of restaurants and shops to enjoy, as well as parks, trails and golf courses.

“The vibrancy of the community is impacted greatly by the energy of the University of Iowa’s presence and all that it brings,” Monson said. “The community is well prepared to invite and entertain large groups of people to this unique environment, as hospitality is part of our DNA. Whether it is 70,000 fans for a football game or 14,000 theatergoers at Hancher or hundreds at a conference, we are prepared to welcome you and provide excellent accommodations.”


Arguably one of the best features of the Iowa City/Coralville area is its dozens of unique, locally owned restaurants, bars and breweries in the area. Monson and Lohman shared some of their favorite places to eat for those who will be traveling to the conference.

“We have a vast array of unique restaurants, every ethnic food imaginable served in an authentic style,” Monson said.

Monson’s recommendations include Joseph’s Steakhouse for “great cocktails, perfectly prepared steaks and seafood with tasty side dishes”; St. Burch Tavern for mussels and oysters, cheese curds, char-grilled steaks, buffalo mac and crafted cocktails; Monica’s Restaurant for “great American comfort food, Italian dishes and pizza”; Reunion Brewery for “great beer and full bar, top of the line tavern food, unique menu choices and wood-fired pizza”; and in Coralville, Maggie’s Wood Fired Pizza for classic Napoli pizza, meatballs, farm salad, burrata, Italian specials and wine.

“All my favorites have outdoor patio dining, which are perfect in June,” Monson said.

Don’t forget the Devonian Fossil Gorge at the Coralville Reservoir, Macbride Hall and Old Capitol Museum, and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, he said.

For Lohman, the best places to eat are a mix of Iowa City’s iconic restaurants and new favorites in Coralville.

“I would try to eat at Konami’s or 30Hop in Coralville,” Lohman suggested. “Grab some Buffalo wings and sour cream and chive fries at the Vine in Coralville or Iowa City. Order a falafel and some hummus from Iowa City’s Oasis Falafel, my favorite casual restaurant. There’s a great authentic Mexican restaurant in Iowa City called Le Regia that’s worth a visit. Pints in downtown Iowa City is a great place for a drink. Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City is also great for a group to get together for drinks, especially if the weather is nice. Pizza at the Wig & Pen or Pagliai’s is a no-brainer. The Java House with several locations is a great place for coffee. If you need a quick bite to eat, and if you’ve never had a burrito from Pancheros, you have to make that happen.”

The whiskey at Cedar Ridge Distillery in Swisher is another area favorite not to be forgotten, he said.

“I’m obviously biased, but the Iowa City/Coralville market is especially vibrant with the University of Iowa,” Lohman said. “The restaurants and nightlife are the best in the state. And the location of the conference at the Iowa River Landing in Coralville is especially robust with great shopping, restaurants and bars all within walking distance of the Coralville Marriott.”

Another must-see stop in Iowa City is Prairie Lights Books, often named one of the country’s best bookstores, they said.

For more information about the Taking Care of Business Conference, visit www.ABITakingCareOfBusiness.com.