Ames Ford Lincoln
In the fall of 2022, the family-owned Ames Ford Lincoln celebrated 10 years in Ames. Casey Johnson first purchased a Ford dealership in 1996 in Fort Dodge. In 2012, the Johnson's saw an opportunity in Ames and expanded to their second location. Today, the operations of the Ames location are overseen by Casey and Nick Johnson.
“Looking back at the 10 years, the thing that has stuck out to me the most is how warmly we were received by the community,” said Nick reflecting on the past decade. “Our philosophy is that if we take care of our team members and guests, and provide an excellent experience, everything else will take care of itself.”
One of the hallmark programs that Ames Ford Lincoln actively partners with is the Wheels for Work Program through the United Way of Story County. Ames Ford accepts donated vehicles into the program, performs a safety inspection and repairs, before the vehicle is given to a family in need. To date, the program has provided transportation to over 80 families.
“We hear stories that kids are now able to join a sport or activity because they now have reliable transportation,” said Nick. “The program has allowed individuals to advance their careers by accepting a different job or promotion.”
The Johnson family donates with their time as well, having sat on a number of boards including The Ames Foundation, Story County Medical Center, and the Ames Chamber of Commerce, while also actively investing in other organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs.
Ames Ford Lincoln currently employs about 75 people, up from 16 in 2012. Part of this growth is a result of doubling their service department about three years ago. They are committed to Ford’s new electric vehicle program and next year will be installing 3-4 fast charging stations and will be a certified Model-E dealer. The Johnson family has always reinvested in their business, and this provides a positive economic impact on our community.
The American Welding Society predicts the nation will have a shortage of 400,000 welders by 2024. In Iowa, more than 58 percent of health care facilities reported a shortage of qualified applicants for nursing positions according to a 2020 workforce demand survey by Iowa Workforce Development and the Iowa Board of Nursing.
Career changes are complicated and too often are never pursued because of built-in obstacles. For many professions, certificates or degrees are needed to prove proficiency in a craft. Starting over requires establishing a new professional network, which can be daunting. And above all, pursuing a career change costs money, often the first and most obvious non-starter of them all.
The Story County Retraining Program eliminates those barriers and is free to all residents in Story County who are 18 years or older and have obtained a diploma or GED. It is a partnership between Story County, the Ames Chamber of Commerce, and the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), who hosts the classes at their Ames and Boone campuses.
“There is a growing need for trained and skilled workers in Story County,” said Latifah Faisal, Chair of the Story County Board of Supervisors. “It removes some of the barriers that can lock people into a job with little opportunity for professional growth or increased income potential.”
This free Retraining Program provides an opportunity to master new skills and technology that can lead to a new career in a very short amount of time. The program is currently available in ten different career tracks, with the most popular being the welding and certified nursing assistant (CNA) tracks.
The idea of the program began in 2020 as a result of the Future Ready Iowa Grant program, but fundamentally evolved in Story County when the Story County Board of Supervisors approved the program and assigned the operations to the Ames Chamber of Commerce. It was a strategy that was utilized in the wake of the pandemic when employment for many people was impacted.
Nikki Fischer, Director of Workforce Development for the Ames Chamber of Commerce, oversees the program. “The underlying theme of the Retraining Program is that it provides opportunities to learn a new skill, immediately have an opportunity for advanced employment, and to earn more money. And it’s completely free!”
The process to apply is simple: prospective students fill out the Workforce Training Academy application online. Afterward, DMACC representatives contact the applicant to provide more information. Tuition and books are all paid through the program. Additional benefits include transportation assistance through gas cards each week that a student attends classes. Childcare assistance is determined on a case-by-case basis, and a cash stipend helps fill in the financial gaps of this transition period. In all, $600 is given to each student who finishes the coursework and works in a job in Story County for 30 days.
“The goal is to take the barriers away and make it easy for people to advance or upscale their career,” said Fischer. The classes are 5-15 weeks long depending on the course.
The Retraining Program is focused on providing opportunities for individual career advancement, and it is exciting to see employers of Story County increasingly utilize the program.
A Mid-States Companies Case Study
Mid-States Companies is a leader in agricultural construction. Much of their 20+ year reputation is in providing a full range of design-to-build contracting services, notably for grain and feed storage construction. The company is multi-generational and family-owned with their roots in Nevada, Iowa, dating back to 1965. They are proud to call Nevada and Story County home and invest in not only the community, but their people as well.
Dustin Johns is a Production Manager at Mid-States Companies. As a supervisor, he has encouraged several people to participate in the Retraining Program and sees it as an opportunity for employees to further their career.
“Often times, we have employees come in at an entry-level position and absolutely love working at Mid-States because of the culture we have built,” said Johns. “They want to do more with our company and want to make more money. This is where we use the Retraining Program to help make that happen.” One of those people was James Stewart who completed the welding program in March 2022.
Stewart admits that he had no metals background when he started at Mid-States, but he had always been interested in learning a new skill. He started taking the evening classes and quickly realized that he had a natural ability to weld. He started in shipping at Mid-States, and today does welding full-time and hasn’t looked back. “It changed the way I look at things, not only for my career, but what Mid-States does.”
High on a wall on the production floor reads “Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard”. It’s a mantra that the company lives by, but it can also serve as a reminder of the seriousness of the products they are building.
Welding is a process where two pieces of metal are fused together by heat and pressure. At Mid-States, the quality of weld supports buildings and cat-walk structures that people walk on, sometimes 200 feet in the air. There is not a margin of error for producing a weak product.
Stewart notes that the program has helped him out financially (he now earns a higher wage in his new position), but that he is also more excited to come to work every day.
“We have to leverage the talent that we already have in the building,” says Johns. “We want to push people to grow, advance their career, and ultimately stay here at Mid-States. If we can support that through this program, we will continue to do that.”
Developing high-quality welders is a passion that Johns has not only at Mid-States Companies, but beyond. He learned on-the-job while employed at ALMACO, another Nevada-based manufacturing company, and today is a welding instructor at DMACC and teaches high school students at Nevada High School. He fully recognizes that not every student he works with will pursue welding as a career, but high school is a time of career exploration, and he loves sparking that interest in students.
The Retraining Program continues to be a viable strategy for Mid-States Companies. Never one to sit idle, Johns took coursework through the program this spring to get his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
Mary Greeley Medical Center
Like Mid-States Companies, Mary Greeley Medical Center (MGMC), is an organization that actively promotes the Retraining Program with staff and experiences a direct, positive result.
“We are always in need of qualified patient care techs,” said Tammy Stegman, Workforce Engagement Program Manager at MGMC. “This is a really good growth opportunity for employees, especially those who are currently working in a non-clinical setting but are interested in advancing their career in healthcare and within our organization.”
For Mary Greeley Medical Center, the certified nursing assistant (CNA) track is the most popular for their organization. They often see staff in other departments such as purchasing take advantage of this opportunity. “It sets them on the first step of a career path for advanced pay and promotion without the financial barriers attached with going back to school,” said Stegman.
Jacqueline Hollingshead, Learning and Development Manager at MGMC, also noted the impact from the patient care perspective. “Completion of the course provides our staff with skills to improve the quality of care and overall experience for our patients.”
From a workforce development standpoint, the Retraining Program continues to be an important strategy to build skilled employees. “This is a program that can grow our skilled labor force by removing barriers to opportunity and connecting people with the resources they can use to lift themselves into a better financial future,” said Board of Supervisors Latifah Faisal. “This is just one way we grow Story County strong.”
At the end of the program, the Ames Chamber of Commerce organizes meet and greet opportunities for graduates. Employers are able to talk with the students and at times extend job offers immediately. “Companies absolutely love this because they have access to potential employees who they know have gone through a program that has equipped them for the workforce,” said Nikki Fischer, Director of Workforce Development for the Ames Chamber of Commerce.
Since the beginning of the program, 51 individuals have utilized the program with the average age being 34. In all, 31 individuals have earned their CNA and 7 their welding certificate through the retraining program.
It is never too late to begin thinking about a new career and the Story County Retraining Program could be the best fit. It is free to all Story County resident who are 18 years or older and have obtained a diploma or GED.
Flight Bar + Grille
Matt and Marianne Pacha opened Flight Bar + Grille in Huxley, Iowa, earlier this year. In the process, they built a business that has community at the heart of its operations.
The Pacha’s moved to Huxley in 2017 and saw a need for the type of restaurant that they were hoping to build. “Huxley deserves a bar and grill like the one that we were envisioning,” said Matt, reflecting on the early conversations that he and Marianne were having with family and friends. “After about six months, the conversations turned from how this could work to how we are going to make this work.”
Ideas turned into action and in March 2022, Flight opened. “All of the signs were there for us to do this,” said Marianne. They secured the location in north Huxley on Highway 69 and had the ability to customize the interior to match the look and feel that they wanted. “I'm passionate about ambiance and experience, so it was important for us to get the look and brand right.”
The Flight name is community inspired and plays off the local Ballard Community School District’s mascot, the Bombers B-52 airplane. It is also woven into their menu selections: beer and dip flights. Most importantly for the Pascha’s was how nearly every aspect of their business weaves the notion of community into it.
One of the unique amenities that Flight brings to Huxley is the addition of a golf simulator. It is a great off-season option for the golf community, even if they cannot arrive in their golf carts during the winter.
Just as Flight Bar + Grill leans into the community school brand, they are also personal contributors to the high school’s athletic club. The high school golf team uses the golf simulator in the off-season, and they also employ several high school students part time.
Upon opening, the Pacha’s announced their membership program called the Flight Crew. In a nod to the sitcom Cheers, which was known as the local establishment for locals to meet, relax, and socialize, the Flight Crew offers discounts on food and drinks, but also provides members with their own beer stein mug with their name on it. When Flight Crew members come in, they grab their personalized mug for the night.
When you visit Flight Bar + Grill and are looking for a recommendation, consider the Foundation Burger. The double burger includes cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, and a mustard aioli. Consistent with their brand, $1 of each burger goes to the Ballard Education Foundation that supports teachers and students in the Ballard Community School District.
Flight Bar + Grille is located at 931 N US HWY 69 in Huxley, Iowa
Washington D.C. Fly-In 2023
The Ames Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Program focuses on educating and engaging members on key legislative issues and initiatives impacting the Ames MSA. Maintaining strong relationships with federal, state, and locally elected officials is a key tenet of the Ames Chamber of Commerce, and a service we are proud to provide to our entire membership.
This component of our services is most prevalent during the spring when the state legislature is in session, but the efforts continue year-round at the state and federal levels. In all advocacy efforts, the Ames Chamber of Commerce remains nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates or support political action committees but provides opportunities for candidates and constituents to connect and share information.
In the fall of 2022, we facilitated a “Meet the Candidate” video series where local and state candidates running for office were invited to answer questions. This included county supervisors in Boone and Story County, as well as state representative candidates.
January 2023, with the start of the Iowa Legislative session, the Ames Chamber of Commerce hosted local policy events including two Legislative Updates. All state elected officials representing Boone and Story County were invited to attend the events to answer questions on the legislative topics for the 2023 session and provide their policy perspectives.
As the state legislative session progresses, bills often change, and it can be difficult to stay up to date on current bills. In March, Dustin Miller and Brad Epperly from Nyemaster Goode Law Firm outlined the current status of legislation and provided insights on how likely they were to make it through the legislative funnel or be passed into law.
Finally, in April 2023, the Ames Chamber of Commerce organized the annual Washington D.C. Fly-In where a delegation of business and community leaders from across the Ames MSA traveled to our nation’s capital to meet with elected officials, government department officials, and nonpartisan foreign policy experts. During the three-day visit, our team was able to meet directly with our elected officials including Congressman Randy Feenstra, Senator Joni Ernst and Senator Charles Grassley. A packet of policy considerations was presented, and the delegation was able to talk candidly with policymakers about upcoming legislation directly. Also, continuing the Ames Chamber efforts to gain a more national policy perspective, Representative Lori Chavez-DeRemer from Oregon joined us for a discussion on policy efforts in her committees relating to Agriculture, Transportation/Infrastructure, and Education/Workforce.
Each representative graciously spent time with our delegation, answering questions and listening to the key priorities that impact Iowa and the Ames MSA. Additional topics related to our region included how supply chain is impacting manufacturing, the importance of supporting family farming, the mining of precious metals here in the US for new green technology and international trade. The pace within the Capitol building is robust, yet many of our federally elected officials prioritized time to meet with our delegation from Boone and Story County between committee meetings and votes.
“Books are meant to be loved.” This is the guiding philosophy, as displayed in a bright neon sign inside the Downtown Ames, independent bookstore, Dog-Eared Books.
Since opening in March of 2021, Dog-Eared Books has become the go-to store for book lovers thanks to the “enthusiastic and generous support of our community,” said co-owner Amanda Lepper.
Lepper and co-owner Ellyn Grimm graduated from Ames High together in 2001. Grimm studied English literature and taught secondary English after graduating from Iowa State University. Lepper earned a Master of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and worked at a small-town paper in Kansas before moving back to Ames. The two reconnected years after graduating high school when their kids were in the same preschool class.
Conversations in the pick-up line evolved over time to include the topics of the day, politics, and their love of books. “I would talk about my dream of someday opening a children's bookstore in Ames,” recalls Lepper who also saw it as “a total pipe dream.” But whenever the topic came up, Grimm would always say, "if you do it, I'll do it with you!"
In April 2019, the two eventual co-owners investigated the possibility of opening the store together. “We agreed to begin a research process to determine if we thought the town could support an ‘indie’ bookstore,” said Lepper. That year of research included talking with their mentor bookstore in Columbia, Missouri, and creating a long list of questions. They attended the American Bookseller Association's Winter Institute, an industry wide educational conference for independent booksellers, that included a one-day bootcamp focused on opening a new store. According to the seminar leaders, Ames proved to be an ideal environment for an indie bookstore with its high education level, strong support of a local library, and a community with a strong local shopping district.
The two researched and planned through the pandemic. Shelving, graphic design and web needs, point of sale systems, and books – “lots and lots of research on books and publishers,” said Grimm. Their dog-eared dream opened in the spring of 2021.
“One of the things that we did not fully anticipate was the community and friendships that we developed as a result of the store,” said Lepper. “The people who have made Dog-Eared Books their place is really amazing. They see it as part of their world.”
Built on a love of books, Lepper and Grimm are embracing the book community that they are at the center of, but their programming goes beyond traditional book clubs, which now total 8. “Cozy puzzle night” includes drinks and pajamas where ten teams rush to complete a 1,000-piece puzzle. Monthly trivia nights are always full. And poetry slams are taking off in popularity. Dog-Eared Books has collaborated with local writing groups, including the Ames Writer’s Collective, to provide an outlet for their work. “People are grateful for a place to have community,” said Lepper.
When you walk into Dog-Eared Books, you immediately recognize the value that the owners place on brand and aesthetics. That brand extends to their book curation process as well. “We buy based on our own taste, but also what our community wants,” said Lepper.
The Ames community has a big National Public Radio following and wants to read about current events, nature, and history. Social media trends such as BookTok also play a role in their curation process. BookTok is part of a TikTok subculture where “influencers” share short-form videos about their favorite book. If a book is trending on TikTok, it is likely that you can find it at Dog-Eared Books. “We immediately order the book because it drives sales,” said Grimm.
At any given time, the store has over 13,000 books with 9,000 unique titles. What you won’t find are books based on hateful topics. Rather, the Dog-Eared owners have placed an emphasis on finding titles that promote inclusivity and representation. This approach has served them well, not only in building community, but in employing staff to operate the store. They currently employ 18 staff, mostly part-time employees, who all love books. On the off occasion when they do have an opening, they are often flooded with applicants.
Lepper and Grimm are always looking for ways to expand their business, both financially, and as a way to build community. New this year, the store is offering a monthly book subscription, with options for either a new release adult fiction selection or a children’s picture book selection, with a middle grade chapter book offering to be added this summer. They are also partnering with area school districts to supply classroom and library literature and will be hosting a book fair at Ames Middle School this spring.
Next time you stop in, be sure to say hello to Lovie, the Dog-Eared Books resident golden retriever.
Dog-Eared Books is located at 203 Main Street.
Behind the Name:
“A dog-eared book is a loved book,” say the owners of the Downtown Ames bookstore. The name draws inspiration from its two owners, Amanda Lepper and Ellyn Grimm, and is a combination of habit and passion. Ellyn has a habit of dog-earing her books, otherwise known as folding the page corners to mark her spot. Amanda has a passion in dog training. Together, Dog-Eared Books is formed on their love of books.
IGH Cleaning, LLC
Listening to an inner career calling can be uncertain and difficult, but the feeling can also be undeniable. For Robert and Alesia Knight, their steadfast commitment to faith steered them on their entrepreneurial and faith-based journey over a decade ago.
The couple began In God’s Hands (IGH) Cleaning, LLC, in January 2011. The company provides commercial janitorial services, window cleaning, carpet cleaning, floor care, and currently employs 13 individuals.
Prior to starting IGH, both Robert and Alesia were employed at Iowa State University, living comfortably with a salary, health insurance, and retirement. But it was not enough for them. They knew that their calling was to minister to people directly. Robert stepped away from his job at the University in July 2010 without a clear career direction, but they had faith that one would be presented to them.
In November 2010, a business owner asked Robert to buy a pickup truck and a snow blade. After speaking with Alesia, he agreed and In God’s Hands Outdoor Services was born. The company transitioned into commercial cleaning after one winter and they have been a staple in Ames since that time.
As the name represents, the Knights are clear about their faith and their commitment to their employees and clients. A pastor at his core, Robert begins each shift meeting with prayer and team building before they disperse to the job sites.
“We love the Ames community!” said Robert. “We raised two kids here who both have obtained degrees from Iowa State University. The best thing about the Ames community is the people, and the opportunity to serve.”
As much as ministry is at the core of their business, so is their desire to grow their business. The Knights were recently accepted to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program. Through the program, participants gain practical skills in topics such as negotiation, marketing, and employee management that can immediately be put into action. In addition, they receive the tools and professional support to develop a strategic and customized growth plan that will take their business to the next level.
“The opportunity to be a part of 10,000 Goldman Sachs was recommended through the Ames Chamber of Commerce. We completed the application and interview process and were accepted as participants,” said Robert. “Alesia and I are praying that our experience with 10,000 Goldman Sachs will allow our business to move to another level of service to care for people, our customers, and our team.”
Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program
In partnership with each of Iowa’s 15 community colleges, including Des Moines Area Community College, the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program provides business owners the tools to develop a customized business plan for growth with topics covering financial statements negotiation, marketing, employee management, and more. The 12-week curriculum is delivered in person and online – all at no cost to Iowa business owners.
Ames Seed Cap Invests in Pyrone Systems, Inc.
On November 9th, 2022, the Ames Seed Capital Board of Managers approved a $100,000 investment for a new business named Pyrone Systems, Inc, which is developing a bio-pesticide that uses pogostone as the key ingredient.
Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects have become resistant to pesticides and insecticides currently on the shelves. Pyrone Systems is positioned to offer a unique solution to this problem by developing a new way to produce pogostone, which is a naturally occurring molecule produced by the patchouli plant.
For centuries, the patchouli plant leaves have been known to have a repellent property and were commonly used when shipping textiles from Southeast Asia to Europe. The patchouli plant, however, produces pogostone in such low quantities that an area eight times the size of Texas would be required to produce the amount of insecticides used in the U.S.
Pyrone Systems has solved this problem through the development of Pyrone-1, which they make using genetically modified yeast. They take the yeast and mix it with the byproducts from making vegetable oil. The initial lab results have shown an increase in Pyrone-1 production, which is exciting for Pyrone Systems as they approach commercialization. Preliminary data suggests that pogostone is non-toxic to humans, birds, bees, and the environment.
Pyrone Systems was founded in October 2021. Dr. Brent Shanks, a co-founder of Pyrone Systems, currently serves as Chief Technical Officer. He is also a Distinguished Professor and the Director of the Iowa State University Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) at Iowa State University. He sees the potential of Pyrone-1 going beyond insect control.
“What takes Pyrone-1 to the next level is our proprietary chemistry and know-how that was originally developed in CBiRC,” said Shanks. He noted that their technology has unlocked potential in seven new markets, including a $7 billion corrosion inhibitor market that is facing regulatory pressure and the $120 billion lubricant market that wants to decarbonize. “We’re moving fast as the Pyrone Systems team has extensive expertise in developing biology and chemistry, scaling up operations, navigating regulatory requirements and creating key sales and marketing collaborations.”
The rest of the Pyrone Systems leadership team includes Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Alex Hutagalung, Chief Business Officer, Steve Bessette, and Chief Financial Officer, Brian Conn. The company is planning to first produce pesticides for commercial and residential uses, and then believes it can produce, cost efficiently, enough to serve agricultural markets.
Mike Upah, Director of Ames Seed Capital (ASC) for the Ames Chamber of Commerce, said that the ASC executive committee saw the potential in what Pyrone Systems was doing. “When positive referrals come from multiple, respected sources, it accelerates interest and helps prioritize one project over others.” He noted that it is a great time to invest in bio-based products and that the company founders have an understanding of the industry with a sound commercialization strategy.
Ames Seed Capital
Founded in 1987, Ames Seed Capital is a venture fund based in Ames, Iowa, and operated by the Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission. The firm invests a pool of funds committed by private sources (entities and individuals) for the purpose of providing equity-based financing for business start-ups and/or expansions. These investments primarily focus on companies in the biotechnology, software, energy, and financial service sectors located in Central Iowa, but they are not limited to these parameters.
The Fund is an Iowa company created to implement a program of the Ames Economic Development Commission (AEDC) and initially established by the AEDC to fund start-up companies developed at Iowa State University with commercial potential. Ames Seed Capital is managed by an elected volunteer Board of Managers.
To date, Ames Seed Capital has raised 7 funds with the first taking place in 1997 with $451,000. Fund 3 was $449,5000 and had 55 investors who invested in five companies. This created a high rate of return and each investor received nearly $5 back for every one dollar invested.
Fund 4 invested in 13 companies, Fund 6 totaled $1.7 million and included 63 investors, and Fund 7 saw the firms largest investment total of $4.25 million with 101 investors.
Currently, the fund has invested a total of $4.9 million in 29 businesses and has an additional $3.4 million in Fund 7 to invest. The current portfolio includes 14 companies.
Here are a few notable investments from Ames Seed Capital:
“Operating a productive and profitable business is one of the most important things one can do. Over time, profitable business activity is the base of our community through the direct and indirect funding of our families, communities, and society. Business is also an excellent way to channel individual and collective innovative, creative and entrepreneurial energy and effort.”
This is the grounding philosophy of Daniel Oh, President & CEO of AgCertain Industries, Inc., a food, agricultural, and bio-based manufacturing company, located in Ames, Boone, and Newton, Iowa.
The company is only three years old, yet Oh and his AgCertain team announced their expansion in the Boone Industrial Park in October 2022. For a company that could locate anywhere, he has again chosen Boone and Story counties to grow AgCertain.
As President & CEO, Oh believes profitability in a company is important and he spends much of his time focused on building AgCertain into an efficient company. But for Oh, operating a profitable business is also a way to contribute and give back. “Business can be a force for good, and Central Iowa has a growing and ever more connected business ecosystem that supports and sustains growing companies. As a community and region, we need to continue to grow highly engaged and profitable businesses to increase the stability that brings to our families and to create career opportunities that support employees being able to stay in the area as they seek greater responsibilities and roles.”
Oh views his work and company as one piece of a broader system. A community relies on businesses just as much as businesses rely on the community in which they reside. In every way, a business can only be as successful as those who are part of it. So, helping our communities grow in other ways including quality of life, interesting places to live and work, access to a strong educational and healthcare system, a healthy environment, all with economic vitality, is essential. The communities where AgCertain operates are all very focused in this manner.
This philosophy is long-tenured and dates back to the early beginnings of his business career. Oh grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, in an entrepreneurial family. His parents owned and operated a food focused retail store and wholesale business. He remembers growing up on the second floor above the store and working within the family business from an early age. After high school, Oh attended college at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“I thought I should serve,” said Oh, reflecting on the decision and the sense of responsibility he felt. Oh’s father emigrated from Korea to attend college and met his mother while attending college in Illinois. “At the time I felt as though it was my responsibility as a citizen to give back to the country that had embraced my family.”
“The United States Army was my first exposure as an adult into the business world,” said Oh who pointed out that the military is essentially a large, self-sustaining organization.
He was an active-duty service member for fifteen years and reached the rank of major. He served overseas during Operation Desert Storm and was exposed to logistics, supply chain management, human resources, and operations during his time in the military. “I really enjoyed serving in the U.S. Army and learned many valuable life lessons; it felt like our efforts had a higher purpose.”
“Even before joining the Army, I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but as a young person, I did not really understand what being an entrepreneur really entailed.” At the age of 33, Oh stepped away from the military and attended the University of Chicago to pursue a Master of Business Administration degree. While at West Point, one of his key areas of study was economics, along with the typical required math, science, and engineering classes. At Chicago, he focused on finance, accounting and business strategy to be more prepared for a career in business.
Oh prefers to be involved in companies that provide essential goods and services in support of agriculture, life sciences and renewable energy, improving our environment, and supporting our communities. After graduation from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, he worked at a large management consulting firm with a focus on pharmaceuticals, at Eli Lilly & Company with a focus on finance and mergers and acquisitions, and at an agriculturally aligned consulting firm called Agri Business Group (ABG); all to learn more about how companies are built and operated while also assisting them to grow and improve their operations.
As part of ABG, he worked with one particular client in Iowa. In 2005, Oh assisted West Central Cooperative, now Landus, as they built a business plan for establishing a separate and independent Renewable Energy Group (REG), a company that would become a global producer and supplier of bio-based diesel, headquartered in Ames, Iowa.
After the spin-out was initially funded, Oh was offered a position to join the new company. He and his wife Lori moved their family across the Midwest where he joined REG in 2006 as Chief Financial Officer. After a year, he became Chief Operating Officer, then later the President and eventually the Chief Executive Officer, a position he would hold until his departure in 2017. “I really loved the experience, and the Team accomplished a lot,” said Oh.
“At my core, I am a builder, and immediately went to work building another business while hoping we would determine that the ideal location for our home office was to again be based in Ames.” That business became AgCertain Industries, Inc.; conceptualized in 2017, organized in 2018, and operational and delivering products and services in 2019. The company has been growing with the assistance of a strong local team and investment from Midwest Growth Partners, the Kemery family and the Oh family.
The base production asset came from a company known as KemX Global, a glycerin and vegetable oil refining company located in Boone, Iowa. In 2019, AgCertain purchased certain assets and hired some employees from the prior company and began operating as AgCertain Boone, LLC. Since then, a tremendous amount of improvement and investment has happened.
There is a growing need to know where goods come from and how they are specifically handled along the way. AgCertain is doing this within the food, agricultural and bio-systems space on a more integrated basis in terms of markets, traceability, production, logistics and supply chain management. Delivering agricultural certainty so people can be sure that what they are receiving is what they wanted and is as expected - in terms of food, feed, oleochemicals and related products - that is what AgCertain does.
Located in the Cultivation Corridor, AgCertain is at the center of agricultural innovation where science and technology converge to impact our nation. Local logistics are excellent with access to the Union Pacific railroad via the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, Iowa Highway 30, Interstate 35, local warehousing and local packaging. The local education system, including area high schools, DMACC, and Iowa State University generate a well-trained community from which to hire. The business mind-set in the region is quick, efficient, no-nonsense, and focused in the right manner. Local government is supportive of growth that AgCertain strives to accomplish. And, the knowledge base in the region is ideal in terms of food, agricultural and bio-based systems activities.
AgCertain notes that the Boone refinery is “one of the most adaptable edible oil refiners in the industry producing Non-GMO, organic, high performance and conventional oils.” They are USDA Organic and Non-GMO verified and hold Kosher, Halal and Safe Quality Food (SQF) certifications.
The Boone facility’s adaptability and flexibility enhances its ability to support traceability for a wide variety of products that become ingredients for larger manufacturers, consumer packaged goods companies, and food producers. The process includes documenting the production, processing, and distribution of finished products and ingredients. This is particularly important for food products, and in AgCertain’s case, glycerin and edible oils such as vegetable, fruit and nut oils.
Expansion was always part of the plan for Oh, both in Boone and within the food, agricultural, and bio-based product industries. In June 2022, AgCertain announced its acquisition of Maytag Dairy Farms located in Newton, IA; the artisanal manufacturer and marketer of world-famous Maytag Blue Cheese, and other specialty food and beverage products.
In the press release, Oh said, “by combining our two Iowa-based companies, we are able to create deeper branding opportunities and expanded product sales opportunities for both organizations.” He also recognized their ability to leverage the talent of leadership and staff in both organizations to “provide a quicker growth trajectory,” an operational business mindset that was developed early on at West Point.
In October 2022, AgCertain celebrated their expansion in the Boone Industrial Park at an open-house event. Currently, in Boone, AgCertain occupies 120 acres of land, a footprint that could grow over time if the right conditions emerge. AgCertain has had an intern program every summer since its inception, and in 2023 plans to host another 20-25 interns across locations. Overall, AgCertain currently employs approximately 75 people.
In many ways, Oh has only been in business since 2000, but his entrepreneurial upbringing and sense of responsibility to community has formed his career trajectory from the beginning. Oh says that his ability to build and grow “AgCertain is a result of many people who have invested in me through their teaching, and worked together to build business that matters.”
Oh also owns and operates property in Ames and Bloomington, Indiana, through a business now known as OEI (Oh Enterprises & Investments). OEI was formed by the Oh Family back in 1996 to acquire and improve historic properties in Bloomington. In 2018, OEI expanded into Ames, IA. A large effort of OEI seeks to preserve history while turning historic properties into viable economic assets that support thriving downtown areas. Through business, OEI serves its communities in a manner likely to support entrepreneurs, local business, and downtown living.
The cycle of an economy is something that Oh often thinks about. By investing time, effort and capital in the community in which he lives, he and his family contribute to the vibrancy and economic development of that community. Dan and Lori raised their four children in Ames and enjoy being part of a college-town community.
For Oh, giving back to the community is a concept that has no end. It is a concept that was instilled in him from his parents early on and was reinforced during his training as a soldier. The profitability of a company is important as it provides stability, but defining and building a business that matters is equally as important.
He is a builder at heart, and this is something that he tries to do in many beneficial ways for his teams and communities, and that is never done alone. “The journey is building things that matter and serving people along the way.”
What is your favorite place in a city anywhere in the World? Take a (mental) walk there right now. What do you see? What do you like about it? Is it easy to get there? How do you feel when you are there? Why do you feel comfortable when you are there? Are you the only one there or are others enjoying it too? Do you like to meet you friends there?
These questions and others like them are critical when considering how to make a space where people want to go, spend time, and spend money. A place that is accessible, comfortable, useful, and sociable. The process of creating public space like this is called Placemaking. “Placemaking means creating places and focuses on transforming public spaces to strengthen the connections between people and these places.” 1 ” Placemaking shows that the creation of places transcends the material dimension and involves aspects such as sociability, uses, activities, access, connections, comfort, and image, to create bonds between people and a sense of place.” 
Fosters social interaction
 ArchDaily, Susanna Moreira
 Project for Public Spaces
Cycle Force Group
If you have ever purchased a bicycle, bicycle parts, or accessories online, it is highly possible that the order was processed by Cycle Force Group in Ames, Iowa. Founded in 1998, Cycle Force Group (CF) is a national distributor of bicycles, parts, accessories and so much more.
As of January 1, 2022, Cycle Force Group was purchased by Messingschlager GmbH, Europe’s leading supplier of bicycle parts and accessories. That acquisition established Messingschlager USA LLC (dba Cycle Force), headquartered in Ames. CF is now positioned to better compete in the United States cycling world with new European brands that will soon be part of the CF portfolio.
In 1998, the company was founded by Nyle Nims and Sue Cunningham in eastern Long Island. Like many small companies, the center of operations during the early years of the company was at a kitchen table. Their first customer was Sears & Roebuck whom they had a solid relationship with at their former company. That buyer left and went to an unknown company at the time, and asked Nyle and Sue if they would sell him bicycles, another unknown category for them. That unknown company was Amazon and began a decades long relationship as they continue to be their number one customer.
As the internet boomed, they expanded their distribution further online. Increased orders required additional shipping, and Nims and Cunningham quickly saw the challenges of shipping from the east coast to west coast. They eventually made the decision to relocate their company to Ames.
Nims is an Ames native and got his early entrepreneurial education from his father Daryl. Nims’ Sportsman was founded in 1951 and was a Downtown Ames staple, selling a wide assortment of sporting goods. In 1969, the business expanded beyond hunting and fishing to include Schwinn bicycles. The father/son team traveled Europe in search of manufacturing partners. Eventually, Nyle Nims went onto become president of Ross Bicycles, one of the largest bicycle companies in the United States before eventually starting CFG with Cunningham, who began her cycling career at Ross in New York.
With the recent acquisition by Messingschlager, Pat Cunnane was announced as the new Chief Executive Officer in November 2022, with Nims, Cunningham and Nyle’s three children, Matt, Chris, and Elizabeth, focusing on the operations in Ames. Cunnane is a recognized leader in the bicycle industry with decades of CEO experience.
Cycle Force Group offers a range of products that includes entry-level bikes for children, and most recently e-bikes. One of the areas they have always been interested in is high-end performance bicycles. Cycling is an international sport that is incredibly popular in Europe. It was recently announced that North America Cycles (a division of Cycle Force handling the independent bicycle dealer network) was awarded the exclusive U.S. distributor of a line of KTM Bicycles, a premium global cycling brand from Austria.
When thinking of bicycle companies in Ames, CF may not be one that immediately comes to mind. They have never been a public-facing company with a showroom for customers, yet their revenue is annually eight-figures. The customer base includes e-commerce fulfillment, big-box retail, independent bicycle retailers, large multi-sport retailers, consumer direct, premium, and promotional clients.
Through the years, the CF business model has evolved as quickly as the internet has. Just like Nyle followed his father, CF has grown into the next generation with his children. Matt Nims is tasked with sales and marketing, Chris Nims with navigating an ever-changing e-commerce market, and Elizabeth Brink with order fulfillment. They make up the CF management team along with Nyle and Sue who all report to Pat.
In 2020, CF experienced an influx in orders due to the pandemic when normal life shifted to activities at home and outdoors. During that time, they were processing over 3,000 orders a day and in April 2020, the company saw more than 40,000 orders. That year, they processed approximately half a million orders in all.
They are currently in the next evolution of bicycles: e-bikes. For a company that handled half a million orders, the move to e-bikes means less orders, but at higher prices and more complicated shipping, allowing the company to maintain the same revenue. One of their premier bicycle brands is HEAD, famous for gold medals in ski & grand slam titles in tennis. Known for cutting-edge design, engineering excellence and a passion for championing all sport, everywhere.
Whatever is next in bicycles, Messingschlager USA, dba Cycle Force, will be ready with the infrastructure they have in place. Growth has been in their DNA for almost 25 years and will continue to turn their wheels year after year allowing their employees the opportunity to flourish working in Ames, Iowa.
Cycle Force is located at 2105 SE 5th Street in Ames, Iowa