Corridor businesses, contractors, utility share positive impact

Business boomed for those able to assist in emergency response efforts

George Ford
Published: June 2 2013 | 5:00 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 4:03 pm in
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The June 2008 flood caused $250 million of damage to Alliant Energy/Interstate Power and Light facilities, including the loss of the Sixth Street Generating Station, but there also was a positive impact on the organization.

"It definitely helped our emergency response efforts," said Pat Kampling, Alliant Energy chairwoman, president and CEO. "We learned a lot during the flood and we have incorporated those best practices into how we do emergency response in general, not just flooding or storms."

Tom Aller, president of Interstate Power and Light in Cedar Rapids, said the utility monitors the weather differently, moving people and equipment in advance of a storm or other emergency.

"We dispatch to be ahead of the game, as opposed to reacting to an event," Aller said. "It's a far different process of preparing. Yes, if we don't use them we've spent a little extra operations and maintenance money, but we've learned what it saves from the ice storm in 2007 and the 2008 flood."

Aller, also senior vice president of energy resource development for Alliant Energy, said the shift to proactive planning affects everything, including scheduling vacations and other employee time off during certain critical times of the year.

"It's top to bottom learning that has enabled the company to respond far better to storms on behalf of customers," Aller said. "It will ultimately be cheaper, recovery will be quicker and reliability will be better because of it."

While many Cedar Rapids residents were able to recover in the weeks and months after flood waters inundated their homes, there was a critical need for new furnaces, hot water heaters, air conditioning compressors and kitchen appliances.

As he was dealing with the temporary loss of his company's office building in Czech Village, Randy Novak, president of Novak Heating and Air Conditioning, was fielding calls from homeowners wanting to get new furnaces and central air installed.

"We were able to have employees work more hours than they have in years," Novak said. Business was  so brisk after the flood that Novak's company needed to hire additional employees while his staff worked out of a temporary office in his home.

Novak's office and shops 56 16th Ave. SW in Czech Village had 9 1/2 feet of water flow through it. The company accepted a city buyout of the property and relocated in 2012 to 820 N. 15th Ave. in Hiawatha.

While heating and air conditioning contractors were busy removing and installing new equipment, Linn Star Transfer in southwest Cedar Rapids was busy with residential appliances.

"Things went absolutely nuts." said Dennis Munson, president and owner of Linn Star Transfer, 9440 Wright Brothers Ct. SW. "Everybody who had flooded homes and basements needed to get their appliances replaced.

"I had to bring in crews from outside of the state for about a month to help get ranges, refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers delivered and installed. It was a surge of activity in a fairly short period of time."

While construction contractors and subcontractors in the rest of Iowa and the nation were dealing with the impact of the Great Recession, generals and subs were bidding on contracts for flood-related building projects.

Ryan Companies, which had been busy with major building projects in the Des Moines area before the economic slowdown, shifted gears after the June 2008 flood.

"We were able to survive in this region as a result of some of the flood recovery work that we've been involved with," said Geoff Eastburn, vice president of Ryan Midwest. "Things would certainly have been a lot leaner, but we were fortunate to win some construction management contracts for the city as well as being a part of the ($160 million) federal courthouse project.

"That made our 2008 to 2012 period that much more bearable."

Eastburn said Ryan Companies shifted project managers from its Des Moines office to Cedar Rapids as central Iowa general contractors and subs "hunkered down" and competition became very keen for the few building contracts that were put out bid.

With the completion of the U.S. District Courthouse and wind down of other major projects such as the new Cedar Rapids Public Library, PCI Medical Pavillion, the Cedar Rapids Transit Garage, the Paramount Theatre, the U.S. Cellular Center and Double Tree by Hilton Hotel, Eastburn said contractors will be looking for new opportunities.

"We've created a sizable business and I joke that when you create a business, you have to feed it," Eastburn said. "Seeking opportunities in the Cedar Rapids area to employ the people that we do is our objective."

Eastburn said the Des Moines construction market is beginning to pick up and he is already making plans to shift project managers back to central Iowa as the need arises.

Shifting crews from project to project was nothing new for D.W. Zinser Co., a Walford contractor that handled demolition and removal of former Maytag Corp. buildings in Newton after the appliance manufacturer was bought by Whirlpool Corp.

The June 2008 flood required the demolition of irreparably damaged homes, manufacturing plants, office and commercial buildings and apartments.

D.W. Zinser was awarded publicly-funded contracts totaling $23,361,867 from June 13, 2008, to April 30 of this year. During the same period, Kelly Demolition of Mount Vernon was awarded contracts totaling $6,843,903.

David Zinser, president of D.W. Zinser, said the company's contracts tripled after the June 2008 flood and its workforce doubled, providing employment for many Eastern Iowans during the recent economic recession.

"The exposure carried us regionally, if not nationally, attracting attention to us as a demolition contractor ," Zinser said. "We've received invites from all over the place, as far as we want to go. We came through it with a good track record for safety and everything went well."

Zinser said the company has a number of major demolition projects on the horizon, including the former Link Belt plant/City Services complex on Sixth Street SW, the former Cedar Rapids Central Fire Station and portions of Westdale Mall.

"We're actually doing the former Von Maur building strip out now and we expect to start the demolition of the former Montgomery Ward building on July 1."

While agreeing that many people sustained personal or business losses, Zinser said the flood had a positive impact on many service businesses and organizations.

"I think it made everybody who had to deal with it stronger and better," he said.

The number of contractors and businesses receiving contracts for publicly-funded flood-related construction  projects numbers in the thousands, according to Cassie Willis, former communications liaison for Cedar Rapids. The $45 million Cedar Rapids Public Library project, including $21 million for the building, provides a glimpse of businesses receiving a positive impact.

Consultants and subcontractors include ACS Fire, Adtech, Allied Construction, Ament Inc., Anderson-Bogart, Architectural Walls, Artisan Ceilings, ASC Insulation, Baker Mechanical, Barker Lemar, Belle Plaine Nursery, Bowker Mechanical, Braun Intertec, Cahoy Pump Service, Cedar Valley Steel, Continental Fire Sprinkler, Des Moines Marble, Feaker Painting, Foundation Services, Hawkeye Electric, Iowa/Illinois Taylor Insulation, Kiewit, Knutson Construction, Kone Elevator, Lifetime Fence, MultiVista, OPN Architects, Overhead Door,Ryan Companies US, Rathje Construction, Seedorff Masonry, Soil-Tex Systems, Terracon, Universal Climate Control, Wall-Tech and West Branch Roofing.

Major contracts include Knutson Construction, $14,892,119; Bowker Mechanical, $3,705,332, and Hawkeye Electric, $3,158,069. Other contracts totaled $6,381,058, according to the bid information provided by the Cedar Rapids Public Library.


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