Last in a series on this year’s 20 Under 40 winners.
CEDAR FALLS — For much of Brian Wingert’s youth, he was sure of two things: He would live in his hometown as an adult, and he wouldn’t go into real estate.
His father, well-known real estate agent Bruce Wingert, cautioned him against going into the profession.
“Dad didn’t want me to get into real estate,” Brian Wingert, 33, explained. “It was a different career when I was growing up — a laborious process. Dad didn’t have a lot of time at home.”
Instead, he majored in marketing at the University of Northern Iowa. While there, he took a real estate class. After graduating, he tried his hand at medical device sales.
Eventually, Wingert decided to give real estate sales a more objective look. He quickly realized the industry had changed dramatically since his father’s early years.
“It’s different today than when I was growing up, watching my dad do it,” he said. “The current state of the profession offers so much flexibility.”
Wingert jumped into real estate sales and quickly learned it suits him.
“I enjoy the thrill of the deal,” he said. “If I can help somebody get a good price on a home they love, I feel good.”
In 2016, Wingert and his brother-in-law, Andrew Schoof, partnered to open Structure Real Estate.
Structure is a real family affair, Wingert said. His sisters, Jessica and April, and Bruce Wingert work there. So does Paula Schoof, his partner’s mother.
“It’s nice,” said Wingert. “I know people wonder about working with family and seeing each other too much, but I’m not worried about that. We don’t cross paths in the office too much, because we’re all out working in the community a lot.”
The ability to work in the community that shaped him is important to Wingert. While he hadn’t predicted his career in real estate, he never doubted he’d remain in the metro area. A confirmed Cedar Valley cheerleader, there’s no place he would rather be.
“Cedar Falls was always where I was going to land,” he said. “I don’t like to go on vacation. After four of five days somewhere else, I’m definitely ready to be back in home.”
Part of the appeal is a true sense of community, Wingert added.
“I enjoy going into a restaurant and seeing people I know — having a conversation, catching up with someone I haven’t seen in a while,” he said. “Also, there are a lot of sharp, young entrepreneurs in the Cedar Valley, which makes it an exciting place to be.”
Structure Real Estate places Wingert in that group. He also is co-owner of SRE Holdings LLC and Panther Builders.
UNI President Mark Nook nominated Wingert for the Courier’s 20 Under 40 Awards, calling him “part of the future of the Cedar Valley.”
“Started five years ago with the initial goal of building a few houses a year, Panther Builders now builds close to a hundred homes a year,” said Nook.
It illustrates Wingert’s focus on contributing to the community, Nook added.
In addition to his business acumen and storied past as UNI’s placekicker, Nook admires Wingert’s ability to balance his career and family.
“Although Brian’s real estate-related commitments are very time consuming, Brian considers family and faith as the most important parts of his very busy life,” said Nook. “(H)e is a member of Nazareth Lutheran Church and an avid supporter of UNI’s Panther Athletics and Panther Scholarship Club.”
Wingert’s wife, Samantha (Nygren) Wingert, also is an area native. Together, they’re parents of Erin, 5, and Joseph, 2.
“My parents shaped who I am; they were my biggest influence, for sure,” he said. “To work with (my dad) now — the opportunity to learn from him and watch him do what he does has been great. I want to take that and become the best in the business. What drives me on a day-to-day basis is that I get to help make the Cedar Valley a better place to live.”
‘There are a lot of sharp, young entrepreneurs in the Cedar Valley, which makes it an exciting place to be.’
Third in a series of stories on the upcoming Iowa Legislature’s 2019 session.
DES MOINES — The good news is Iowa’s unemployment level is as low as it’s been in the state’s history.
The challenge that remains, business and political leaders say, is businesses have job openings but cannot find workers.
Iowa’s unemployment rate of 2.4 percent matches the state’s lowest on record, previously achieved in late 1999 and early 2000. More than 1.6 million Iowans are working while 40,600 remain unemployed, according to state data.
While that is good news for most workers, the low unemployment level has made it difficult for some businesses to fill positions or expand, business and political leaders say.
“Workforce development continues to be the defining challenge of Iowa,” Molly Grover, with the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, said on behalf of the Iowa Chamber Alliance, an organization representing the chambers of commerce in Iowa’s 16 largest cities.
“Our members continually share the challenges our organizations face and we hear from our members in workforce development,” Grover said. “Iowa businesses continue to struggle to find qualified candidates with the appropriate skills who are ready to work.”
Helping businesses find workers and helping workers acquire education or job training are primary goals of Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“The good news is our economy is growing. I still hear optimism from business and industry as I travel the state. They’re projecting growth. They just need workforce. We know that,” said Reynolds, who in November was elected to her first, full, four-year term.
Reynolds hopes to deliver more funding for the Future Ready Iowa program and its stated goal of ensuring 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce by 2025 has post-high school education or job training. That figure is at about 58 percent, state officials say.
Previous Gov. Terry Branstad established the program, Reynolds has continued to support it and it has strong bipartisan support in the Legislature. A bill that established apprenticeship, mentor and intern programs unanimously passed both chambers in 2018.
The next step, Reynolds and legislators say, is more funding so it can reach more people.
“We have the foundation of what we need to do. Now we need to put the funding in it to start to implement it,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to continue to help us grow our economy at the capacity that I believe that we can. This is a wonderful opportunity for Iowans to help them get the skills and then to match them up with the jobs.
“That’s a game-changer. That starts to take care of so many other things when an individual can take care of themselves and provide for their family.”
Jack Whitver, the Republican Iowa Senate majority leader from Ankeny, said funding Future Ready Iowa is the Legislature’s No. 1 challenge this session.
“We went from a state asking where are the jobs to where are the workers,” Whitver said. “We need to encourage more people to get into the workforce.”
Bill Dotzler, a Democratic state legislator from Waterloo with more than 20 years’ experience in economic development and a member of the Senate’s Economic Development Committee, agrees a worker shortage is one of the state’s top challenges. But he criticized Republicans for focusing on lowering business taxes instead of funding programs like Future Ready Iowa.
“I look at facts and figures, and I’m a person of science. And I’m telling you right here, right now, that the No. 1 problem that’s holding Iowa’s economy back isn’t our tax structure, it’s the lack of talent across this state to meet the ever-changing needs of business in Iowa,” Dotzler said at a legislative session preview event hosted by the chamber alliance. “I want to talk about the talent problem.”
Legislators and business leaders said making more affordable rural housing available and offering incentives to companies to expand broadband internet access in rural areas also could help boost the state’s workforce.
They also say federal immigration reform would help provide a more stable atmosphere for businesses to hire immigrant workers.
Linda Upmeyer, the Republican House speaker from Clear Lake, said because many programs ultimately run their course and states move on to the next carrot, the state should focus on boosting its workforce by retaining its citizens, especially college graduates.
“Everybody’s going to be competing for workforce, so I think the solution is to grow the workforce,” Upmeyer said. “We should be interviewing (college graduates), talking to those people about staying right here in the United States, staying right here in Iowa and working for one of our businesses.”
EVANSDALE – An Evansdale woman whose house caught fire New Year’s Day has been arrested in connection with two disturbances at a Waterloo house before the blaze.
Jennifer Linn Dicken, 41, was arrested for first-offense trespassing and first-degree harassment, both misdemeanors, Saturday after she was released from a local hospital. Bond was initially set at $2,300.
Court records list Jennifer Dicken’s address as 209 Morris Ave., which took heavy damage from a fire the night of Jan 1.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation, said Evansdale Police Chief Jeff Jensen, who called the fire “suspicious.”
He said authorities are waiting for reports from the Iowa Fire Marshal Division and likely will forward the findings to the Black Hawk County attorney.
Shortly before 8 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 1, before the fire, Jennifer Dicken entered a Maynard Avenue home in Waterloo and told the resident, her estranged husband, David Dicken, she was taking their children and he would never see them again. Jennifer Dicken forcefully attempted to take one of the children, and when a relative intervened she brandished a knife and fled, according to court records.
Then around 5:40 p.m. Jan. 1, Waterloo police were called back to the Maynard Avenue address for a report Jennifer Dicken had called her estranged husband and threatened to kill him and the children, court records state.
According to Evansdale fire officials, crews were called to the Morris Avenue home where Dicken lived with a family member and a friend at about 6:37 p.m. and found flames and heavy smoke coming from the house. Firefighters from Raymond and Gilbertville assisted in fighting the blaze in below-freezing temperatures.
Authorities said the house and contents were a total loss.
Jennifer Dicken doesn’t have custody of the children. She and the husband have been separated for years, according to court records. In 2017 she was arrested for assault and child endangerment charges for allegedly biting and striking a relative in the presence of the children, according to court records. There had been a restraining order between Jennifer Dicken and the children, which was canceled in December 2017, according to court records.
WATERLOO — Linda Allen is retiring as president of Hawkeye Community College after eight years in which she has raised the institution’s profile by growing its role in educating high school students and adult learners.
Her tenure has been marked by the expansion of high school career programs developed in partnership with school districts from across Hawkeye’s 10-county service area. And she has overseen construction of the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center, a high-profile downtown Waterloo building whose first classes will begin later this month.
“I’m planning to retire June 30 this year,” said Allen, 67, announcing her decision during a Monday interview with The Courier. “I believe the college is in a really good position. We’re well-positioned for the future.”
Through credit programs, business and industry training, and volunteer-run efforts like the Senior Companions program “we are serving 25,000-plus people every year,” she noted. “Our numbers are strong and our outreach is really important to the community.”
Jay Nardini, chairman of Hawkeye’s board of trustees, said Allen’s leadership has been important to the college.
“She’s been a great president for us,” he said. “We’re sorry to see her retire. We respect her decision, and we wish her the best in her retirement.
“She has been an excellent leader, well recognized in the state and nationally,” Nardini added, noting leadership has helped in the midst of pressures from declining credit enrollment to keep the college on solid financial ground. He also called her “very instrumental” to the passage of a $25 million bond issue referendum in February 2015 and “the expansion of our college facilities.”
Allen identified voters’ overwhelming passage of the bond referendum as one of the events “over the past few years that have really set in motion a number of things for the college, as well as the community we serve.” She added, “We’re deeply appreciative of the support of our community.”
The bond issue helped fund the $12.96 million three-story, 45,000-square-foot downtown center. In addition, bond funds will be used for a planned health sciences center on the main campus. Money is also set aside for high school career programs.
Still, “personal reasons are probably the key factors in the decision at this time” for leaving the college, noted Allen. Her husband, Michael, retired in May from Rockwell-Collins in Cedar Rapids.
“As a result of his retirement, we’ve had some changes in our lifestyle and personal time,” she said, including spending more time with their children and seven grandchildren. “We’ve talked about this a good deal and we’ve decided between his retirement and where I’m at in my work at the college this is probably a good time.”
Allen, who lives in Cedar Rapids, has been at Hawkeye for 13 years, arriving from Kirkwood Community College in January 2006 to be the vice president of academic affairs. She began leading the college on an interim basis in September 2010 and was named president the following March. This spring she will reach her eighth year in the position.
At Kirkwood, she was executive dean of arts and humanities and also headed its quality improvement program. Beginning in 1997, Allen was an assistant professor at the Cedar Rapids college for five years after earning her doctorate in medical anthropology from the University of Iowa. She started as an adjunct professor at Kirkwood in 1991.
“I really loved teaching, I was passionate about my discipline,” said Allen. That passion spread to the community college classroom at Kirkwood and led to accepting a full-time teaching position there. “It gave me an opportunity to see a different classroom composition,” she explained, with students from ages 18 to 65 — including parents and retirees — enrolled both part-time and full-time.
“As I learned more about community college students, I became more concerned about making sure we could continue to serve (them),” said Allen, with adequate resources for students and faculty in the classroom. “So that’s why I got into administration at Kirkwood. Being a dean gave me an opportunity to have a say in how those resources are distributed.”
Her focus has remained on students at Hawkeye Community College, as well as the faculty and staff that support them.
“I feel really blessed to work with so many talented people who really put our students at the forefront of what we do,” said Allen.
She noted building the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center, which replaces the smaller Metro and Martin Luther King Jr. centers, is part of that effort. The building is located along Jefferson Street between First Street and Mullan Avenue.
The center is “emblematic of everything we do to try and serve the people in our community who need us most,” said Allen. The college is “trying to achieve a higher standard of service ... and a higher level of educational opportunity.”
Helping to provide career education at the high school level is one of those services that has “been more fully realized” in recent years, she said. “When I came here, like most community colleges, we were only offering concurrent enrollment.
“Having the career academies and career pathways for high school students we’ve moved well beyond just offering concurrent enrollment,” noted Allen. “This is actually allowing them to determine a career path.” Students can earn college credit and “very carefully plan their future.”
She did express disappointment with funding levels from the state.
“How we help students, how we provide educational experiences are impacted by the fact that our funding isn’t where it needs to be,” said Allen. She noted Iowa community colleges as a whole have the 10th highest tuition in the country, fueled by state funding levels. Tuition and fees at community colleges across the state account for 52 percent of their revenues versus 14 percent in 1967.
Despite such difficulties, each of the college’s trustees have been “extremely supportive ... of my work in leading the college,” she said. They have also focused on ensuring “we have the resources and support to make sure we can be successful.”
As the board prepares to search for a new president, she’ll return that support. “If the search process takes a little longer than June 30, I’m willing to stay on,” said Allen.
“We’ll be starting the process to meet as a board and select a search firm to help us find our next president,” said Nardini, with the goal of hiring a new leader to begin July 1. He is already seeking proposals from search firms to lead the effort.