Van Meter Industrial expands Corridor market base

by Gigi Wood
IOWA CITY – Van Meter Industrial is expanding its presence in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

The company is strengthening its ties to groups such as the University of Iowa, which is flush with construction projects, and is growing to meet an increasing demand for energy-efficient electrical products.

“We see a lot happening at the university, we see the Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty area on the move and we’re excited to be a bigger part of it. Our business is growing,” said Barry Boyer, president and CEO of Van Meter. “We see that expansion as part of a strategy to really become a stronger supply partner with the university, as well.”

Van Meter Industrial is a Cedar Rapids-based electrical parts wholesaler. The company sells items ranging from light bulbs to software used in factory automation. Van Meter has asked the city of Cedar Rapids to change the zoning of the company’s 850 32nd Ave. SW facility from a light industrial zone to regional commercial zone district.

“We’re going to be doing some expansion in Cedar Rapids,” he said. “It’s probably too early to talk about what that entails. We’re going to be expanding our area in Cedar Rapids to provide customers with more services and products.”

In Iowa City, a public hearing will take place May 10 at the city council’s meeting on plans to approve a purchase agreement between the city of Iowa City and Van Meter Industrial for lot 10 of the North Airport Development Subdivision.

The company operates a branch at 1207 Highland Ct., but plans to replace that with a new, larger building at the airport.

“Our business in Iowa City continues to grow and expand and we see Iowa City as a tremendous market,” Mr. Boyer said. “So we bought land to build a new building with greater space and capabilities in mind.”

Van Meter entered the Iowa City market 15 years ago and has outgrown its building.

“Our business has continued to grow every year,” he said. “We want to create a location that has more room and expanded services for contractors and the industrial customers we serve.

According to the purchase agreement, Van Meter has agreed to pay $360,000 for the lot.

“We’re an employee-owned company, so we buy our buildings and own them,” he said. “We want to be in a position where we own the facilities we’re in rather than rent them.”    

Iowa City was recently criticized by business leaders for constructing a new industrial park on the south side of town when there is an abundance of vacant commercial buildings in town. The industrial park will be designed for wind-energy suppliers. Despite the vacancies, Van Meter did not find a building that met its needs.

“We found that there really weren’t any existing buildings that met what we were looking for,” Mr. Boyer said. “We have a certain design and thought behind how we put our buildings up. We’re one of those small companies that’s really growing and as we continue to grow, we want to try to create the same identity in our market.”

The building will include training space for clients, as well as an expanded showroom to display energy-efficient products.

“We’re going to be offering expanded services in the area of energy-efficient products and solutions, more in the area of local inventory and accelerated delivery, broader product selection, all of that,” he said. “What we really do is we work at understanding customers’ problems and designing solutions to help them, so we’re pretty out-of-the-box when it comes to what people need, so we built facilities with that in mind.”

In the energy-efficiency area, Van Meter offers products throughout the electrical chain, from lighting and circuitry to factory automation devices and software that allows customers control and use energy shrewdly.

“We’re going to continue to expand in that product base but there’s a lot of change happening in terms of product development and how we’ll use energy in the future,” Mr. Boyer said. “We’re actually adding people to focus on that whole thing (changes in the energy-efficiency industry).”

The company has weathered the down economy well and has taken a different perspective than many.

“We’ve done the opposite during these slow times, we’ve actually added people and invested in inventory and taken the approach that the only things you can really control are attitude and activity,” he said. “We’ve been focused on those activities and really doing the opposite of the market.”

Van Meter operates about a dozen locations across the state.

“We’ve done well during this economic slowdown and we see Iowa City and the Iowa City/Coralville area as one of the market opportunities right now,” Mr. Boyer said. “We’ve seen some growth in other areas, too; Sioux City and some of our other markets. But with what’s going on around the university and the continuing growth of those communities, we see great opportunity.”

The UI is implementing a $25 million district energy plan to reduce costs and become more energy efficient and is in the midst of several multi-million-dollar flood recovery projects, such as rebuilding the arts campus.

Once Iowa City approves the plans, Van Meter will begin design. The building is expected to be completed within the next year.