Winnebago One of Fastest-growing U.S. Companies

Take a road trip anywhere in the nation this fall and it’s likely you pass several Winnebago and Itasca motor homes. The Forest City, Iowa-built RVs are staging an impressive comeback. Fortune magazine this month placed Winnebago Industries on its list of the fastest growing companies in America.

Ranked 56th on Fortune’s list, the company has seen sales quadruple since 2009 to more than $884 million in the most recent four quarters. The company’s most recent quarterly report said motor home sales increased 17.6 percent from the same period a year ago. Not to mention the positive impact on Iowa’s employment numbers; this company employs nearly 2,500 people at its Forest City campus.

And Winnebago is getting help from a powerful tailwind. The 76 million-strong Baby Boom generation is rapidly moving into its retirement age – the prime age for RV purchases.  The company also is introducing the 2015 Brave, a retro-styled, vividly colored motor home outfitted with the most up-to-date entertainment and comfort features.

Ready to hit the road?

Japanese and Midwestern Leaders Wrap Up Successful Meeting in Iowa

Midwest and Japanese business leaders and government officials reaffirmed their commitment to vitalization of bilateral trade and investment as they wrapped up the annual Midwest U.S.-Japan and Japan-Midwest U.S. Associations’ meeting in Des Moines.

“Technological and management innovations are the keys for companies to build a robust and sustainable future,” U.S. Conference Chairman and former Illinois Gov. James Thompson said in announcing the conference’s closing statement.

The conference was an outstanding opportunity to showcase Iowa’s attractive business climate. “Presentations highlighted efforts where epoch-making innovations are helping to create new businesses and industries. The conference also emphasized the importance of collaborations between companies or among industry, government and academia. At the same time, it was pointed out that it is crucial to foster an environment where companies can trigger competition based on fair and transparent rules by promoting deregulation and free trade.”

Panel discussions focused on three areas including Innovation for Long-term Success, Renewable Energy and Environmental Solutions, and Contributing to a Healthy Future“Presenters shared innovative approaches toward renewable technologies and environmental solutions were discussed, In particular, the focus was on energy-saving methods, next generation batteries, new and renewable energies including hydrogen energy, and environmental solutions,” the associations’ joint statement said. “Additionally, discussions were undertaken on the importance of healthy eating, healthcare innovations as well as insurance to mitigate medical and nursing care expenses.”

“This conference has proven to be a platform for robust exchange. It is my sincere hope that this conference will continue to serve as a catalyst for our strong momentum,” added Kazuyuki Katayama, Consul General of Japan in Detroit.

The Midwest U.S. region was represented by Governors Terry Branstad of Iowa, Dave Heineman of Nebraska, Jay Nixon of Missouri, Mike Pence of Indiana, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. The Midwestern delegation also featured organizations and companies headquartered or holding significant operations in Iowa, including Firestone Agricultural Tires (a Bridgestone Company), Rockwell Collins, Ajinomoto, Iowa State University, Vermeer Corporation, Danfoss, MidAmerican Energy, DuPont Industrial Biosciences, The University of Iowa, Wellmark and Kemin Industries.

The Japanese delegation included Saitama Governor Kiyoshi Ueda, Yamanashi Governor Shomei Yokouchi, H.E. Kenichiro Sasae, Japanese Ambassador to the U.S., Consul-Generals of Japan Masaharu Yoshida (Chicago) and Katayama as well as representatives from Toshiba, Nippon Sharyo, ANA (All Nippon Airways), JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization), Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai), Toyota, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance and Kikkoman Corporation. Approximately 320 participants attended this 46th annual joint meeting of the Midwestern and Japanese associations. Next year’s meeting will be held September 13-15 in Tokyo.

Iowa Event to Help Businesses, Consumers Improve Cyber Security

Protecting business and personal information from hackers is the responsibility of everyone who transmits or receives data online. That was the message at Two Steps Ahead, a first-of-its-kind cyber security conference Sept. 4 at Iowa State University.

The conference organized by the National Cyber Security Alliance is one of 10 across the country designed to teach consumers and businesses how to better safeguard information they exchange over the Internet.  The alliance represents major information technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft that have or are building major data centers in Iowa. The session came on the heels of the recently announced breach of customer information from Home Depot.

Iowa State University President Dr. Steven Leath kicked off the conference by announcing that ISU has implemented a six-point plan to protect information throughout the campus. The university’s Information Assurance Center is recognized by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a national leader in cyber security research and outreach. Yet the university’s own systems were breached last year.

“2014 will go down as the year of the breach,” said conference moderator Kristin Judge of the NCSA. “Cyber security is a shared responsibility. You can’t just rely on your IT Department.”

She told the 160 conference attendees that the first step everyone should take is to set more complex passwords for logging into online service providers. She suggested users write a sentence about a favorite activity or food and use the first letter of each word in the sentence or symbols that resemble the first letter  to create passwords. She also urged the audience to set up dual authentication to prove the person logging onto a site is the authorized user.

Dr. Doug Jacobson, director of the Information Assurance Center, reminded the audience that Target still is paying a high price for last fall’s security breach. He noted the company’s stock price and as well as the stock price for Home Depot fell sharply after the breaches were reported.

“As a defender, I have to be perfect all the time. If I’m a hacker, I only have to win once,” Jacobson said.

Sen. Charles Grassley also addressed the conference noting that several of the most serious breaches appear to be coming from hackers in Russia and elsewhere in eastern Europe. He said he is hopeful that U.S. businesses and Congress will work together to craft bipartisan legislation to enhance cyber security. He noted U.S. financial institutions are beginning to transition to encrypted ATM and credit cards that will prevent financial information from being compromised.

“A cyber criminal’s goal is to stay one step ahead of the security measures implemented by consumers and businesses,” Grassley said. “We all expect businesses to solve the problem, but we as consumers can’t stick our head in the sand.”