On the Road in Iowa 5/28/92
The 110-mile ride from Omaha, Nebraska to Sioux City, Iowa is fantastic, even though it rained the whole day. The road I was on (Highway 75) isn't well traveled, which made riding in the rain bearable. At one point, the road goes along the top of a ridge. On one side of the ridge I could look down in a gorge and see the Missouri River and on the other side of the ridge--miles of rolling hills filled with wheat fields covered in a mist. Unfortunately, I could also hear the rumbling of another onslaught of storms-which eventually caught up to me.
IBP, with $10.3 billion in revenues in 1991, is the largest producer of boxed beef and pork in the United States. IBP, which stands for Iowa Beef Processors, is headquartered in Dakota City, Nebraska. Dakota City is about 5 miles west of Sioux City, Iowa. Headquarters is a company-owned, 4-story 85,000 square foot building located next to one of their plants.
On the wall in the lobby/reception area are two plaques with pictures of the two founders of the company. Next to A.D. Anderson's plaque are the following words; "There is no limit to what a man can do if he doesn't care who gets the credit". I asked Gary Mickleson, Manager of Communications if I could see the Boardroom and CEO's office. He said, "no". "Any special reason why?", I asked. "We just don't take people through there", he answered.
Headquarters and plant sit on a 75-acre site, which gives them plenty of room for expansion. The company has 3 Falcon 20 corporate aircraft, along with two smaller planes. (For more information see IBP)
Metz Baking Company
On the fringe of downtown Sioux City (population 75,000) in a company-owned, one story 14,700 square foot building is the headquarters for privately-held Metz Baking Company-the 5th largest baker in the United States. I had a great time talking to William C. Metz, the recently retired Chairman, CEO and grandson of the founder. Metz, who is 71, handed over the reins of the company to his two sons; Bill (CEO) and Henry (President).
About 140 employees work in the plainly furnished offices. In the lobby is a 1921 dough mixer and an old IBM punch time clock. W.C. said the company had about $450 million in revenues in 1991 and have 2 corporate aircraft; a Sabreliner 60 and a Navajo.
On one of the hallway walls are several pictures of airplanes. What's unusual is that next to the pictures are actual pieces of fabric from the planes. One is a 1923 Fokker F2, a 1932 Lockheed Vega 5B and a 1924 Douglas World Cruiser. Why the interest in planes? During World War II, Metz was in the Air Force and was shot down over Germany and spent time as a POW.
Sioux Honey Association
Riding around the suburbs of Sioux City, I came across a large warehouse and on the sides in large letters it said, "World's Largest Honey Marketing Association". Hmmm. Being curious, I went into the offices, introduced myself and ended up talking to Jim Powell, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Sioux Honey Association. Did you know the cooperative sells about 25% of the honey in the United States. Does the name Sue Bee Honey sound familiar? It's the only nationally advertised brand of honey in the USA. According to Powell, revenues last year were about $60 million.
Besides being the state capital, Des Moines is the largest city in Iowa (population 200,000). It also has another claim to fame; only two cities in the world are home to more insurance companies (London and Hartford are the two cities). My visit to Des Moines included stops at seven.
The Principal Financial Group
The Principal Financial Group is far and away the "biggie" in town in more ways than one. Besides having assets in 1991 of more than $33 billion and revenues of $10.4 billion, the company owns the tallest building in Iowa. Built in 1990, the spiffy-looking, 44-story downtown structure is quite a landmark.
Principal occupies a complex of five buildings in downtown Des Moines totaling a little more than one million square feet and 7,000 employees. Does David Hurd, the CEO, occupy the 44th floor of the big high-rise? Nope. Hurd's office is on the sixth floor (next to the elevator) of the seven story building known as, Corporate Square. Why? Tradition. Built in 1939, the 375,000 square foot building looks like a fortress. Nothing fancy about Hurd's office, I counted one real plant and a computer. The most unusual item in his office is the "Hot Potato" award. It's an award given by local business leaders to someone who's chairing or leading a challenging/controversial community endeavor.
Principal has a very impressive contemporary art collection (over 400 pieces) scattered throughout the five buildings. Paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints by well-known and not so well known artists line the walls and hallways. Principal's contemporary collection is very unique, especially in the conservative insurance industry.
Principal's fitness center includes an indoor jogging track, volleyball and an indoor half-court basketball court. Company has two corporate aircraft; A KingAire and a Falcon.
Central Life Assurance Company
I received an enthusiastic reception at Central Life Assurance Company. Headquarters is downtown in a company-owned, 6-story structure built in the 1950's. Matter of fact, in the late 50's and early 60's (during the height of the Cold War era) part of the 100,000 square foot building was a designated Civil Defense shelter (air raid shelter).
Revenues for the mutual life insurance company in 1991 were $467 million. I was surprised to find several Andy Warhol animal prints in the executive offices. One was a panda, another a rhino and still another, a gorilla.
Equitable of Iowa Companies
Equitable of Iowa Companies is an insurance holding company with assets of $4.2 billion. It's Equitable Life Insurance Company of Iowa operating unit is the oldest life insurance company west of the Mississippi. Revenues in 1991 were $750 million. Headquarters are in a new 20-story building in downtown. I went up to the 20th floor reception area on three separate visits and was given the runaround. On the last visit, I was given a book on the history of the company. I guess it was meant to appease me.
While I was standing in the main lobby on the last visit, a woman employee walked by, saw my T-shirt (which says, Bloomberg Financial Markets) and asked if I was with Bloomberg. I asked why and found out the company has seven Bloombergs and she thought I was the repairman to fix the one which was down. For more information see EQICB.
Statesman Group, Inc. occupies 40% of a downtown company-owned, 14-story building built in 1931. While waiting in the small lobby area on the 14th floor, I noticed an issue of Forbes magazine lying on a coffee table. The issue was the one with Mr. Bloomberg's mug on the cover.
I talked with Ronald Walters, Vice President, who just seem to go through the motions. My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom were denied. About 230 employees work in the building, which by the way, has a 13th floor. As I've mentioned before, while many buildings don't have a 13th floor, almost every insurance company I've visited HAS a 13th floor. For more information see STTG.
Allied Group Insurance
My visit to Allied Group Insurance was short. Charles McDonald, Vice President-Human Resources, was obviously pressed for time as he kept looking at his watch. Revenues in 1991 were $354 million. Headquarters is downtown in a 4-story, company-owned structure built in the 1950's. About 300 employees work in the building. John Evans, the CEO, has a wood-paneled office with no outside view. The boardroom table is circular. There's a helipad atop the building and the company has one corporate aircraft; a Citation. For more information see ALGR.
Preferred Risk Mutual Insurance Company
The last insurance company on list in Des Moines is Preferred Risk Mutual Insurance Company (1991 revenues $216 million) and it's the only one not headquartered downtown. Preferred is the first and largest insurance company for total abstainers. The company also specializes in insurance to churches. About 10 minutes from downtown Des Moines is the company-owned, 4-story, 180,000 square headquarters. Walking into the main lobby, I see a red 1948 Indian Motorcycle and a 1915 Model T on display. I find out later, 1948 is the year the company started it's motorcycle coverage.
The receptionist calls the CEO's secretary and other people and I find out no one is familiar with letter of introduction I'd sent several weeks earlier. So, Phyllis Shramek, Director of Training & Advertising comes out to the lobby and proceeds to answer my questions. I ask if I can see the CEO's office and boardroom and Shramek takes me over. We walk into Robert Plunk's office (he's the CEO) and as Shramek starts to introduce me to Plunk, he say's, "your the bicycle rider, I read the material you sent".
Plunk's a nice man but, his office is one of the plainest, no-frills I've seen. The couch in his office looks like something from the Salvation Army. He even joked it was time for him to get new furniture. On his desk is a red phone. I ask him about it and I'm told it's the "hotline". Policyholders are given the number and can call him 24 hours a day-365 days a year. If he isn't in, policyholders are told to leave their name and number.
Midwest Resources Inc.
Midwest Resources Inc., is a utility holding company with revenues in 1991 of $1 billion. The company leases three floors (#27, #28 and #29) in a downtown 34-story building. About 200 employees work in the building. Evonne Schaaf, Administrative Assistant to Mark Putney (CEO), answered questions as we sat in Putney's corner office (which by the way has a great view of the state capitol located about a mile away). Putney has a large copper weather vane in his office plus, a plaque that reads; "volume is vanity profit is sanity". For more information see MWR.
Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.
I dropped by the headquarters of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., on four separate occasions and was unable to meet with anyone. Headquarters is in a downtown building known as Capitol Square. I got the feeling I was getting the runaround from the giant farm seed supplier (1991 revenues-$1.1 billion). I wasn't the only one who felt that way because a reporter (Mary Ann Lickteig) from the Des Moines Register was tagging along with me and she had the same feeling. Lickteig did a story on me for the Register and was with me when I visited Midwest Resources, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Meredith Corporation. For more information see PHYB
My visit to Meredith Corporation was a lot of fun. Headquarters for the diversified media company (revenues for fiscal 1991 were $747 million) is a long, 4-story company-owned building on the fringe of downtown Des Moines-with railroad tracks running along the backside of the building. Part of the building was built in the 1920's and additions have been added on over the years.
Near the executive offices, in a wood & glass enclosed case are original issues of several of the company's first magazines; Successful Farming and Better Home and Gardens. Nearby is a bust of Edwin Thomas Meredith, the founder.
You probably know the company publishes magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies' Home Journal, Country Home and Metropolitan Home. So, Mary (the Des Moines Register reporter) and I were taken down to the basement to see them setting up home interior shots and photographing food recipes. Did you know Meredith's various publications have published over 43,000 recipes the past 33 years? Every one of the recipes has to be tested in the kitchen soooo, we were taken up to the test kitchen area. They were cooking goodies but, never asked us to sample. I did count 13 various kinds and brands of barbecue grills outside the kitchen area-which are used for testing the BBQ recipes.
E.T. Meredith III, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors, occupies the corner office on the first floor-where the senior executives are located. He wasn't in but, Meredith has all kinds of interesting items in his office including; two elephant tusks, a buffalo head and a jar of Tootsie Rolls. Connected to Meredith's wood-paneled office is the wood-paneled office of Robert Burnett, Chairman of the Board-who has a jar of Hershey's Kisses on his desk.
Jack Rehm, CEO, has an office next to Burnett's. He was amused when I walked into his office and touched his plant to see if it was real or fake. It was real. For more information see MDP.
Why is Maytag Corporation headquartered in Newton, Iowa? Because it's where the Maytag Company was founded. This sleepy town of 15,000 is about 30 miles east of Des Moines. Headquarters for Maytag Corporation (1991 revenues-$3 billion) is in the building housing offices for Maytag Company. About 110 Maytag Corporation employees work in the plain-vanilla 3-story building built in 1961. In the lobby is a Maytag washer & dryer on display. My visit with James Powell, Corporate Director-Communications didn't take long at all-mostly because he showed no interest.
Downtown Newton lies four blocks away. Railroad tracks run next to the employee parking lot. The nearest interstate is two miles away and Newton airport (the company has two Cessnas) is five minutes away. Next door to headquarters is a big building which says, "research" on the outside. A Maytag plant is nearby. About 3,200 employees work in the Newton area. For more information see MYG.
While in Des Moines, I told companies I'd be visiting Rolscreen Company in Pella, Iowa and everyone said I'd get a nice reception because they're a "good" organization. How true they were. Privately-held Rolscreen Company probably doesn't ring a bell but, how about the their products; Pella windows, doors, sunrooms and skylights? Headquarters is in a company-owned, three story, 120,000 square foot building built in three stages; 1925, 1985 and 1987. Behind headquarters stands a huge 1.7 million square foot plant situated on 30 acres.
Before I tell you more about Rolscreen Company, it helps to know a little about the town of Pella, population 9,000. It's a picturesque tourist-town founded in 1847 by Dutch immigrants. There's even a Klokkenspel (a European clock tower with animated figures that performs to the accompaniment of a carillon). Located about 45 miles southeast of Des Moines it's well-known for it's Tulip Festival in May. Rolscreen was founded in 1925 by P.H. Kuyper, a Dutchman.
What do I find on the receptionist's desk when I walk into Rolscreen? A dish full of Mentos, a chewy candy from Holland. I meet with Steve Bragg, Vice President of Human Resources, and when Bragg takes me in to meet Wayne Bevis, the CEO, I check the windows in Bevis's corner office to make sure they're Pella windows. They are. I asked Bragg what the company revenues were last year but, he smoothly sidestepped the question. Bevis and Bragg walk me down the hall to see Joan Kuyper Farver's office. Who's she? She's the Board Chairman. It's a nicely done corner office with plenty of blue-including blue drapes. On one of her chairs sits a plush teddy bear and on the front of the bear it reads, "Ms. Bearman of the Board". I was told one of her kids gave it to her.
Out front of headquarters sits the Rolscreen Museum. It was formerly the passenger and freight depot of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Built in 1908, the depot was converted to its present use in 1985. It's one of the better company museums I've seen.
One last final note. The company (founded in 1925) has never had a layoff.
Hy-Vee Food Stores
About 60 miles south of Des Moines, in the town of Chariton (population 4,600) you'll find the headquarters for Hy-Vee Food Stores-one of the 20 largest grocery store chains in the country. Hy-Vee is an employee-owned company with revenues of over $2 billion. The name "Hy-Vee" is a contraction of the last names of the two founders; David M. Vredenburg and Charles L. Hyde. With 15,000 workers, Hy-Vee is the state's largest employer.
Located about a mile from downtown Chariton, the company-owned, two story 54,000 square structure is good-looking. One of their distribution centers is nearby. The nearest interstate is 25 miles away and a Chariton airport is where the company keeps its two planes; a King Aire and a Cherokee.
I arrived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (population 110,000) around 11 AM. IE Industries, a utility company, is headquartered in the tallest building in downtown (21 stories). IE occupies 15 floors in the building, which looks to be about 20 years old-with the executives being on the 20th and 21st. After being transferred around and finally told to come back after 1 PM, I left town-without going back. For more information see IES.
Century Life of America
Every so often I receive a reception at a company which really makes me feel like I'm someone special and that's what happened at Century Life of America in Waverly, Iowa (population 8,500). The 80,000 square foot, company-owned headquarters building sits on a 140-acre site about 2 miles from downtown Waverly. A driveway about a quarter mile long takes you up to the entrance of the building and you can't help but notice the huge lush green lawns surrounding the place.
Walking into the building, the receptionists knew right away who I was (then again it isn't too difficult-not too many people ride up on a bike). You know how some companies have those signs which say "welcome so and so"? Well, my name is up there PLUS there's a big purple banner on the wall near the CEO's office with my name on it-welcoming me. Everybody was enthusiastic about meeting and talking to me. Jeez, I felt like a movie star. Matter of fact, I got really embarrassed when several employees asked for my autograph.
Century is a mutual insurance company with revenues in 1991 of $435 million. The company use to be called Lutheran Mutual Life Insurance Company. Several years ago the company began a "Permanent Affiliation" with CUNA Mutual Insurance Group of Madison, Wisconsin. Keith Williams, Vice President-Human Resources, tried to explain the relationship to me. Although each remains legally distinct, the agreement calls for sharing of certain financial, physical, and human resources, and it involves integration of the two organizations' management teams. From what I was told, this is something unique in the insurance industry.
About 700 employees work in the one story building. The circular boardroom table has a time capsule (containing among other things-the company's charter policy) in the center of it. The nearest interstate freeway is 30 miles away and the company's corporate plane (Citation 2) uses the airport at Waterloo, Iowa (20 miles away).
I've made it to the Mississippi River and the river city of Dubuque, Iowa (population 57,000). Gambling on the Mississippi has been legalized in Iowa and several casino riverboats are based in Dubuque. Gambling is BIG business here with many people arriving on chartered buses. Dubuque is also home to the world's steepest, shortest Scenic Railway. Erected in 1882, it's 296 feet in length and elevates passengers 189 feet. From the top you can see the Mississippi River and three states (Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin).
My visit to privately held FDL Foods didn't take long. Would the name of the company be more familiar if I mention they're the ones that sell Dubuque hams along with bacon and sausages? One of their canned hams is called Fleur de Lis and that's what the FDL stands for in FDL Foods.
Headquarters is in a dumpy, four-story building adjacent to one of their plants located in an industrial part of town. There wasn't an elevator so, I walk up to the tiny reception area on the third floor. Pictures of various plants around the country line the reception area wall, along with a picture of a pig. The CEO's secretary comes out to the lobby and says she was told by the company's attorney to tell me "we are a private company and as such we don't give out information". Though I didn't like what she said-she said it in a nice way. You see, there's a nice way to tell me to get lost and there's a bad way. If the CEO's secretary hadn't bothered to see me face to face and told me to "get lost" via the telephone, then it would bother me.
I'm in the Quad Cities area. It's an area comprised of five cities: Davenport (Iowa), Bettendorf (Iowa), Rock Island (IL), Moline (IL), and East Moline (IL) all located on the Mississippi River.
Publicly held Lee Enterprises is a diversified media company with interests in newspapers and television stations. Its NAPP Systems subsidiary is the world's leading producer of photosensitive polymer printing plates for newspapers. Revenues in 1991 were $346 million. The company leases four floors in a recently renovated 70 year-old, 8-story building in downtown Davenport (population 95,000). While waiting in the two-chair reception area on the 4th floor, I was thumbing through the latest annual report and after a few minutes-it finally hit me how clever the cover was. In quotes and in big letters the cover reads "Taking Our Responsibilities Seriously". Then below, in smaller letters it reads, "Renewal, Reporting, Recycling". It's evidently a take-off on the three "R"s--reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic.
About 70 employees work on the four floors. Richard Gottlieb, the CEO, has a great view of the Mississippi River from his 5th floor corner office. Talking to Gottlieb about the pluses and minuses of living in the Quad Cities area he said the schools are good, cost of living is cheaper but, the lack of airline flights from the Quad Cities airport to anywhere is poor. The company does have a King Aire 300. There was a Mr. Lee.
The company's flagship newspaper (they have 19 dailies) is the Quad-City Times, which has a daily circulation of 54,000. Lloyd Schermer is the Chairman of the Board. His office was interesting because of the crystal ball on a desk. Schermer likes ducks, I counted 8 forms (stuffed, wooden etc.) of ducks in his office. Schermer has a very unusual stuffed animal on one of his cabinet shelves; parts of various animals were put together to form it. Its got a duck's bill, squirrel's head, rabbit feet and the feathers of a quail and/or peasant. For more information see LEE.
Iowa-Illinois Gas & Electric Company
My reception at Iowa-Illinois Gas and Electric Company (1991 revenues $512 million) was great. About six employees piled out of the elevator to greet me in the main lobby. I was showered with all kinds of trinkets including two T-shirts, key change, water bottle and an alarm buzzer "in case you break down in a bad area". Sam Wilson, Director-Corporate Communication, admitted the company's downtown Davenport headquarters was nothing to write home about and he's right. The company-owned 6-story, 69,000 square foot building was built in 1926 and looks it. Wilson said plans are in the making for a new headquarters building to be built right next door on a recently cleared site.
I got a kick out of Wilson asking me for my thoughts on what their new headquarters should have or not have. Then again, I've visited over 1,100 so far and I've picked up a few insights along the way.
Stanley Bright, the CEO, wasn't in and no one else seem to know why his office is on the third floor of the six story building. Someone mentioned it being, tradition. For more information see IWG.
Modern Woodman of America
Right across the river from Davenport, Iowa is Rock Island, Illinois. Sitting on the downtown Rock Island (population 50,000) riverfront is the company-owned 5-story, 142,000 square foot headquarters of Modern Woodman of America. The fraternal life insurance society had revenues of $428 million in 1991.
The building was built in 1965 and looks like nothings been done to it since. By that I mean the furnishings throughout the spartanly decorated building look like the original furnishings and look out of date. About 385 employees work in the building.
W.B. Foster, the CEO, has a great view of the Mississippi River from his no-frills, sparsely decorated corner office. A casino riverboat has its docking next to the insurance company's headquarters so Foster can watch the boat load and unload. Foster can also see bald eagles flying by his office in the winter time. Why? Up the river about a fifth of a mile is a dam and so while most of the Mississippi freezes up in the winter, the dam keeps the river open. Thus, bald eagles nest close by to feed in the winter. Did you know their nests can weigh up to 6,000 pounds? Did you know a bald eagle can see a rabbit two miles away?
Muscatine, Iowa another Mississippi River town has only 23,000 people but, has three companies biggest enough to make my list.
HON Industries is a manufacturer and marketer of office furniture and office products. Publicly-held company had revenues last year of $607 million. Headquarters is in downtown Muscatine-right across the street from the county courthouse. The company bought the building in 1970 but, before that it housed a car dealership and before that-a factory making overalls. About 100 employees work in the building, with several plants nearby. Was there a Mr. Hon? Nope. The company was founded in 1944 and was called Home-O-Nize Company
Though Stanley Howe, Chairman, wasn't in, his secretary answered questions and showed me around. Looking across the street to the grounds of the county courthouse from Howe's first floor office, it was pointed out that the three Civil War cannons on the grounds are pointed right at HON's headquarters. I did check to make sure all the furniture in Howe's office were HON Industries' brands.
For more information see HONI.
Bandag, with revenues in 1991 of $583 million, is largest truck tire retreader in the world. Headquarters is in a 3-story building about 3 miles from downtown Muscatine. I've visited quite a few companies where they own a nearby hotel. Here's a twist: Adjacent to Bandag's headquarters is a Holiday Inn-which owns Bandag's office building. About 250 employees work in the building that has a pond on the backside. The company has a Learjet 35.
Martin Carver, the CEO, is the son of the founder. Carver's corner office contains several Japanese items (the company does quite a bit of business in Japan) including two swords and cherry blossom pictures. Carver's office also has a car racing helmet and four miniature trucks. For more information see BDG.
Grain Processing Corporation
Grain Processing Corporation was the other company I had on my list to visit in Muscatine. I soon found out it's only a subsidiary of privately-held Varied Investments, which also owns Kent Feeds-a livestock and poultry feeds company.
Corporate offices are in a company-owned two-story building located about 2 miles from downtown. Behind headquarters is a gigantic manufacturing plant for Grain Processing Corp., which is a major producer of beverage and industrial alcohol, industrial corn starch and animal feed ingredients. The outside of the building looks plain but, the main lobby area has high ceilings and white walls-which goes well with the bright purple furniture.
I met with Robert Jones, Manager-Administrative Services and Paul Null, Presidents Aide, in the lobby area. There's a distinctive smell of corn being cooked/processed (from the huge plant) and I told 'em I love the smell. I was told it grows old REAL quick. They were curious as to how the company's name got on my list of companies to visit because the company keeps a low profile. When asked what their revenues were, Null replied, "outside of the government, we only give information to Dun & Bradstreet".
Lying around the reception area/lobby were the following magazines: Chemical Week, Chemical Business, Creative Living and, Chemical & Engineering News. Plus, a 1991 Muscatine High School yearbook. Corporate offices and the plant sit on a 75-acre site next to the Mississippi River. The company has one corporate aircraft; a Citation.
I did get to meet and see Richard Kautz's office. The 76-year Chairman has a very plain office on the first floor-with a boring view of bushes out his window. He also has several wall maps of the United States and the world.
According to industry publications, Kent Feeds and its affiliated companies are #3 in the feed business behind Purina Mills and Cargill, the later being the largest privately-held company in the United States.
Continuing down along the Mississippi River I pass through Burlington, Iowa-another nice little riverfront town (population 27,000). What's the town's claim to fame? Snake Alley. It's listed in Ripley's Believe It or Not as the "Crooked Street in the World". Because of the differences in the steepness and length of the curves-there's no means for a direct comparison to San Francisco's Lombard Street. I tried riding up with my loaded down bike but, the street is done with cobblestones (tilted limestone).
I arrive in Quincy, Illinois (population 42,000) on a Saturday night and am lucky to get a room because there's a national go-kart championship in town. I was planning on visiting Penn-Daniels and MoorMan Manufacturing Company on Monday but, decide to leave on Sunday because I can't find a hotel room.
On my way out of Quincy Sunday morning, I stop by the headquarters of the two companies. MoorMan, a privately-held livestock feed company with about $700 million in revenues, is headquartered in a 3-story red brick structure about two miles from downtown Quincy. It looks like it was built in the 1960's and the grounds are well-kept. Peering in the main entrance window, I count 60 bright red company umbrellas lined up right inside the door. Across the street is a large plant.
About a half mile away is the headquarters for Penn-Daniels. It's a white 2-story Colonial-style building with black trimmed clapboards. A supermarket is located across the street.
Leaving the Mississippi River, I head west toward Columbia, Missouri. About 30 miles from Columbia I pass through Mexico. Yes folks, you heard me right--Mexico, Missouri population 12,000. The local newspaper is called, The Mexico Ledger and, I did pass one restaurant on Main street serving Mexican food.
MFA Inc., a farmer's cooperative with revenues of $464 million in 1991, is located in downtown Columbia in a building they have up for sale. The 4-story, 68,000 square foot brick structure is nothing fancy. My visit was short and my reception cold. My request to see the Boardroom and CEO's office were denied. MFA stands for Missouri Farmers Association.
Butting right up to downtown Columbia is the University of Missouri campus. You may or may not know, the school is known for its School of Journalism. It publishes a daily newspaper (including a Sunday edition),, that is sold in newsracks and evidently gives the local newspaper a run for its money.
About 35 miles south of Columbia is Jefferson City, the state capital. Is this a small world or what? I'm walking out of Jefferson City's Chamber of Commerce office and this woman from across the street comes over and says, "didn't I take your picture last year in Spokane, Washington?". It turns out she did. When I was in Spokane the local newspaper did a story on me and Lisa Finger was the photographer. She transferred a few weeks to the local paper in Columbia and lives with her boyfriend in Jefferson City. Anyway, she was getting in her car when she recognized my distinctive blue bicycle. We chatted a few minutes and she said she yearned to go back to Spokane. The people in Columbia are "strange-looking", she said.