Business Spotlight – Bickel’s Cycling & Fitness

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Name of the Owner/Manager:
Melinda Bickel, Co-Owner & Vice President, Bickel’s, Inc.

How long has Bickel’s Cycling and Fitness been in business?
50 years!

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Can you describe a typical day in the life of owning/managing/working at Bickel’s?
The best part of owning a small, family business is the opportunity to work with people. Our business can be split into two primary operations – bicycle sales & repairs and residential & commercial fitness sales & repairs. We pride ourselves on having an excellent selection of quality products available for home and business use and see to it that those items are operating at their best at all times, servicing things in a very timely manner – many days, offering same-day repairs.

While we have our daily routines, flexibility is always the name of the game. Being in the retail sector and dealing with the general public, no one day is truly the same. Like many working families out there, once my husband & I get the kiddos off to school, we hit the ground running the minute we step through the doors. That said, truthfully, we are always ‘on call.’ Being small business owners & living in the social realms around us, both physically in the community as well as on online media, we represent our company 24/7. Much of our personal life gets incorporated into our work life and vice versa. Many times, we find ourselves communicating with our customers & our team well past closing hours.

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What is your favorite part of doing business in Southeast Iowa?
Our family-owned business has a humble, grassroots beginning with a simple passion to do for others and treat people how you want to be treated. In turn, we have this wonderful opportunity to give back to our community, taking on new challenges every day, striving to learn and do better with each and every experience.

We enjoy doing business in Southeast Iowa because this is our home! Our families have been born and raised here just like much of our team and customers have as well. Being in business for 50-years, we have served generations of families, individuals & businesses; that sense of loyalty and community is very strong. In a world where there is so much flux and change, there’s something very reassuring about knowing your neighbors and connecting with local businesses who are known for their integrity, good products and services. That’s something that isn’t produced overnight, mail ordered, nor easily sustained for the longevity that we have been blessed with.

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In your opinion, what makes Southeast Iowa a great place to do business?
It’s a very interesting time right now with such rapid changes in technology, a vast global marketplace and multiple generations working side-by-side together in the workforce. This environment creates for some very unique dynamics in how we live and carry out our daily lives. That said, folks around here still value & desire a grassroots connection. As long as they feel they are treated respectfully, get good, individualized service, and access to product at a price that is fair & competitive, they seek out that direct, local contact. It’s that word-of-mouth reference that simply becomes part of the cultural landscape.

What positive changes have you seen in the Southeast Iowa business environment over the last several years?
We are very excited to see some new manufacturing business come to the area. These projects have certainly been a boost to job growth & local economies. There has also been a continued effort in increasing outdoor recreational activities, including trails for bicycling, which is a wonderful way to get people outside and exercising in a safe and fun environment.

What is one thing you want people to know about Bickel’s Cycling and Fitness that makes your business unique?
We are who we are! We look at everything we do as an investment into the future, taking a long-term, sustainable approach when it comes to the decisions we make. We invest a lot in our community services so inevitably we are always paying it forward to those who support our business.

We have a very seasoned, experienced team with a staff that averages 20 years of service. One of our mechanics is actually blind and has worked for us for the last 25 years, doing all of his work by touch. Leroy Bickel, the founder of Bickel’s, Inc, was one of the original founders of Bike Burlington, one of Iowa’s oldest bicycle clubs which is still in full operation today! The club was created on the heels of RAGBRAI’s inception and is well-known for weekly Wednesday night dinner rides.

That aside, interestingly enough, most bicycle businesses are not the size we are for the market we are located in. We draw from quite a broad radius due to our rural demographics. Being a destination, specialty business, we boast over 600 different styles, sizes & colors of bicycles. Like people, bicycles come in many different shapes & sizes, where one size does not fit all. Due to strong marketing efforts of discount retailers, many people believe bicycle sizing is based off wheel size when in fact it’s based off frame size. Most discount retailers offer just one frame size making for many uncomfortable, improper fittings. When people get properly fitted for a bicycle at our store, let’s just say they enjoy many hours & days riding their bikes.

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World Teachers’ Day – Honoring those who inspire for a brighter tomorrow

World Teachers' Day

World Teachers’ Day was created to honor and inspire for a brighter tomorrow. Today, teachers all over the world are being celebrated and we couldn’t be prouder of what our teachers in Iowa are doing to better the education of students in the area.

Iowa is nationally recognized for top quality K-12 public education system, world-class colleges and universities, and customized vocational and technical training programs through an extensive community college network.

Iowa has a high school graduation rate of 93.4 percent and Iowa students continue to outscore their peers on standardized tests. We could not reach these numbers without the hard work our teachers put in to educate our students.

Thanks to the motivated teachers in Iowa, our students will be experienced and successful once they hit the job market. In Lee County alone, almost 90 percent of residents are employed full or part-time.

As you head to class this week or pick your child up from school, take the time to let a teacher know how much you care about the work they are putting in to help Iowans succeed!

Happy #WorldTeachersDay!

The Restoring Iowa Jobs Team


Working to Restore Iowa Jobs

As of April 2015, Iowa’s unemployment rate is 3.8 percent. That’s almost two percent lower than the national average and 0.7 percent lower than this time last year!


Every day, Iowans are working to make our economy better, and in Southeast Iowa THIS IS HAPPENING, which is increasing the quality of life for those who live in and love our state.

Iowa ranks third in the U.S. for job creation, and added more than 11,600 non-farm jobs this past year, growing the total state workforce to almost 1.5 million! On top of that, Lee County Economic Development Group created the program, Grow Lee, to assist in the development of the local workforce.


Many industries are working to help Iowans find jobs. Iowa manufacturers are the driving force behind the state’s labor market. Did you know that manufacturing firms supply more than 208,858 jobs to Iowans? This represents more than 14 percent of the state’s total employment. Manufacturing employs the most workers in Lee County with 18.4 percent of the workforce in the manufacturing sector in 2014.


Keep up the great work, Iowa! Thanks to the commitment of many companies putting down roots in our area, we look forward to a continually lowering unemployment rate!

Restoring Iowa Jobs visits the Lee County Fair

The Restoring Iowa Jobs team was happy to attend the Lee County Fair last week and it was a wonderful experience! It was great to have to chance to speak with so many of you who live in Southeast Iowa and talk about the great things happening in this area. We enjoyed the conversations and hearing feedback and thoughts from you on how we can continue to work together to create a variety of jobs in these towns.

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At our booth, we featured a gift card give away from some special local businesses. We gave away one gift card to The Ivy Bake Shoppe and Café and another gift card to Fort Madison’s Chandler’s Grill. Fair-goers were entered to win by ‘liking’ us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or filling out a contact card. The two lucky winners of the cards were Denise Fraise and Nancy Folluo – Congratulations to you both!

We look forward to participating in more events in Southeast Iowa and as always, we look forward to hearing from you on how we can get involved in the community.  Feel free to send your ideas to Also, be sure to keep up with the latest Southeast Iowa news by ‘liking’ us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and keep on reading our latest blog posts.

Until next time,

Restoring Iowa Jobs team

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RIJ Lee County Fair Photo 1

Future in STEM is bright for students

By: Kristine Bullock, SE Iowa STEM Hub Manager

It may not be the most well-known corner of the state. It may not have the tallest skyscrapers or the fastest-growing business sector. It may also not contain the most exciting travel destinations. But what it does have is a commitment to this state’s future and an abundance of opportunities for the upcoming generation of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) enthusiasts. Despite its small-town status, the Southeast region of Iowa has a lot to offer its residents and the entire state when it comes to STEM. These fields of study, through which countless career paths can be entered, has recently earned a lot of focus, and Southeast Iowa is at the forefront.

As the Southeast regional hub manager of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, I am passionate in my work to promote and encourage STEM in this area of the state. With numerous STEM-related opportunities available to primary and secondary education students, Southeast Iowa is preparing its upcoming generation whose future will be heavily dependent on these fields. To meet these goals, the region hosted The Southeast Iowa STEM Festival at the Southeastern Community College in Burlington on April 25, and was an experience for students and their families that encouraged entry into the world of STEM. There were various exhibits, games, and other activities aimed at providing a realistic view into the most exciting elements of the STEM fields.

Southeast Iowa teachers and schools also have been recognized for their efforts in increasing STEM in the region. Fourteen schools were recently named 2015 Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) program winners, and almost sixty educators in our region were nominated for the STEM Education Award for Inspiring Teaching sponsored by Kemin Industries.

With this kind of opportunity and talent to educate our students, Southeast Iowa is well-equipped to produce a new generation of bright, hopeful, and educated young professionals dedicated to the world of science, technology, engineering, and math. These are exactly the kind of individuals Iowa needs to fill the skills gap the state has experienced in its workforce, and even more so in STEM jobs. In fact, a study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce indicated that for every 3.4 STEM jobs available in the state, there is only one STEM-qualified individual in Iowa to fill that position.

This information spurred Iowa to take action. In 2011, the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council was created as a way to keep Iowa competitive in STEM education and strengthen the state’s STEM educated workforce. Harnessing talent within the state also will ultimately help Iowa businesses find the talent they need and in turn help to grow the economy.

Southeast Iowa is home to many quality businesses that focus on STEM industries, including Siemens, DuPont, and Cryotech. These are only a few of the companies excelling in STEM-inspired industries, providing jobs all over Southeast Iowa, and re-establishing a strong economy for the region and ultimately, the state.


Growing Lee County


Located in the farthest southeast corner of Iowa, Lee County is not one to overlook. Within a short time, the county has seen significant growth and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Renewable energy, agribusiness, manufacturing, and biotechnology are just a few of the county’s top industries that have seen significant economic growth in recent months. The construction of Iowa Fertilizer is just one great example of the vast economic impact that the region has recently seen. Since the project began in 2012, economic activity has increased as a result of the 2,900 construction workers brought on site to build the plant. Hotels, restaurants, and real estate numbers have risen due to the increased number of people in the region. With this as well as other projects in the area, Lee County’s unemployment rate dropped from 6.4 percent to 5.9 percent by the end of January 2015.

Lee County Economic Development Group is working feverishly in other ways to continue growth, such as this, and further grow the area’s businesses and workforce. Most recently, our team launched Grow Lee, a new initiative aimed at providing resources to expand STEM education, adult education programs, and provide essential resources for Lee County businesses. Our group also has launched the Lee County 2018 Capital Campaign. This initiative spans five years and hopes to grow development in multiple areas including, workforce attraction and workforce development, business expansion and retention, new business attraction, and economic development marketing. With the $1.3 million dollars raised for the program, our group will focus the majority of the funds on workforce development and business retention and expansion programs.

As we look ahead, Lee County EDG is calling 2015 the Year of Action and is excited to continue to make progress for these new initiatives, as well as assist the region’s businesses, workforce, and overall economic growth and development. Be sure to mark these upcoming events on your calendar to get involved in helping to grow Lee County.

·      Talent for Today and Tomorrow Breakfast – Up Training Existing Workforce

Wednesday, April 15

7:30 – 8:30 am

Lake Cooper Event Center, Keokuk

·      Young Professionals Meet and Greet Social

Wednesday, April 22

5:30 pm

Sidelines Sports Bar, Fort Madison

·      Southeast Iowa STEM Festival

Saturday, April 25

10:00 am – 2:00 pm

SCC West Burlington Campus, Register to exhibit today!

Lee County EDG, in concert with our partners, are making an impact in Southeast Iowa. To find out more about upcoming opportunities and how you can get involved contact Lee County EDG at

Dana Klesner, Marketing and Communications Manager

Lee County Economic Development Group


Business Spotlight – Burlington By the Book


Christopher Murphy – Owner

What types of products/services does your business offer?

We are a retail bookstore that offers an assortment of popular titles for adults and children, plus we can special order titles that are not in stock. We also carry many gift and toy items along with local art and photography. We are proud to carry local and regional authors and have many book signing events throughout the year.

In addition, our website at gives customers access to millions of e-books for sale.

How long have you been in business?

 We are starting our fifth year.

How many employees do you have?

 Counting myself, there are four clerks. However, my family often helps out during the year.

Where is your business located?

 We are at 301 Jefferson in beautiful Downtown Burlington, IA.

What do you like most about what you do?

I love keeping the children’s selection full and watching families get excited about a great new book. As I type this, I am listening to a family discuss which books to get. And it sounds like they are having a ball!

What is your favorite thing about doing business in Southeast Iowa?

Southeast Iowa is home. It is where I grew up! Many of my customers were children when I first got into the retail book business, and now that I own my own bookstore, these same children have grown up and are bringing their own children into my store.

Who can customers contact if they want more information about your business? 

Burlington By the Book can be reached at 319-753-9981 or we can be reached by sending us a message from our Facebook page.


Business Spotlight – Country Friends

Name/Title of Person: Judy Moser, owner

What types of products/services does your business offer? Country Friends has a lot to offer! We have a whole gift store, with items ranging from greeting cards, candles, jewelry and handbags. Primitives and handmade items are sold in the store as well.

How long have you been in business?  I’ve been in business for 27 wonderful years.

How many employees you have? We have two official employees, but Country Friends really is a family business. Several of my family members pop in to help out.

Where is your business located? We’re located in Burlington, IA at 413 Jefferson St.

What is it you like most about what you do? I really enjoy meeting the customers and getting a chance to know them as people. I love being able to create a pleasant atmosphere for my shoppers and introduce them to new gifts or accessory items.

What is your favorite thing about doing business in southeast Iowa?
Everything in Southeast Iowa is very calm, laid back and not rushed. I enjoy the low key environment because it fosters a family atmosphere around town. All of the stores in downtown Burlington are like family; and we all help each other’s businesses grow and be

Who can customers contact if they want more information about your business?
They can contact me, Judy Moser, at (319) 753-2290.

Business Spotlight – Weird Harold’s

Name/title: Danny Bessine, owner

What types of products/services does your business offer? Weird Harold’s is a record store.

How long have you been in business? I’ve been in business for 42 years.

Where is your business located? Come visit us at 411 Jefferson Street in Burlington, IA.

What do you like most about what you do? I’m passionate about selling people the music they love.

What is your favorite thing about doing business in southeast Iowa? I’ve always been in Southeast Iowa. I love the town and the people and that’s what makes it so amazing to have my business here.

Who can customers contact if they want more information about your business? Interested customers should reach out to me, Danny Bessine, at (319) 753-5353.