New Regional Peer Forums Intended to Engage, Educate Iowa’s Professionals

“The goal is for ABI and CIRAS to work together to provide manufacturers and businesses throughout the state with a chance to work with their peers in specific topic areas to help each other improve,” said CIRAS program director Mike O’Donnell.

ABIlogoIowaAsssocABI and CIRAS piloted the BizWise program in 2014 with a MarketWise peer forum in northwest Iowa. That group quickly grew from 5 members to the maximum 15. Members met one day a month for four hours, with time split between morning sessions covering best practices, leadership, and other topics, and afternoons focused on peer learning. Members shared issues that had been challenging them and received feedback from the group.

“While each member’s business is different, the issues we face are similar and transferrable,” said 2014 MarketWise member Lisa Johnson, former director of marketing and communication for a company in Sioux Center. In addition to the education and networking, “there is also a level of accountability. In that following month, you can be sure someone will ask how you are doing on whatever issue the group previously helped you process.”

This year’s expansion means ABI and CIRAS are introducing four new BizWise peer forums around the state:

  • MarketWise, focusing on marketing and communications topics, in northeast Iowa
  • LeanWise, focusing on Lean practices, in southeast Iowa
  • RiskWise, focusing on risk management, statewide
  • FinanceWise, focusing on topics for CFOs and finance executives, statewide

During 2015, new members will be able to join any group each month if spots are available. CIRAS and ABI facilitate the meetings and recruit speakers on topics determined by the members. After the first year, each group will receive a “Pro” designation (such as MarketWise Pro) and become a private group, which means it then will decide for itself wheth­er or not to allow any new members.

New groups may be added later, as professionals statewide demonstrate an interest. “Our goal is to go wherever there is a need,” said Holly Mueggenberg, ABI’s member programs coordinator.

For Johnson, the benefits of participating in a peer forum were obvious.

“Disconnecting from the office once a month for a few hours fills your cup, so to speak,” Johnson said. “I think the investment can build confidence, motivate, and raise productivity, which is positive for both the company and the individual.”

> To join a new BizWise peer forum, contact ABI’s Holly Mueggenberg at 515-235-0572 or


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of CIRAS News. You can find the rest of this issue and more of CIRAS News on our website.