By Angela Holmes / firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy Kasparek’s first appearance on the CBJ’s Most Influential Person in the Corridor list is an impressive accomplishment, especially considering her margin of victory.
Ms. Kasparek, the regional president of U.S. Bank, was written in by nearly one in every three voters in the CBJ’s annual poll, helping her top Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who placed second for a third year in a row after winning it in 2013.
Along with leading U.S. Bank regionally since 2004, Ms. Kasparek has immersed herself in the Cedar Rapids community by serving on multiple nonprofit boards, earning her a CBJ Women of Influence nod in 2010.
Last year, she was named tri-chair of the Creative Corridor Regional Vision Strategy committee, joining University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and Rockwell Collins CEO Kelly Ortberg. The working group has a mission of defining the region as a whole, and developing a strategy for marketing its unique aspects to potential – and current – businesses and residents.
“What we are doing is really important for our communities to come together. On a global stage, it really will never be Cedar Rapids versus Iowa City,” Ms. Kasparek said. “It will be, ‘what do we look like as a region and what assets do we have to bring to the table?’”
While she realizes Cedar Rapids and Iowa City have different demographics and assets, she believes that makes the region more interesting as a whole.
“The thing that has always struck me – because I’ve worked in the south end of the Corridor – is when people say we’re so different. To me, that’s the attractiveness of marketing ourselves as a region,” she said. “Like a piece of puzzle, it’s almost the two opposites that fit together the best.”
She believes she was asked to chair the committee with Mr. Ortberg and Mr. Harreld because she has been an “outspoken proponent for regionalism. She has also been actively involved with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance for the past eight years, initially serving as chair of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and later assisting with the merger that transformed the chamber, Priority One and the Cedar Rapids Downtown District into the Economic Alliance in 2012.
While the vision committee doesn’t have a set date to complete its recommendations, Ms. Kasparek hopes “that some time by the end of the first quarter we’ll be able to more firmly articulate what our regional vision is. I don’t think there will be a position paper, but I think we’ll be able to verbalize where we’re going with it.”
The Corridor has come a long way in the past decade in terms of its infrastructure, culture and attitude, Ms. Kasparek said.
“There was a point in time in 2006 that those people who maybe weren’t as positive had a louder voice in our community,” she said. “It has moved to where we believe in ourselves. We believe we have something to offer.”
The floods of 2008 and the Great Recession tested the downtown business community, but also highlighted its perseverance, she said. The U.S. Bank building in downtown Cedar Rapids, where Ms. Kasparek is based, took a direct hit on both fronts, but emerged intact.
“You find out what you’re made of. You understand what kind of company you work for, you understand what kind of community you live in when you get tested,” she said. “I couldn’t have been any more proud of our bank or our community.”
The community’s reaction to the floods of 2008 and the ensuing recovery were a testament to the resolve and change of attitude toward future development in thecity’s core, Ms. Kasparek said.
“As horrible as the flood was, it probably did fast-forward some public and private investment into our community that we are well-positioned to reap the rewards of.”
Although she grew up outside of Chicago, Ms. Kasparek has spent her entire adult life in Iowa. After attending the University of Northern Iowa, she began her professional career in the Corridor and has never looked back. She’s proud to raise her family in Eastern Iowa, and has no desire to live in a larger metro like Chicago.
“You realize we have so many of those things here,” she said of the Corridor. “There’s just a lot of wonderful treasures about Iowa and I think the people are the number one piece of that.”
Ms. Kasparek’s love of the community is evident in her involvement in various organizations.
She currently sits on the boards for Mount Mercy University, Junior Achievement, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Juvenile Diabetes, Four Oaks and the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. She is also a commissioner for the Five Seasons Commission and past appointee for the Governor’s Small Business Advisory Board.
While many of these groups are geared toward youth, she doesn’t have a specific guideline of what groups she’ll join.
“It’s based on understanding the organization and feeling passionate about what their mission is,” Ms. Kasparek said. “I would find it very difficult to be part of an organization that I don’t feel some kind of emotional tug toward or intellectual alignment.”
The Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas are fortunate to have such a strong nonprofit community in terms of volunteer involvement and and charitable giving, she added.