Iowa Steel Masters, a custom steel rollforming company, founded in 2014, provides nearly 10 million pounds of steel to customers creating custom panels for agricultural buildings, residential projects, and commercial building paneling each year. The company can add another accolade to its list of achievements, Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa (RRI) Entrepreneur Award.
The Ackley-based company works its steel in a repurposed 80,000 square-foot former sweet corn packing facility, serving as a tribute to agriculture for founder Matt Roelfs, who grew up on a family hog and grain farm just a few miles from the factory. Initially, the former corn canning facility was designed as a short-term option for Iowa Steel Masters, rented to Roelfs by a good friend for a great price. Things are going so well in the old canning facility that the building is the company’s permanent home.
Today, the community is thrilled that a dilapidated, old building has a facelift and a second lease on life. “This building would have been rundown and unused in just a few years,” Roelfs explains. “We were able to renovate a building that otherwise would have had no use, so we were able to rebuild and renew a part of Ackley, and we’re proud to do it.”
Brian Krause, Hardin County Farm Bureau president and one of the presenters of the award, is thankful for the important role Iowa Steel Masters plays in the community as an employer of local farmers and supplier of steel to local farms and businesses. Krause said Iowa Steel Masters even made a building for the Hardin County Farm Bureau at the county fairgrounds, so he can attest to the quality of the product and customer focus.
“We need all the business we can get in rural Iowa to keep people in our town, particularly young people,” says Krause. “Businesses like Iowa Steel Masters come in and employ local residents and keep them in town, and that gives young people something to look forward to. Matt’s business model is a great success story for someone who wants to start a business in rural Iowa and have a huge impact on the community.”
Low commodity prices, due to retaliatory tariffs imposed on Iowa-grown soybeans, were a major challenge for farmers in 2018, just as steel tariffs were an issue for Roelfs in 2018. Roelfs still shares concerns with farmers about tariffs, and just like farmers, neither have certainty on what the markets and future will hold, and that takes a huge toll.
“We know the pressure farmers are under and the demands on their lives,” Roelfs says. “We recognize how hard farmers work for their families and community, and we want to do the same for them and provide a good product. With such a heavy focus on agriculture, we knew the tariff situation would hurt us and ultimately hurt the farmer.”
Despite the continued uncertainty for both steel prices and the ag economy, one thing is certain: Iowa Steel Masters is a vital part of the community and will continue to partner with local farmers and businesses on projects to meet a wide range of needs. Roelfs describes customers accustomed to a “McDonalds” method of business, where clients know what they want and want it now. Roelfs’ five-year plan is focused on meeting those customer needs and working to improve the facility and processes to provide quality materials as efficiently as possible, right in the heart of Ackley.
RRI is an Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) initiative supporting new and existing businesses through education, mentoring, and financial resources. Since its inception, RRI has helped create $125M in economic impact for rural communities.
For more information about RRI and the next RRI Business Success Seminar, “The Journey to Your Vision,” on April 26 in Clinton, and the RRI Pathways, a searchable technology that connects entrepreneurs with resources, go to http://programs.iowafarmbureau.com/RRI/.