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Corridor businesses grow by adding products, services

George C. Ford, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

Jim Rogers, owner of Jim’s Instrument Manufacturing in Iowa City, is known for his ability to visualize an intricate medical instrument and all of its parts before he begins designing and manufacturing it. The U.S. Navy veteran, who has never had any formal training, left the service in 1960 and went to work for the UI Physical Plant.

“Four years later, I went over to the UI Medical Instrument Shop in the med lab,” Rogers said. “I stayed there until 1972 when I got tired of the politics.”

For the next 14 years, Rogers manufactured medical instruments in the basement of his home, literally developing a homegrown businesss. With the help of doctors throughout the world, Rogers designed, developed, and manufactured many eye instruments used in research and eye surgery.

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Rogers also developed and patented the Iowa Penetrating Keratoplasty Trephination Press (Iowa PK Press) for cutting a donor’s cornea in preparation for transplanting it into a recipient’s eye. The device, which sells for about $2,000, is distributed by a number of ophthalmic instrument suppliers worldwide.

Jim’s Instrument Manufacturing also makes instruments for non-medical purposes.

“We design and build all sorts of instrumentation, not just those involving eye surgery,” Rogers said. “We do pretty near anything that anyone wants to make. We do a lot of things for the plants in Iowa City and we also supply products for Harvard Apparatus in Massachusetts and Wagner Instruments of Connecticut.”

In 1995, Rogers launched PlexiCraft Inc., a Plexiglas and related materials fabrication subsidiary that produces everything from intricate tissue slice and cell research chambers to display cases for basketballs, footballs and soccer balls. The podium used early this year when Dan Gable was honored at FryFest was created by Rogers and signed by many current and UI former coaches.

Despite the complexity and diversity of his products and a fair amount of repeat business, Rogers has never aspired to operate a large company.

“This has never been a business where we’ve run two or three shifts,” he said. “We’ve always had something to do, but it’s never been a big profitable business. I’ve made a good living at it and so have a couple of other people.”

When Pearl West and Pete Peterson opened Peterson-West Music Co. in 1941 on South Clinton St. in Iowa City, West probably didn’t envision that his one-room music instrument retail and repair shop would eventually grow to six regional locations in Eastern Iowa and western Illinois.

West Music Co. (the partnership with Peterson dissolved) offers music instrument repair and sales, music lessons, and music therapy services, multiple e-commerce websites and catalog departments that serve schools and musicians around the world. The family-owned company employs more than 170 people.

West Music Chairman Steve West joined his parents, Pearl and Eleanor West, in 1969 after graduating from the University of Iowa. Steve West became sales manager in 1971 and a a second West Music location opened in east Iowa City the same year.

In 1973, West Music’s downtown Iowa City location moved to 1212 Fifth St. in Coralville. The move allowed for expansion of all departments, including combo, keyboard, and lesson studios.

In 1978 West Music was awarded the exclusive right to import Miyazawa flutes from Japan and a new division of West Music, Miyazawa Flutes USA, was established. The original relationship with Miyazawa began primarily due to Pearl West’s expertise in flute design and manufacturing.

Steve West’s passion for elementary music education led to the formation of the West Music Music Education Catalog Department in 1980. What began as a 12 page black-and-white catalog has evolved into a full color, 170-plus page catalog that is sent to schools, universities, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Within a few short years, Iowa was deeply mired in the farm crisis and it became apparent that West Music needed to continue expanding its customer base. In 1988, Westco, a separate import/export wholesale company, was formed to establish a dealer organization on a national level.

In addition to importing flutes from Japan, West Music and Westco began importing and distributing professional piccolos from Germany, guitars from Spain, percussion instruments from Mexico, China, and Germany, and ethnic instruments from Africa.

In 1995, West Music formed a music therapy division focused on using music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages.

“We have 13 full-time music therapists on staff,” said Robin Walenta, president of West Music. “We partner with the National Association of Music Therapists, and with our affiliation with the University of Iowa, we bring in music therapist interns from across the country.

“We have a Sound Reach choir in each community where we have stores. These choirs are made up of adults with mental challenges.

“These types of activities are why we come to work each day — breaking down the barriers to allow everyone to experience music.”

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