When an NFL player retires, it's not uncommon for him to return to his old stomping grounds and open a sports bar -- specializing in cheap beer, memorabilia-littered walls and nostalgia of glory days past.
Former San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding, however, had more ambition than that. When the Pro Bowler retired in 2013 after nine seasons, he returned to his native Iowa City and enrolled in the University of Iowa's Tippie Executive MBA program. Along the way, he helped start ... well, OK, he started a bar. It was Pullman Bar and Diner, a locally sourced joint that uses Iowa farm ingredients. But he also launched Tailgate Clothing's Iowa City store, a vintage T-shirt shop that American Eagle purchased for $11 million in 2015. Then last fall, he went large -- becoming the retail development director of Iowa City's Downtown District.
“I am a big believer in a vibrant, street-level culture,” Kaeding says. “The cool coffee shop, the unique, independent retail store -- these businesses represent a city.” He has a bit of home-field advantage: There are already 280 businesses in the downtown corridor.
Now Kaeding's mission is to convince entrepreneurs outside his hometown that Iowa City is a welcoming place for business. He can make a strong case. “Our local banks are good about taking active risks in small businesses that need a $50,000 to $100,000 loan,” he says. And he's also gone out of his way to help fund companies himself, by writing seed checks. He did so with Higher Learning Technologies, a mobile study solution platform whose app has been downloaded two million times, and Big Grove Brewery, an area craft brewer setting up shop in the Riverfront Crossings district next year. It's all part of a plan to help the town grow, diversify and, like he did in the NFL, compete against other cities.