Planting roots in Iowa was the last thing on Darryl High’s mind when his family moved to Cedar Rapids in 1986. At the age of 17, his original plan was to move to Tennessee to study landscaping. Priorities and plans changed, so he pursued his real estate license, began making connections, and started building his business.
“It makes me chuckle now because why would anyone hire this 18-year-old kid?,” High said. “I wasn’t from here, had no connections, and didn’t know my way around. I still intended to go back to school. Then I started making enough money working that I decided to stay. Thirty-five years later, here we are.”
The ‘we’ that High is referring to is High Properties, recognized as one of the largest property management firms in the area by the Corridor Business Journal in 2019-2021.The company’s growth is built on this quote prominently displayed on their website. “Long-term fundamentals and customer service is the commitment our team of professionals works toward daily.”
This commitment to customer service is the first thing that High believes helps his business stand out. “I have a younger sister and I would say to my employees, ‘I want you to treat them like they are my baby sister’. This isn’t just a monetary equation. We are committed to serving our people, whether they’re renting an entry level apartment or one of the most expensive apartments that we have.” Based on the testimonials from their tenants on their website, this commitment would make his sister proud.
Another important piece High believes makes his business stand out are his employees. “The average tenure of our team is nine years, and some much longer than that. If you send me someone, we are going to take good care of them. That’s been our secret sauce. Work hard and have good people to take care of people.”
High Properties has prioritized being active within the local community and has tried to stay connected to the business community, starting with the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce and Priority One, which merged in 2012 to create the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.
“The best thing about being an Economic Alliance member is the ability to connect with other local business people that I might not have the opportunity to in my other day-to-day business. I also believe that it’s about comradery. Even though some of us might compete against each other, we still call this place home and it’s where we work. We need to work together and try to make our community the best that it can be. The Economic Alliance provides a platform for us to do that and to engage each other.”
In addition to building on the here and now of his business, High also helps future community leaders. “I’m trying to help recruit the next generation, as I have more time to dedicate towards it. The youth are joining our workforce and we want them to stay in our community, so I use my contacts to try to find them opportunities here. The Economic Alliance provides opportunities to be involved in our local business community, network, and to help mentor the next generation.”
How does High sell these potential new leaders about the advantages of this area? “I try to talk about economics. You can have a great standard of living and make a nice living here. My oldest daughter is an attorney in Orange County, California, and you have to make more to live out there. I couldn’t do business there because I don’t have enough money. Here, I got a chance and with a little hard work, I was able to carve out my niche and make a good life for my family.”
“We have a diverse business community with our community. If you’re like me and you didn’t grow up here and somebody said ‘Iowa’, you’d probably have to look it up on a map. High prides itself in decades of experience managing internship housing programs for many companies in the region. The key is to get young people to know each other and see how much is going on, I believe they’ll love it and want to stay.”
Making connections is what has made High Properties and Cedar Rapids so successful, not only through personal networking but also recreational opportunities. Most locations at High Property Management are on a bike path. A great thing about Cedar Rapids is our ranking as a Bicycle Friendly Community.
High sees nothing but great things in our future. “I think the Corridor is right on the cusp of the next level. I have said many times that there is something natural and proven about economic growth when you reach about a half million people, there’s a tipping point. And we’re right there. Combine that with good infrastructure, roads, a thriving airport, available property and driven groups like the Economic Alliance, and that’s what makes things happen. We’re right on the verge of even greater things happening.”