Blueprint for business longevity

As a native Dubuquer, Dan Deininger’s connection to the river town goes beyond his three-decade career at Tri State Blueprint and Framing.

“My father was an architect in Dubuque, and so we were kidnapped as children to run blueprints on the weekends, and we were kind of tricked into some of those sorts of things,” Deininger, Tri State’s production manager, said jokingly.

He also attended the University of Iowa and in 1983 began working for Iowa City-based Technigraphics, which purchased Tri State in the early 1990s.

“I owned the business for a little bit, (then) sold it to Rapids,” he said. “It’s been in the same family of companies for 38 years.”

Rapids Reproduction approached then-Tri State owner Dee Christiansen in 2010 when the company was looking to break into the Dubuque market. Rapids operates six locations in Iowa – Tri State in Dubuque; Davenport, Iowa City, Cedar Falls, Clive and its home office in Cedar Rapids.

The connection to the Iowa river town is one of the reasons Deininger said the company goes by Tri State – the name recognition that has been around since 1940.

“We love Dubuque,” he said, “and I think it’s apparent to people that if you’ve been there a long time.”

Deininger said he likes the “close-knit family” at Tri State.

“I’ve never been truly interested in working for a great big corporation,” he said. “Going from the bottom of the lowest part of the totem pole, so to speak, and working my way up to owner, to when I sold to Rapids, it’s just a great fit.”

That community connection is what Deininger said he credits to the company’s longevity in Dubuque.

“Dubuque is the smallest largest town,” Deininger said. “You’ve got to be pretty close knit and that works pretty well for us from the standpoint of being a native Dubuquer.”

And the long-standing relationship between Tri State and Dubuque’s Conlon Construction is a testament to that. Keefe Gaherty, Conlon Construction’s vice president of pre-construction, said Tri State has produced roughly 90 percent of the company’s projects.

“Their service is awesome,” Gaherty said. “It’s like an extension of our own company.”

Because Tri State and Conlon have worked together for decades, Gaherty said, Tri State already knows what to produce and how to prepare it – and sends it out for them.

“It’s a wonderful relationship,” Gaherty said. “I feel like the people down there, there’s mutual respect both ways. They go out of their way to really help us out.”

Deininger has since been with Rapids for a decade, and though it operates statewide, the company employs only 32 people.

Tri State is unique to the family of businesses, according to Deininger, and in its offering of custom framing. The company used to be “heavily into art supplies,” but its main line of business is framing and construction industry blueprints.

Conlon has worked with Tri State on all of its University of Dubuque and Clarke University projects, among others. Some projects that stood out to Gaherty include UD’s Heritage Center, which he said was a “pretty spectacular project” with a lot of phases and multiple reproductions of the plans.

Gaherty also noted projects at Diamond Jo Casino, the Clarke University science building and Luther Manor Memory Care.

“We have the design documents sent to them, and we’ll invite 100 people to participate in the bidding, let’s say, and we’ll have Tri State be the printing hub for everybody,” Gaherty said. “If they need a paper set of plans, we will request that from Tri State.”

Tri State then keeps track of the plans, holds on to deposits and ensures that items are returned to those who submitted bids.

Gaherty said Tri State has maintained its quality of service amid retirements and employee transitions, serving as an extension of Conlon’s “own office force.”

Deininger has known the Conlon family since childhood.

“It’s great family businesses like Conlon that build their reputation by treating clients fairly and being accessible to their customers,” he said. “Reputation is everything in Dubuque and our longevity is testament to our desire to treat every client like you would a family member.”

Tri State’s Dubuque location has been around since the 1940s, according to Deininger.

“When we first bought the business, it was where the new law enforcement center is,” he said. “It used to be across from Hendricks (Feed and) Seed.”

During the course of the three decades Deininger has been part of Tri State, the increase in digital printing has been one of the biggest changes and has had the biggest effect on the company’s print team, he said.

Tri State’s focus now is expanding large format color, such as large wall graphics, vehicles and large installations of canvas prints and display boards.

“Really where we’ve invested the bulk of our money is buying equipment that addresses that market,” Deininger said.

For more information about Tri State Blueprint and Framing, visit