Did Jens and Megan Zalzala, big-city dwellers in Los Angeles, ever think they’d take their talents in visual effects and app development to West Liberty, Iowa, population 3,755?
With their company, Shaking Earth Digital, that’s exactly what the two did, developing digital-experience products for clients around the world from the comforts of their small-town home.
This entrepreneurial spirit along with their commitment to their local community has earned them the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) Renew Rural Iowa (RRI) Entrepreneur Award.
Los Angeles is known for being the mecca of all things entertainment, from arts and film to the digital tech industry. It’s an obvious choice for startups, like Nashville is for aspiring country stars, but when the Zalzalas were ready to grow their family, they decided to move back to Megan’s hometown of West Liberty, Iowa in pursuit of a better cost of living.
“We would not have been able to build this office in L.A.,” said Jens. “We were able to come in here with basically no startup money at all and build something amazing.”
Shaking Earth Digital, now in its eighth year of business, has even been able to hire eight employees. Their big-name clients have included Samsung, Google and Facebook.
In conjunction with National Geographic, they won a Webby Award, which New York Times calls the “Internet’s highest honor.” The company also worked on a virtual reality installation piece that was an official section of the 2019 Venice Film Festival. Their accolades, however, expand far beyond their business with their desire to give back to the West Liberty community.
“This company has touched all regions of the world,” said Muscatine County Farm Bureau President Kerry Gruenhagen. “It’s rather unique to see what they can do, and they’re also working with the educational system here locally and trying to work with the kids on coding.”
The Zalzalas have immersed themselves into their local community, volunteering their time with the school district, the Chamber of Commerce, the local parks and recreation board, arts council, puppetry theatre and more. In fact, Megan received an award from the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine for raising more than $200,000 for new playground equipment at one of West Liberty’s oldest parks.
“Jens and Megan are a ray of sunshine for West Liberty,” says NJ Garton, executive director of West Liberty Economic Area Development. “Their innovations and willingness to reach out nationwide to share ideas and bring ideas in—they’re amazing. They’re really great to their employees, and they give back in huge ways.”
Iowa Farm Bureau Regional Manager Jerry Anderson agrees and relates the Zalzalas’ vision to the agricultural community. “You have a young couple that had an idea of what they wanted to do, they went somewhere else, refined that idea and then realized home is not a bad place to be. And much like agriculture, we have that same tie to home. And they’re doing some unique things in working with their customer base not just locally but around the world. Much like agriculture, we’re feeding our neighbors down the street and on the other side of the globe, too.”
RRI is an Iowa Farm Bureau initiative that supports new and existing businesses through education, mentoring and financial resources. Since its inception, RRI has helped create more than $125M in economic impact for rural communities. For more information about RRI and upcoming business seminars, visit programs.iowafarmbureau.com/RRI/.