You’re in Des Moines ... Hell Yes!

Wait, I see that questioning face. Perhaps right now you’re feeling a bit more like Hell No! Wondering where we’re hiding the oceans and mountains? Worried about winter? Maybe you’re questioning why you’re seeing this “Des Moines: Hell Yes!” slogan printed on everything from T-shirts to mugs and even the socks on the cover of this publication.

Chances are your initial expectations for Des Moines and Iowa are a bit low. That’s OK — we’re aware and working on that. In fact, a popular tongue-in-cheek Raygun T-shirt (more on Raygun in a second) reads: “Des Moines: Let us exceed your already low expectations” and pokes with jest at the feeling of pleasant surprise transplants and visitors regularly come to discover.

But I have a slight twist on that shirt, courtesy of a phrase embedded in our culture by our founder and owner, Connie Wimer. I don’t want to just exceed your expectations, I want to disrupt your expectations. Then I want you to take what you learn from this publication and disrupt our expectations.

You see, the phrase “Des Moines: Hell Yes.” was coined by Iowa native Mike Draper, the 30-something, Ivy League-educated owner of Raygun, a snarky Des Moines T-shirt shop that’s been disrupting the expectations of residents and visitors alike since opening in 2005. The humor-laced slogan has become a sort of rallying symbol for locals and a business community that has been trying to shed Des Moines’ reputation as a humble, sleepy, risk-averse, farm-centric insurance town. It resonates not only because of the implied humor — as Draper said in a 2013 interview with desmoinesisnotboring.com, “no one should be THAT excited about Des Moines” — but also because of an honest swelling of civic pride for what has been built here.

Yes, Des Moines might lack the allure of New York City, the sexiness of Los Angeles, and the sunny beaches of Florida. But rest assured, Greater Des Moines has a different kind of collective gravity that many wary outsiders have found tugging at their soul — an invisible force that might not be as easy to define as good weather and natural wonders, but one that nonetheless grips and captures even the biggest skeptics.

Trust me. I know. I’m no homer. I’m a transplant — by choice. I never intended to call this home. I even tried to leave once before being pulled back in.
I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. Went to Iowa State University. Worked at the Business Record for a year. Then, moved to Florida to work for ESPN with zero intention of returning. A year later, my now wife — a lifelong Floridian — and I were choosing Des Moines over ESPN and New York City.

My story isn’t unique. You’ll find similar stories littered all over this city. So what was it that pulled me back five years ago? Sure, our low cost of living, high quality of life and lack of traffic congestion are appealing.

But here lies the problem. It just isn’t easy to capture the gravity of Des Moines in a simple sound bite. This guide will explore and shed light on some of the core variables in the formula, but 30,000 words later I can only promise you’ll be closer to understanding, but you won’t have full clarity. Des Moines has to be experienced to be understood. And, much like gravity, the closer you get, the stronger the pull.

What’s been built here is largely due to the vision, time, energy and resources of generations of business leaders who tightly entwined the resources of the business community with the cultural and philanthropic fabric of the region. In Des Moines, being a business leader is synonymous with being a community leader.

Because our default is to help raise each other up, genuinely root for individual successes and collaborate closely for collective achievement, Des Moines, despite its relative size, exerts a gravitational pull much greater than the sum of its mass.

And if you lean in and take a close look at the tightly wound core at the center of our gravity, I think what you’ll actually find is openness and space for ideas to be heard, which leads to a force that attracts those seeking an opportunity to make a difference in their community.

For me, I was attracted by the opportunity to lead at a young age, and the chance to use the Business Record to make a difference by helping the business community do business better. That’s what is at the Business Record’s core, and it’s the reason we published this guide.

A few years ago I was meeting with Shannon Cofield, the former CEO of the United Way of Central Iowa and, at the time, chief of staff at Drake University. She was in the process of preparing to help Drake’s new president, Marty Martin, transition into the community from Gonzaga University. She offhand mentioned she had gathered a number of our resources and others into a package to help Martin more quickly plug into the community. That resonated with me.

Because we are so tightly stitched together, and because we have unique operating values, a rich shared history and a common vision, if unguided it can take some time, despite our welcoming nature, to discover the operating formula.

That’s why we decided to help accelerate that process by bundling up the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years, the insight from our company and staff, and the collective wisdom and knowledge of our business community into an onboarding operating manual for business leaders.

Our goal is to help get you as close to understanding our formula as possible, as quickly as possible, so you can begin successfully leading, disrupting our expectations and contributing your mass to the gravity of Des Moines.

We need your fresh ideas. And after you take the very important first step of learning and listening, my advice is to use your unique outsider’s perspective to bring new ideas to the table. And when you put in the work and go out to gather support, you can be sure this community will meet you with a giant Hell Yes!

— Chris Conetzkey, editor of the Business Record | chrisconetzkey@bpcdm.com | 515-661-6081