Cooking up a nationally-ranked city
Five ingredients to Des Moines’ success
Friday, August 15, 2014 6:00 AM
It’s no secret by now that Greater Des Moines has made its share of national rankings.
It’s the top place for business and the best city for young professionals, according to Forbes. In June, it was named No. 1 in economic strength by the research firm Policom Corp.
The list goes on, and other places are taking notice.
A study commissioned by Fort Wayne, Ind., business leaders earlier this year found that Des Moines was No. 1 on a competitiveness index among 100 Midwestern cities. That prompted a Fort Wayne television station to send a crew here to find out why the city was on a “job creation winning streak.”
Last year, the city of Wichita, Kan., sent a team of city and chamber leaders to Des Moines to spend three days on a similar mission. More trips are planned for this year by leaders from Fort Wayne, South Bend, Ind., and Columbia, S.C.
And in late 2013, two Central Iowa business leaders were invited to Davenport to share with business leaders about what has made Greater Des Moines successful. Steve Zumbach, an attorney at Belin McCormick P.C. and Steve Chapman, president and CEO of Ruan Transportation Management Systems Inc., were asked to outline Des Moines’ success strategies for Davenport leaders.
Zumbach and Chapman have watched Greater Des Moines come a long way. In fact, they’ve led or contributed to some the efforts that helped create the metro area’s current success.
Here’s their take on how Greater Des Moines achieved its current status.
1. Business leadership
Perhaps the most important contributor to the region’s success has been strong business leadership at the top, the two said.
Zumbach points to projects such as building the Des Moines Civic Center and the long-range planning initiatives such as Capital Crossroads and its predecessors.
It’s almost a rite of passage for CEOs in the community to chair organizations like the Greater Des Moines Partnership.
And, just as important, it’s not just about giving time but also money. Chapman recalls what he heard business leader Marvin Pomerantz tell business leaders whom he’d asked for a donation: “That doesn’t hurt enough. You write a bigger check than that.”
“Every CEO of every major corporation in this community has chaired the chamber, the Partnership, to make sure that we stayed the course,” Chapman said. “They raise money. They give money. And I can tell you that is different from other communities.”
2. Many people at the table
The business leadership has been important, but so has been wide community involvement.
“Something our community did that was very important is they allowed diversity at the table, and they allowed younger people at the table,” Zumbach said. “In other words, if you look at the leadership of this community, and you look at the Partnership today, there’s a broad cross section of leadership, combined with younger people, with diversity, and on a regional basis. Everybody is at the table.”
Perhaps nothing is as telling as United Way of Central Iowa’s annual campaign numbers, in which Greater Des Moines routinely ranks near the top of the nation in per-capita giving. In 2013, 42,000 people donated $27.5 million.
“There’s no magic dust in this community. It’s people,” Chapman said. “It’s people who don’t just take, or don’t take at all. They give.”
3. Continuity of goals
In many communities, and in the past in Greater Des Moines, business leaders will come into organizations like the Partnership with a new initiative every 12 months. One chair comes in with a set of goals, and then the next chair comes in 12 months later with a different set of goals.
That’s not how it is in Des Moines, Zumbach said. Time and time again, leaders put their egos to the side to continue a project rather than start their own new project.
He points specifically to the Vision Plan that was put together by Mario Gandelsonas, which planted the seed for many community projects such as the Principal Riverwalk. That plan took many years and many leaders to complete.
“It’s that willingness to take someone else’s work project and implement it as though it was your own, and put your own heart and soul behind it to make it happen,” Zumbach said.
4. Working as a region
Zumbach said Chapman’s role in helping to create the Greater Des Moines Partnership was his “greatest gift to his community.” The partnership help the community set goals and pool resources as a region.
An example: forming Bravo Greater Des Moines, which allocates hotel/motel tax revenues donated by metro cities to arts and culture organizations.
5. Pushing forward
Other communities are taking notice of Des Moines - a good thing inherently - but the attention also means competition is coming.
“If there’s an admonishment in all this, it may be that when you’re winning, it’s easy to get complacent,” Zumbach said. “There is no place for complacency. Others will compete.”
Chapman notes that it’s important for leaders to continue to emerge, which is what makes organizations like the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute important in the community.
“It’s organizations like that that help those young people learn how it started and how it’s got to continue,” he said.
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