D.C. trip update: Passenger rail, bus rapid transit and undercover bank visits
Thursday, May 09, 2013 5:30 PM
I’ve had the opportunity to embed myself with the 190-plus Central Iowa leaders who flew out to the annual Greater Des Moines Partnership trip in Washington, D.C. Rest assured, I won’t be releasing any candid photos of CEOs drooling on the plane - at least not yet.
It has been a great trip and a fantastic opportunity to meet a variety of business leaders and see all the issues they are facing.
After a just more than a day in Washington, one thing - outside of how impressed congressional leaders are to see this many business leaders representing Iowa - has become clear. Many of the seeds for projects and legislative priorities are being planted, and Thursday is the day for planting.
A number of the leaders on the trip whom I’ve talked to have extra objectives and meetings with a variety of government organizations and leaders outside the context of the planned agenda. Below is just a quick sampling of some of some of the many different efforts that are going on. I also have a few general thoughts and takeaways from listening to the great speakers and the experience thus far, but i’ll throw that in an article at a later date.
Not too much on the agenda Friday as we get set to fly home, but follow me on Twitter @ChrisConetzkey for updates.
Passenger rail update
Michael Kulik and Glenn Lyons among others planned to meet with officials at Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration to provide an update on the effort to secure state funding for a passenger rail line from Chicago to Omaha that would run through Des Moines. Kulik, a senior shareholder at the Davis Brown law firm, is the chair of the Partnership’s public transportation roundtable, and Lyons is the president and CEO of the Downtown Community Alliance. Their efforts here are to keep the seat warm in case the Iowa Legislature approves a $20 million match that would allow a key step of the project - a rail line from Moline, Ill., to Iowa City - to move forward. Unfortunately, Lyons and Kulik don’t have much good news to tell leaders, as the Iowa Legislature has yet to fund the match. Illinois has already moved forward with the Chicago-to-Moline portion of the line, and there is some concern that with no definitive timeline on how long the state has to make the match, the federal funding that was allocated in 2010 could be off the table in the future. Click here to read a full update on the project and status of passenger rail.
Bus rapid transit update
I wrote briefly in a preview story for the trip about the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) efforts to bring bus rapid transit (BRT) - rail-like bus service - to Des Moines. DART has made some big changes in the past few years, with route additions and changes and the move to its new transit hub. This project is next on top of DART’s list, and DART’s general manager, Elizabeth Presutti, and public affairs manager, Gunnar Olson, are both on the trip helping to promote the effort and keep BRT in front of congressional and area leaders. They had an opportunity to present the project via a five minute presentation to congressional staffers. However, just like passenger rail, the sticking point for BRT is state funding from the Iowa Legislature. DART is seeking a $2.5 million state grant. DART also sponsored the Thursday lunch and keynote speaker at which they shared a new marketing video with the group. View the video here
Projects big and small
This is far from a game-changing project for the metro area, but I thought it was indicative of the range of work happening on the trip. One of the things Brian Buethe, executive director of Grimes Chamber and Economic Development, planned to do was meet with the American Library Association in an effort to seek funding for a new library for the city. Grimes’ population was the 13th fastest growing in Iowa according to the 2010 census, and the town has seen great growth of late. The challenge for a city like Grimes, Buethe said, is that funding for roads and infrastructure often comes first, and in this case, the library can’t support the population growth.
Don’t take grants for granted
The above issues were project based, but Curt Simmons, president and CEO of the Science Center of Iowa, hoped to address an issue in President Obama’s current budget proposal that affects the way museums like the Science Center apply for grants. Currently the Science Center works closely with NASA to receive many of its grants. Obama’s proposal would consolidate 90 programs from 11 federal agencies aimed at science, technology, engineering and mathematics education into one initiative managed by the Department of Education with help from the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution. The problem, Simmons said, is NASA’s funding could be affected by the reorganization, which could in turn complicate the ability for the Science Center to receive grants. He’d like museums to be able to apply directly for grants.
Wells Fargo goes undercover
It’s not quite “Undercover Boss” and no TV show is in the works, but Wells Fargo Bank regional president Scott Johnson and vice president of regional marketing Tony Dickinson had the chance to check out the brand-new high-tech Wells Fargo bank branch concept that was just unveiled here in Washington’s NoMa Neighborhood. The new store format is approximately 1,000 square feet - as opposed to the traditional 3,000 to 4,000 square feet - and provides Wells Fargo with the ability to put a so-called neighborhood bank in urban areas where real estate is at a premium. The bank costs 25 percent less to build and an estimated 40 percent less to operate because it only has five staff members as opposed to the traditional 10 to 20, the Washington Business Journal reported. The branch only needs five staff members because it utilizes three high-tech ATMs, which Wells Fargo are calling “Store Transaction Machines” (STMs), that the company says will handle 80 percent of transactions. There won’t be tellers, but there is a banker for each STM and two customer service representatives in the store. Whether we see these in Des Moines any time soon is yet to be seen, as this branch is just a test. But rest assured, Wells Fargo’s Des Moines area leadership will have had the full customer experience and a chance to talk to customers to gather feedback - they just won’t have a TV deal. Click here, to read a full story about the new branches.
No idea what NoMa means?
Me either, and yes, I had to Google it to see what it stood for. Turns out it’s a rapidly developing neighborhood that is north of Massachusetts Avenue - hence the name. In 2007-2008, private developers invested more than $1 billion to begin the development of office, residential, hotel and retail space in a 35-block area over the next 10 years. Seems like a very large and interesting redevelopment project. You can check out the website about the redevelopment here.
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