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A Des Moines state of mind


Each week, the reporters and editors at the Business Record join heads and drum up story ideas for the coming edition. Recently, a near-constant line of discussion has concerned the efforts businesses and our government have been undertaking to attract more people to the state.

During one of those meetings, Editorial Director Beth Dalbey suggested I write a column about my experience moving to Des Moines after having spent much of my adult life living in much larger cities. At the risk of causing readers to flip the page in boredom, here goes.

I didn’t come here by choice. My wife, Lisa Carponelli, was offered a job as an anchor at WOI-TV (channel 5) in August 2001, and she had spent two years living in New Jersey for my job. I owed her.

She anchored a late-night newscast in Atlantic City. I was a reporter at Bloomberg News, which had the money to fly me around the country to cover the technology boom of the late 1990s. I spent a lot of time in Princeton, N.J., San Francisco and New York City. The editors were tough, sometimes unbearably so. They taught me more about companies and markets than bosses at any other place I’ve been.

It was a great job, but the lifestyle was rough. My commute was 55 miles and took an agonizing 70 minutes if each of the more than 40 traffic lights went my way. Trips to New York took two hours, and always involved a dance between driving and riding a train. My wife and I saw each other only on weekends.   I drove into Iowa late at night on Labor Day 2001, never having seen Des Moines. From the start, it was different. We rented an apartment over the telephone, and our landlord left the keys by the door without an advance deposit. That’s unheard of in bigger cities. We bought our first house within two months. We had a dog, my wife’s dream, by New Year’s Day.

Since then, I’ve lost little and gained much being here. It’s easier to make friends, establish networks and get involved in Central Iowa than in other places I’ve lived.

My commute is eight minutes, and the elements I’ve been able to add to my life by saving so much time are tremendous. I share lunch or dinner with Lisa nearly every day. I taught a course at Iowa State University, ran the inaugural Des Moines Marathon (and two Dam to Dams), and have so far finished half the coursework for an M.B.A. at the University of Iowa. Lisa and I completed a mountaineering course in June and are planning future adventures.

I couldn’t have accomplished so much in such a short time in a larger city.  True, Zagat hasn’t yet published a guide to Des Moines’ restaurant scene. But I’ve found Des Moines has most of the things far larger cities have, just fewer examples of them. Not everything is perfect. Those brown paper bags for leaf collection cost too much, and I wish speed limits were higher. The whole perception that parking downtown is a problem is something I’ll never understand.   The people I meet are, for the most part, polite, engaging and curious. Most of what I’ve experienced has been overwhelmingly positive. This is an easy place to live, and that’s a high compliment.

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