After career travels, Edwards puts down roots in Central Iowa, CVB
Greg Edwards, president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, was “a normal kid” growing up in Peoria, Ill., keeping active with everything from athletics to serving as president of his high school class. He happened into the hospitality industry by chance, having worked his way through college with a job at a liquor store and as a waiter and bartender. His career in the hotel business took him to several Midwest cities, including Des Moines, with his wife, Joni, and their four children. But convention and visitors bureau work provided more of a challenge for Edwards, who returned to Des Moines in 2000 to assume his current position. Much has changed since Edwards was working at the Des Moines Marriott in the 1980s, when the downtown skywalk system was just beginning to take shape. The combination of new and existing amenities in Greater Des Moines has, to some degree, left Edwards with more work, but has also contributed to a sense of passion about his community.
When you were growing up in Peoria, what was your career dream?
I really thought that I wanted to go into radio and television and be on the air, either as a disc jockey or a weatherman or a news anchor or something like that. I just thought I had the talent to do that and I kind of wanted to be in the entertainment business, so to speak. I studied speech communications in college with an emphasis on radio and television. I never really pursued that career by default because I was working in the hospitality industry and then just kind of stayed with that.
Why drove you out of the restaurant business?
The hours. I’d go to work at 9, 10 o’clock in the morning and, because it was a hotel and I was also the bar manager, I’d be there until 1 or 2 a.m. It was just a very hectic lifestyle. It wasn’t bad since I was young and single, but it opened my eyes to look at other situations.
Did you enjoy moving from one town to the next?
I did. It’s been kind of a different experience. Moving to Kansas City, we really didn’t know anyone. But that was a great town and we made great friends down there. Moving back to Peoria was unique because that was my hometown. We ended up buying my family home in Peoria from my mom, who moved to Florida. Then by coming back to Des Moines, it was coming back to my wife’s home. So it wasn’t like coming into strange territory.
Why did you decide to make the switch into convention and visitors bureau work?
It’s a little bit more of a global-type job. When you’re working in a hotel, you’re pretty much selling a particular hotel and that particular property. In a convention and visitors bureau, you’re really diversified; you’re selling an entire community. It’s challenging. You’re now working with a huge constituency of hoteliers, attractions, private small business owners, everyone who really benefits from what we do.
What makes you passionate about Des Moines?
I just think that we have a great product here. To be able to tell people who have never been here, just to give them a little background on what Des Moines really is. It’s an insurance and financial hub, and people are amazed by that. Our infrastructure with the skywalk system downtown is second to none. We have about every major hotel company located here. We have some great attractions, including Adventureland, Prairie Meadows and the Iowa State Fair. We really have as many big-city amenities as the big cities do, just on a smaller scale. We really use that line a lot.
When you look around downtown as you’re driving into work in the mornings, do you get kind of exciting thinking about all the things that are coming up in town?
I’m coming in generally from the west and the first thing you see coming down Third Street is the new Wells Fargo Arena, which is just going to be a tremendous new venue for us. And then there’s the Science Center of Iowa right off of Court Avenue. I don’t think people realize what a gem that’s going to be when it opens. And with all the new housing that’s coming in, and the more people who live downtown, the more vibrant a downtown we’re going to have.
Does being a father of four consume most of your time?
Having four kids that close in age, there’s always something going on with one of them. So that’s probably a lot of the off-work time. I’ve coached Little League baseball, I’ve coached soccer and I’ve coached basketball. Now that they’re in high school, I can retire from my coaching career because now they have their own coaches, which is a good thing. But I’ve been involved with their stuff since day one. I enjoy golfing, but people who know me know I don’t spend enough time golfing. I enjoy traveling and just being at home, working in the yard. And I like to barbecue. It’s kind of a guy thing.
Now that you’ve hopped around between several towns, do you feel as though you’ve put down your roots in Greater Des Moines?
We’re very happy here. And we pretty much promised our kids when we came here that we wouldn’t move again.