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Partnership sets 2018 priorities

Water trails, code academy among goals for the new year


The Greater Des Moines Partnership, Central Iowa’ economic and community development organization with 23 chambers of commerce and more than 6,100 business members, hopes to see significant progress this year on initiatives ranging from completing a new downtown retail plan to certifying a development megasite, starting a new coding academy, planning specific work on water trails and starting a fellowship program aimed at increasing diversity in job candidates.

Those are some of the projects Partnership investors and members have requested.

“It isn’t that we invite investors to accept and adopt what the Greater Des Moines Partnership has decided is strategically important,” said Board Chairman Dan Houston. “It’s just the opposite. It’s the businesses. It’s the executive board. It’s the trustees. It’s the members, these 320 investors” who decide the priorities. “The Partnership then implements what the investors want.”

Among projects in the works in ‘18 (full list: bit.ly/2Gs9TAR):

  • A digital marketing campaign to encourage talent and economic development consultants to consider Greater Des Moines.
  • Work with the Iowa Economic Development Authority and others to consider the creation of a certified megasite that could be offered for major developments, with many services already in place. Partnership CEO Jay Byers said the site would likely be on the outskirts of town, where perhaps 1,000 acres could be assembled. “It’s a big deal,” Byers said. “That is very exciting to attract very large, industrial-type projects that are shovel-ready.”
  • Creating a new entrepreneur and startup network program, and a new small business jobs report. 
  • Starting a fellowship program this spring with 25 fellows and 15 companies, with the goal of increasing diversity among job candidates. “The idea is to be able to recruit top talent to our companies and focusing on diversity and inclusion,” Byers said. ”The effort would include related programming to help with networking and recruiting. Indianapolis has a similar program that is helping inform the effort.” 
  • Implementing a new Central Iowa Code Academy to teach STEM skills as a way to increase the workforce. “This is the type of thing where every employer is telling us, ‘We need these kinds of people. Can you help us?’” Houston said. Byers said the Partnership will help guide the effort, perhaps with a partner institution.
  • Finishing work on a downtown retail development plan.
  • Work toward an “adventure park” that would include downtown water trails, a kayak run, zip lines across the river, tubing, swimming, surfing, climbing walls, a skateboard park and other projects that would draw people to the river. “When Principal decided to celebrate its 125th year, the idea was to take a great asset in the river and along with other people make an investment to make it a more aesthetically pleasing place,” said Houston, who is Principal’s chairman, president and CEO.
  • “Trails and restaurants were added. Businesses flourished,” Houston said. “But the center of that asset is the water itself. Are there things we could learn from other cities? So the Partnership has taken on what I’ll call the 2.0 version of the river to look at how can we potentially make that appealing to people of all ages. From young kayakers, to middle-aged canoeists to all the people who might be able to take advantage of a central water feature.”

    “We have businesses on board,” Houston said. “I’m sure downtown residents are on board. I don’t think there are going to be many people who are going to stand in the way.”

    “What you have to overcome is at some point there will be a price, and you have to somehow pay for it, but that is a challenge we’ve faced with every project we’ve ever done. In the end, we usually get to the right spot. I’m certain we’ll make progress” this year, Houston said.

    Byers said he isn’t sure how far the work will get this year, partly because many decisions await. Said Byers: “The community has some big decisions to make. What do they want Center Street (dam area) to look like? What do they want Scott Street (dam area), to look like?”

The Greater Des Moines Partnership’s board leadership this year will include the following: 
Board chairman: Dan Houston, president and CEO at Principal
Past chairman: Jim Brannen, CEO of FBL Financial Group Inc.
Vice chairs: Kathryn Kunert, vice president, economic connections and integration at MidAmerican Energy Co., and Randy Edeker, chairman, CEO and president of Hy-Vee Inc.
Secretary and treasurer: Steven Zumbach, partner at Belin McCormick PC.

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