Think as one
In September 1986, Chicago consultant Lane Kendig told Des Moines city leaders that development would move west unless cooperation between the city and Polk County improved.
How much cooperation there has been between the two municipalities until now is arguable. Kendig, however, was right. Des Moines’ western suburbs continue to land a disproportionate slice of the development in Central Iowa.
In the shortterm, each announcement of a new suburban office building or residential development would appear a blow to the notion of balanced growth. In the longterm, however, it’s not a situation worth worrying over.
Not all people who work in West Des Moines or Urbandale live and spend their money there. Some live downtown. Others prefer the countryside. They buy products and services and pay taxes throughout the area. Suffice it to say, development in any part of Central Iowa is good for the whole.
What we do worry about is the bigger picture. At a time when development decisions are increasingly made outside our state, what will happen to expansion if our communities don’t speak with one voice?
We’ve been thinking about the merits of regional development amid the community jostling over the site of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Inc.’s planned development. The cities of West Des Moines, Urbandale, Ankeny and Des Moines all submitted proposals.
Meantime, high in a tower at the corner of California and Montgomery streets in San Francisco, executives with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage’s parent, Wells Fargo & Co., study a wide berth of choices in a number of states.
Though West Des Moines appears to be the winner, how much stronger an offer could Metro Des Moines have made if each of its communities unified behind a single offer. More important, how many bids have we lost to other states because our offers weren’t strong enough?
There are a number of ways to encourage a regional spirit, including consolidated government, tax-base sharing and the standardization of development codes. Shared taxes mean that communities work together (in the form of incentives, grants, etc.) to win big developments. The subsequent tax revenue is then split among those municipalities. Standardized development codes, at the least, would help developers and builders save time and money, leading to lower costs.
At root is a question of local control and whether there is more to gain from regionalism. As Greater Des Moines begins to compete for jobs and industries on a national stage, its citizens need to think on a regional level, and our governments should reflect that.
We have been blessed with a large amount of reinvestment on the parts of the out-of-state companies that have operations here, despite our lack of cooperation. We cannot count on that good fortune forever.