A city of many ambitions
The final stop of the trip was Des Moines. We first met with the City Council over dinner and received a warm welcome. “I love the fact that you’re here,” said City Manager Rick Clark. “We’d like to see that grow stronger.”
Much of the event focused on the council’s plans for the future. Mayor T. M. Franklin Cownie talked about “natural capitalism” which provides a comprehensive and affordable path to profitable sustainability. “It’s not so much about us, it’s about our kids and grandkids,” he said.
Glenn Lyons, president and CEO of the Downtown Community Alliance, who moved from Calgary a year ago, talked about Des Moines’ downtown, which had a uniquely high number of people who work there and that made it a very dynamic area. “We have a dynamic downtown, we have a nice downtown, but we don’t have a complete downtown” in the manner of European cities, where people do more than work there, he said. The goal is to make it a place to live and a place that combines work, life and culture like Manhattan, he said.
Donald Tripp, director of the Park and Recreation Department, talked about public art and the recently installed 27 sculptures in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park downtown.
The council also discussed the brain drain of students out of the state and their hopes to reverse this trend. “Let’s keep our students here, let’s keep our families here,” said Cownie.
The next morning started with a visit to the Department of Natural Resources, where much of the discussion centered around the situation in Goodell. The staff emphasized the sanitation issue that comes with raw sewage and agreed that there is a double standard in the requirements towards human waste and animal waste, which was also raised as a concern by residents. “I’ve been to Goodell, I know,” said Wayne Gieselman, division administrator. “I get all the dichotomies here because there’re a bunch. … Some of this isn’t gonna make any sense when you think about it in a logical way.”
When asked about his view of Iowa’s future, Gieselman said, “I believe we gotta have good water quality and I believe we gotta have good air quality because people choose where they live with technology.”
The staff’s request toward us was to stay involved, stay educated about the issues, and talk to our legislators.
At the Department of Education, Director Jason Glass welcomed us and discussed the major policy areas he focused on. The first area was “high expectations and fair measures.” He said Iowa was the last state to adopt statewide common core standards, which happened last fall. “We have to broaden our definition of success and failure,” he said.
A second focus area was building capacity in educators. Educators are a critical element, he said, and pointed possible improvements in recruitment, support systems for new teachers and others.
The third focus was on how each child is accommodated and served through education. He saw our schools as “a beautiful factory; very efficient.” But educators need to think of each child’s dream and skills, which can be accommodated through online schools, charter schools, responding to students with disabilities and matching students with employers. He sees the right approach in “giving kids foundational skills and then identifying their individual skills and interests.”
The last meeting of the trip was with the Association of Business and Industry. The organization is member-driven and works together to promote Iowa commerce. It has 1,400 members, which include manufacturers, retailers, insurance companies, publishers and printers, the professions, and others. “I have the best job in the state of Iowa,” said Leisa Fox, vice president of membership, because she gets to interact with all the cool companies that comprise the association.
She said that during the current economic downtime, many Iowa business owners have invested and captured market share. “It’s because companies are conservative and don’t spend money but invest it.” Yet, what keeps her up at night is the impending transition from the current CEOs to the next generation of business leaders. Right now she does not see a long-term vision in many of the companies she works with.