Florida, New York or … Des Moines?

My wife, Kaci, is from Florida. I’m from Chicago. 

OK, a northwest suburb of Chicago ... you caught me.

Our Feb. 19 Power Breakfast panel on recruiting and retaining skilled workers has me thinking a lot about the perception of Des Moines as viewed by the rest of the country. 

As transplants, we are very likely the type of  workers businesses would love to attract to the area. Naturally, we both have our opinions on the city. I wish for hot dogs and Italian beef; my wife wishes snow and ice didn’t exist. 

But I digress.

Just about three years ago, we were living in Florida. I was working for ESPN remotely by the pool on a daily basis, and she was finishing work toward her graduate degree in education. When the opportunity came to move to Des Moines, we were faced with three options: Stay in Florida, move to New York City, or move to Des Moines. 

Now, I had lived in Des Moines for about a year, working as a reporter at the Business Record, and I went to school at Iowa State University. My wife? She had visited a few times, but was born in Florida and raised on the beaches. To her friends and her family, it was a simple question: What the (expletive) is in Des Moines? A tough question to answer. Iowa doesn’t quite have the “things” to show off. 

But her family was far from alone in their wondering.

In fact, back in 2010, I wrote a Business Record story about some research by the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau. It asked people from outside Des Moines about their perceptions of the city. The consensus? Most people had no image of Des Moines. They were blank slates.

Back to our decision. Ultimately, the swaying factor for us - beyond being a great job opportunity - is we knew this was a place we could grow. I knew I’d be embraced in the community. I’d sent an email to all my sources announcing I was leaving in 2010, and received an unbelievable outpouring of thanks, congrats and farewell notes in return.  And I had only been here a year. No mountains, oceans or Italian beef sandwiches could ever re-create the feeling that the community collectively gave me. It was a perfect send-off - and one I didn’t forget.

Check out this Nostradamus-esque quote from Convention and Visitors Bureau chief Greg Edwards at the conclusion of that 2010 story:

“It is almost like we are in the neophyte stages of this community,” Edwards said. “Well now it is all kind of coming together and continuing to come together. And it’s like, how do we now continue to improve on what we have and sell what we have.”

We don’t have as many “things” to sell, but we do have an experience to sell. It’s just easier to show off “things” in comparison to experiences. And it takes longer for experiences to be noticed. Experiences like mine are being told all the time about Des Moines. 

And the nation, I believe, is taking notice - re: national awards, recognitions and press.

Four years later, I wonder: If we did the same research, would we still be a blank slate?

A Pecha Kucha from Florida

I thought my wife’s own words on her transition from Florida to Iowa might be fun to share. Watch her Pecha Kucha presentation from last fall titled “Beaches to Cornfields” here. What’s Pecha Kucha you ask? Essentially presenters show 20 images, and speak for 20 seconds per image, on the passion topic of their choice. The Des Moines chapter was started in 2010 by a good friend of mine, Clive Assistant City Manager Matt McQuillen, and Sarah Noll Wilson. Anyone can present, and I’ve enjoyed each one I’ve seen. Interested in watching or participating? Contact McQuillen at mattmcq82@gmail.com. The next one is on April 10 at the Des Moines Social Club. More info here.

Welcome to Des Moines; let’s party

A big piece of the conversation at the Power Breakfast focused on the onboarding process and how it is key to retaining transplant employees. The Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Mary Bontrager was a panelist and she emailed after the event, saying that she forgot to share information on the Partnership’s “Welcome to Greater Des Moines” receptions. These events are a free way that companies can help their new transplant hires begin to establish relationships with others in the same situation, learn more about the community and ask questions. The first part of the “Today” show segment that aired a few weeks ago was filmed at the December welcome reception at Jasper Winery. Mary told me the producer from the “Today” show couldn’t believe that the community gives parties to welcome newcomers. The next party is March 12 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. If you have employees you want to encourage to attend, they can 
register here.

Welcome to Des Moines; let’s eat Wendy’s

About a month ago during the freak rush-hour snowstorm, my wife and mother-in-law got stranded in Urbandale at a Wendy’s. It was likely better for them to eat a couple of Frosties than end up in a ditch with frostbite. At any rate, they weren’t alone. A young couple who had flown in from Georgia for a job interview was also forced to take shelter. Here’s how not to recruit someone. After driving from their hotel near the airport, they arrived only to find the company not only canceled his interview due to the weather, but had failed to call and let him know. Faced with the prospect of putting his snow driving skills to the test, Wendy’s was his only salvation. The weather, for people not of an internal temperature near 32 degrees, has to be one of the biggest hurdles in recruiting skilled employees from other states. I didn’t get to ask the panelists at our event about their strategies for dealing with the brutal truth of Iowa’s weather, but I’d have some on hand if I were you. I’d guess this wasn’t in the playbook as a way to help someone envision themselves living in Des Moines - even if Wendy’s does serve a mean Frosty.

Superstorms, thundersnow and polar vortexes, oh my!

Speaking of weather ... I’m no expert, but I did take two meteorology classes at Iowa State and worked with WHO-13 meteorologist Brett McIntyre in college. Am I the only one who thinks all the weathermen held a conference and brainstormed ways to better market and brand the terrifying nature of weather? It all started last winter when The Weather Channel started naming winter storms: Nemo, Gandolf, Kahn and most recently, Seneca (Wallace?), just to name a few. Then we got the TorCon index, which gives a likelihood for tornadoes. Thundersnow, a thunderstorm of snow. And of course the dreaded polar vortex, which has attacked us multiple times this year. It’s been a strange year for weather, but if Des Moines is inundated this year with the new phenomenon known as “snowrollers,” that might just be enough to make me pack my bags for Florida. Wait, it’s already happening in Indianola??? View the photos here.