Data-cruncher and strategic planner James Chung, who appears as part of the Tomorrow Plan Speaker Series Oct. 4, marvels over how Greater Des Moines stands out by almost any measure his staff uses to compare cities.

An analysis of 200 or so hyperlocal databases about cities around the country consistently showed Greater Des Moines as ranking in the top 10 percent of the most successful cities in the country, not just the Midwest, Chung said in an interview. And if the metro area plays its cards right, this market may rise to the top 5 percent, he added.

Chung, president of Reach Advisors -- a strategy, research and predictive analytics firm -- wants you to know he isn’t doing business with Greater Des Moines, so no one is paying him to praise Iowa’s capital city. Rather, it was his work in comparable cities that first made him wonder how Greater Des Moines was attracting so many workers -- in some cases skilled workers moving back -- while creating a booming downtown, a highly educated workforce and strong economic growth.

“We looked at midsized cities in the Midwest. When we looked at the data, one city kept coming up as an outlier, in the top 10 percent nationwide. It was Des Moines, which by almost every measure outperformed its comparable cities,” Chung said.

“There is something special about Des Moines. We weren’t looking for Des Moines. We kept asking why Des Moines is so strong,” Chung explained.

Here are some reasons this area drew attention: Chung found that Greater Des Moines’ net population growth is “stronger than almost any other city in the Midwest. There is more population gain in Des Moines, far more, than any other Midwestern city of the same size. But what is really weird is that it is stronger than other cities, like Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis or Chicago. That is amazing.”

Greater Des Moines’ real gross domestic product growth is something you typically would see bordering an ocean, Chung said. “The gross real product is higher than the [comparable cities]. It looks more like a coastal city in real product growth,” he said.

In a comparison with like cities, Greater Des Moines’ average income is higher, residents’ net worth is higher, the percentage of workers with college degrees is higher, the number of educated adults moving in to the market is larger.

Part of the success comes because of the downtown improvements going back a generation, and continuing, said Chung, adding that he isn’t lauding the city just because he’s coming. He’s just looking at the data -- and likes what he sees. 

“There was a remarkable commitment and set of investments made by a prior generation that set Des Moines up for a remarkable ride for the last decade of economic recovery. It was set up perfectly to ride this economic cycle, almost better than any other city,” Chung said. 

Now, Greater Des Moines needs to watch the fundamentals so it continues to be positioned well, Chung warned. He saved the details for his speech, but suffice it to say that some of the things that served as tailwinds in recent years could be headwinds later. Broadly, he means the population structure, the economic structure and some elements of the work world. 

Take care of those, Chung said, and Greater Des Moines is headed for the top 5 percent of U.S. cities. 

Chung’s appearance in Des Moines
The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be available for purchase.

Date and time:
Thursday, Oct. 4
11:30 a.m. – Lunch
11:45 a.m. – Historical preview with Leo Landis, state curator
12-1 p.m. – Keynote 
1-1:30 p.m. – Q&A 

State Historical Building
600 E. Locust St., Des Moines
Click here for registration