The following pages hold the results of the 2018 Leaders Survey, a snapshot of how local business community members rate the Greater Des Moines area and how they feel on a variety of topics.

This is the seventh year the Business Record has asked for your thoughts.

Some survey questions carry over from year to year and provide a longer-term view. You’ll find comparisons to average responses from years past. Others are crafted fresh this year, based on news events or issues that are relevant now — such as the plans for a federal courthouse to be built on the site of the former Riverfront YMCA.

How the survey works: In October, we asked for your thoughts and you gave them in the survey. The form contained a mix of multiple-choice, ratings, true-or-false and short fill-in-the-blank questions. We’ve compiled the answers and collected comments on a few questions. We’ll publish results of more questions and additional comments in December. 

The great news is that business leaders feel strongly about the area and passionately discuss topics (especially workforce needs). Most rate the local economy as strong, with a few seeing areas of attention.

Of great assistance, Tom Mahoney, chairman and CEO of ITA Group, graciously accepted the task of serving as a guest editor of the issue and provided thoughtful remarks. 

As always, thank you for sharing your opinions and for your continued reading of the Business Record.

Suzanne Behnke, editor

Jump to question:

Rate the overall health of the Central Iowa business community

Agree or disagree: Central Iowa should work on and pay for a downtown water trail system and removal of downtown dams. 

FILL IN THE BLANK: The biggest issue facing Iowa businesses right now is __________ . 

Rate the effectiveness of political leaders

Agree or disagree: Corporate tax reform as enacted at the state level benefits your business.

Agree or disagree: I support the federal government’s decision to build the federal courthouse on the former Riverfront YMCA site. 

Agree or disagree: Corporate tax reform as enacted at the federal level benefits your business.

Agree or disagree: Data centers provide satisfactory economic benefit to warrant the tax breaks and other assistance the companies receive. 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rate the overall health of the Central Iowa business community



Guest editor Tom Mahoney: Central Iowa is experiencing a strong economy. Unemployment is below 3 percent and most industries are finding opportunities to grow in this period that has been described as the technology revolution. While there is much disruption, it is proven the spirit of Iowans thrives in these periods of uncertainty. I believe the current business climate will make our community stronger and better. Iowans are innovative and resilient, and find ways to embrace change. If we can minimize the uncertainty of government regulations and look at diversity as a source of strength, even more can be achieved.

READER COMMENTS

Sarah Gomez
executive director, Midwest Partnership EDC
5 – Population is an issue.

Claire Celsi
president, Public Relations Project
6 – We have very low wages and a severe shortage of employees. To pretend we are growing like gangbusters and a leading engine of economic development is disingenuous without admitting our workforce has a serious problem.

Brendan Comito
COO, Capital City Fruit Co.
6 – The economy is great but sustained growth is difficult due to major labor shortages.
 
Jed Gammell
VP, insurance and risk management, Lincoln Savings Bank
8 – Overall commerce in Central Iowa is strong; however, continued challenges in depth of labor pool, global political uncertainty (especially related to trade and ag), and weather patterns will continue into 2019, putting a lid on growth.

Tom Flynn 
president, Lessing-Flynn 
8 – Business is strong right now, but the tight job market is starting to have an impact. It’s hard to find people for some specific roles. We also do a lot of business in the ag industry and low commodity prices are still hurting. Agriculture plays a big role in a lot of different types of businesses in Central Iowa.

Troy L. Hugen
plant manager, Helena Industries
8 – Things continue to be strong; however, our economy seems to do its best when the ag sector is hitting on all cylinders. Ag tends to filter or trickle down into almost all aspects of Iowa’s economy and with soft commodity price syou have to believe things could be even better if things were stronger there.

Scott Turczynski
VP/owner, Heartland Cos.
8 – In the construction industry I feel there still is an abundance of opportunities for companies like ours to take advantage of. If I had a crystal ball I would guess we still have another year or two of these great opportunities.

Philip Hodgin
principal and corporate CEO, 
RDG Planning & Design 
8 – Most indicators show we are in a robust period of sustained activity but I chose to rate our region at an 8 to reflect concern that housing and retail might have peaked for a while and we have an ongoing need for significant physical improvement investment in our infrastructure and water quality.

Josh Maurer
CFO, Cemen Tech Inc.
8 – Our businesses are only limited by our ability to hire top talent, and that is a difficult task in Central Iowa.

Izaah Knox
executive director, Urban Dreams
8 – There’s a good, strong and healthy business community in Central Iowa for most companies. However, there are many companies that are struggling or closing. Moreover, people can’t find a livable wage job that offers adequate benefits.

Jackie Rees Ulmer
associate dean for undergraduate programs, Iowa State University 
8 – [There are] many career opportunities for college graduates in Central Iowa.

Bryan Keller
director of business development, Modern Companies Inc.
9 – Overall the health is robust and I see many positive things happening both now and in the future.

Sonny Hall
CEO, Absolute Group
9 – Every business I know is hiring. I don’t know one business owner who isn’t hiring right now. Wages are going up to make sure we don’t lose the people we have in our businesses.

Paul Drey 
managing partner, Brick Gentry, P.C.
9 – Most factors seem to be clicking positively with the caution of having a sufficiently skilled workforce.

Wendy Current
director, training and development, Ames National Corp.
9 – Commitment and opportunities for engagement abound in Central Iowa. I see commitment from leaders, businesses and individual communities. I see opportunities for engagement (personally and professionally) for all generations throughout Central Iowa. These two factors combined with the strong values of the Midwest all create a healthy environment for businesses (and their communities) to grow.

Jana Rieker
Senior account manager, new business development, Trilix
9 – We are seeing an increase in companies investing in strategic brand positioning and planning. With the ability to provide more analytics to marketing, companies can more strategically position their company for success. 

Tej Dhawan
chief data officer, Principal Financial Group
10 – The community is stronger through a healthy emphasis on investment and aggressive development on all fronts — from cultural and social initiatives to fiscal and governance.

Agree or disagree: Central Iowa should work on and pay for a downtown water trail system and removal of downtown dams. 


Guest editor Tom Mahoney: This project demonstrates how Central Iowa is coming together, creating a private and public partnership, being innovative in how to better utilize the resources we already have within the community. Investing in this project will have a positive impact on the entire region. It will improve the quality of life, attract and retain talent, increase visitors and tourism, create jobs, and enhance civic pride. The economic impact will be huge.

READER COMMENTS

Sarah Gomez
executive director, Midwest Partnership EDC
Agree – Recreation is a huge draw for population increases.

Todd McDonald
president, ATW Training Solutions 
Agree – The struggle to entice individuals to Central Iowa to fill open positions is a real one. We need to do everything possible to create an area where people want to work AND live.

Joe Sorenson 
vice president of affiliate relations, 
Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines 
Agree – People and talent attraction is vital to the future of our local economy. Water trails continue to build on best in country amenities being developed downtown.

Paula Foster 
director of sales, Staybridge Suites 
Agree – It would bring a new group of people to town, as well as attract active, energetic people into our workforce.

Georgia Van Gundy
executive director and board secretary, Iowa Business Council 
Agree – It is an amenity that will attract people not just to Des Moines but to the state as a whole. At a time where businesses are struggling to find workforce and the state needs to grow the population, creating an attractive quality of life in our community and state is crucial.

Jana Rieker
senior account manager, new business development, Trilix 
Agree – If an investment in the water trail system can increase amenities for Iowa and provide a safe, efficient way to manage the water though the city, I’m all for investing in the water trail.

Claire Celsi
president, Public Relations Project
disAgree – Water trails should not be built until we have a serious and substantive water cleanup plan implemented. Iowa’s polluted water is a serious problem and spending money on water trails is a low priority at this time.

FILL IN THE BLANK: The biggest issue facing Iowa businesses right now is __________ . 

Guest editor Tom Mahoney: Availability of talented workers! It is mission critical to maintain a healthy pipeline of the greatest asset we have within the state of Iowa. It’s the quality of the people that live in Iowa that drives our success. Good leaders know success comes through and with the people who touch their business. We need to change the way we invest in education and put Iowa schools back on top. The skills and talents of the workforce in the future will be very different from the past or current state. It will require a matrix approach to education. A framework to drive diversity and skills in multiple disciplines. We are trying to prepare workers for jobs and industries that have yet to be defined. The workforce will need to include people who have excellent critical-thinking skill sets, or who have been highly trained with technical skills to build infrastructure, general construction and manufacturing. All workers will need to be more collaborative and have the ability to work in diverse and unique environments. Investing in our future workforce will ensure our ability to compete and grow in the years ahead.

READER COMMENTS

Mark Imerman
senior consultant, Regional Strategic, Ltd. 
Political instability in markets, interest and trade.

Kevin Lentz
president, Performance Marketing Group 
Shortage of qualified labor — not just tech. So many service jobs are out there as well.

Surasee Rodari
vice president, Bankers Trust 
The unemployment rate is so low.

Ellen Willadsen
CFO, Holmes Murphy 
Federal regulation.

Susan Hatten
senior manager of corporate and community engagement, Holmes Murphy 
Recruitment and retention of top talent.

Cliff Hanks
director of digital marketing/sales, Saltech Systems 
High tech talent mostly goes to the coastal states.

Rebecca Wolford
founder, Creative Habitat 
I may be biased because of my season of life, but I would say availability of flexible and affordable childcare options.

Bob Darr
Realtor, Darr Land Development
Tariffs.

Ed Brown
CEO, Iowa Clinic 
Shortage of available talent.

Todd Kielkopf
president, Kielkopf Advisory Services 
Foreign market access and trade uncertainty impacting domestic economic growth.

Beth Shelton
CEO, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa 
Cybersecurity is a real threat to Central Iowa businesses and consumers. The lack of a pipeline of qualified people devoted to this threat will have a real impact in the years to come.

William Dodds
president and CEO, Optimae LifeServices, Inc. 
Government regulation. Iowa’s managed Medicaid plan is causing serious disruption in our industry.

Emily Westergaard
CEO, Des Moines I Have a Dream Foundation
Building the next generation of leaders and workforce through education, training and mentorship.

Cynthia Letsch
managing attorney, Letsch Law Firm 
Rising real estate and construction costs limit expansion and make it difficult for new businesses to find affordable space.

Chantelle Cadek
account manager, ZLR Ignition 
The uncertainty of our healthcare system, both on a national level and state level.

Kalsa Parker
customer service coordinator, ISU Extension and Outreach, Polk County 
Stagnant wages, lack of benefits to retain quality workers

Tej Dhawan
chief data officer, Principal Financial Group 
Diminishing investment in talent growth across our schools and children.

Tony Dickinson 
VP, strategy and business development, NCMIC 
Talent wars, particularly the battle for diverse talent and young professionals.

Jed Gammell
VP, insurance and risk management, Lincoln Savings Bank
Labor.

Izaah Knox
executive director, Urban Dreams 
Equal access, an opportunity for everyone. And not only individuals to find livable wage jobs with benefits but organizations to find capital, person power, and resources.

Todd McDonald
president, ATW Training Solutions 
The changing workforce. It’s not just the struggles with finding the right people, it’s how to retain them in an era where employees switch jobs every 4.2 years on average.

Cathy Besh
assistant director - client services, Principal Financial Group
Shortage of skilled workers. We are having to find staff in other states and allow them to work remotely.

Melissa Burdick
executive director, Brenton Arboretum 
Affordable health care for workers.

Terry Trosper
president, Advance Machine Technologies, Inc. 
Qualified skilled workers.

Steve Peterson 
retired, DuPont Pioneer 
Interest rates.

Jackie Rees Ulmer
associate dean for undergraduate programs, Iowa State University 
Need for further diversification.

Rate the effectiveness of political leaders


Guest editor Tom Mahoney: Regardless of party affiliation, once elected, a political official must never forget they represent all the people within the city, state or country. We need to restore civility and the art of negotiation within our political system. There are many things going extremely well within the community and state. There are also areas where improvements are needed. These complex issues (such as mental illness, affordable housing) will require bipartisanship to ensure answers are found and action is taken. Our state and country can do better by working together. It’s time to remember the motto of the U.S. — e pluribus unum — out of many, one! 

READER COMMENTS

Troy L. Hugen
plant manager, Helena Industries, LLC
We need to overcome the divide between parties. Good decisions in the business arena aren't red or blue, they are good decisions on what looks to be best for the invested parties. Political leadership needs to get back to doing what is best versus what aligns with their party. The lack of civility recently shown nationally (OK, the last two years) is a pathetic face put on the American democratic process.

Paula Foster
director of sales, Staybridge Suites
If you can appreciate the actual accomplishments and ignore the dirt of politics, you can feel better about the big picture.

Rod Hervey
chief deputy assessor, Polk County
They need to work for all citizens, not just for the ones associated with their political affiliation.

Melissa Burdick
executive director, Brenton Arboretum
Iowa used to be a progressive state ... but we're woefully lagging in every area where we should be setting the pace: energy, healthcare, environmental stewardship, mental health, education, women's rights, etc.

Agree or disagree: Corporate tax reform as enacted at the state level benefits your business.

Guest editor Tom Mahoney: This is a complex issue that requires very strategic decision making. In theory, businesses should have more money to invest back into their business. I’m optimistic our clients will look for ways to invest in more of the products and services we provide, which in turn will also grow our business. Removing uncertainty around government regulations and tariffs will give business leaders confidence to invest the benefits of federal and state tax reform!  

READER COMMENTS


Georgia Van Gundy
executive director and board secretary, Iowa Business Council
Disagree – I disagree because the tax reform passed by the legislature this past session does not include any tax reduction for C-corporations. If triggers are met, it will eliminate federal deductability for C-corps with an effective rate tax reduction in 2021. In fact, the legislation passed increases taxes on C-corps because they agreed to couple with the tax base increases that the federal tax reform enacted. With the goal of making the overall tax system more competitive with other states, we were willing to support these increases.

Drew Kamp
director of public policy and business development, Ames Chamber of Commerce
Agree – Investment and job creation has increased, and it provided certainty to the business community, as well as uniformity to the changes made by the federal government.

Cherie Mortice
retired teacher and social activist
Disagree – I don’t work in the private business sector. Most of the tax breaks go to successful corporations that don’t need them.

Chris Sackett
managing partner, BrownWinick Law Firm
Agree – Anything that makes Iowa more competitive from a business/tax perspective benefits us all in my opinion — and certainly positively affects business lawyers and their clients.

Jackie Rees Ulmer
associate dean for undergraduate programs, Iowa State University
Disagree – Led to cuts in education budget (regents institutions).

Jed Gammell
VP, insurance and risk Management, Lincoln Savings Bank
Disagree – Specific to my industry and employee, the lack of tax equity among financial institutions is staggering, with credit unions paying no state or federal income tax — yet competing in the same space for the same clients.

Agree or disagree: I support the federal government’s decision to build the federal courthouse on the former Riverfront YMCA site. 


READER COMMENTS

Rick Tollakson
CEO, Hubbell Realty
Disagree – I was intimately involved with this and I feel that the federal courthouse could have located at a number of locations that would be more appropriate for their use. The Riverfront Y site is our communities’ last major site to connect the East Village with the downtown core and to add the additional vibrancy our community needs along the river.

Bryan Keller
director of business development, Modern Companies Inc.
Agree – Fantastic location for the new courthouse.

James I. Mackay
owner, James Mackay LLC
Agree – A tool for near-term economic growth and long-term job growth.

Tej Dhawan
chief data officer, Principal Financial Group
Disagree – I think the site is a beautiful location to highlight the best we have to offer in the city. A non-descript, federal office building would remove a significant property from the inventory of attractive locations. Given its likelihood of a concrete existence, the edifice would diminish today's value as well as value achievable over decades.

Chantelle Cadek
account manager, ZLR Ignition
Disagree – I do not feel the federal government should have asserted their power to grab the exclusive Riverfront site. The prime spot could have been better used to provide sources of entertainment (restaurants, bars, venues), that would help extend the Second/Court Avenue corridor.

Tony Dickinson
VP, strategy and business development, NCMIC
Disagree – A new federal courthouse will be great to have. A courthouse is a destination and the location doesn't change your need to visit the courthouse. Essentially, you could put a courthouse anywhere. The riverfront property is a scarcity and it felt like it should've been reserved for a landmark project that would become a destination for many.

Claire Celsi
president, Public Relations Project
Agree – If Des Moines really wanted luxury condos on that site, I guess it should have sold the property sooner before it became available for purchase by the highest bidder.

Agree or disagree: Corporate tax reform as enacted at the federal level benefits your business.



READER COMMENTS

Brendan Comito
COO, Capital City Fruit Co.
agree – We are able to do more capital expense projects. However, I question whether it was just to have tax relief now only to force our kids and grandkids to pay for it.

Ed Brown
CEO, Iowa Clinic
agree – It significantly allows us the means to grow capital for growth and health care payment reform.

Tony Dickinson
VP, strategy and business development, NCMIC
agree – The federal tax rate was too high. The system had reached a point where businesses were discouraged, and oftentimes penalized, for making investments in our country.

Linda Santi
owner, Doing Well by Doing Good
disagree – Corporate tax breaks for mega-business is a cost small businesses bear. Small business loses a skilled workforce, transportation infrastructure, and quality-of-life investments critical to our success and to attracting a qualified workforce.

Agree or disagree: Data centers provide satisfactory economic benefit to warrant the tax breaks and other assistance the companies receive. 


Guest editor Tom Mahoney: While these projects only create moderate levels of jobs, they do drive significant increases in tax revenue. Data centers are billion-dollar projects that have a positive impact on state and local sales, real estate and property taxes. Yes, it is an economic development project that should receive incentives. If we don’t provide companies the incentives, other communities will. No project, no tax revenue. It is naïve to think we don’t have competition for these centers (i.e. other metro areas where leasing a data center is relatively inexpensive including Colorado Springs, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta). Remember, it’s a tax rebate because significant taxes are being paid. I would rather something, than nothing. 

READER COMMENTS

Rick Tollakson
CEO, Hubbell Realty
I’m not sure – The data centers provide a lot of construction jobs, which is good for a number of local contractors, but it does put a strain on the skilled trades available in our region. Many of the contractors are not local so a large part of the construction profits generated by these projects are out of state and I have not seen a lot of reinvestment from these companies in our community. The number of permanent jobs that actually buy our homes and rent our apartments are a fairly small number.

Tom Flynn
president, Lessing-Flynn
Disagree – I know it's part of the game to attract big companies through tax incentives, but I don't like the fact that we invest in big companies that don't have a long-term investment in our community like many of our own, long-standing, homegrown companies who call Iowa their home.

Melissa Carlson
partner/designer, 818 LLC
Agree – The data center projects (initial build and expansions) are providing hundreds of construction jobs for years and bring increased spending in communities (hotels, restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations, etc). I also believe that they will need upgrades and services in the years to come. The data centers would be built elsewhere with similar tax breaks, so why not here?

Gracie Brandsgard
government affairs manager, Iowa Credit Union League
Disagree – They do not provide enough economic benefit. Dollars spent on tax breaks to companies who can more than afford it would be better spent helping Iowans and small businesses that really need it.

Todd J. Smith
vice president/mortgage manager, Bank Iowa
Agree – The construction of these facilities employs hundreds for over a 10-year period. I believe over the long run these businesses will help attract more businesses in the future.