Part one is done; now on to part two of my thoughts, takeaways and observations from last week’s Greater Des Moines Partnership’s annual trip to Washington, D.C. Check back tomorrow for the conclusion to the D.C. trilogy that’s only slightly less epic than “Star Wars.”

Miss part one? Click here to read it.

Fort Iowa: Where vets can go to start a new life ... and fill your job opening
An estimated 15,000 veterans could be returning to the United States this summer. In addition, 100,000 vets could be called back over the next year, and potentially 300,000 to 400,000 could return over the next three to four years. Thats a lot of workers. A lot of skilled workers. In Iowa adjutant general Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr’s view, why not have them plant roots in Iowa? It just so happens, as Orr pointed out on the last day of the trip, unlike many other states, Iowa has a skilled workers shortage. Orr spoke passionately about his plan, dubbed Fort Iowa, which would aim to help attract returning veterans to the state. In short, and the plan is still in its infancy, Iowa would deliver a unified effort to deliver traditional veteran services and support while providing returning vets with a smooth transition into their new “assignment” - a job in Iowa. Here’s what I found interesting. Many of the vets don’t have houses, and many have been saving their money to buy one when they return. Based on talking with Orr after his speech, it seems the plan hinges on getting support from the Department of Defense (DOD). To get that, he needs buy-in from the business community, whose support could go a long way in convincing the DOD. Because of Iowa’s low unemployment rate and shortage of skilled workers, it sure seems like Iowa could be uniquely positioned to take advantage of the surplus of new talent. Just last fall, Business Record reporter Joe Gardyasz - who served in the Air Force, by the way - took an in-depth look at the efforts and programs that were in place or in the works to help get veterans hired. I’d recommend taking a read through it if you get a chance. If you want to be involved or want to learn more, I’m sure Orr would love to speak with your business. I’ll end with this. We had Orr on a Power Breakfast panel for leadership (see his advice and others including Paul Rhoads here), and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with him a handful of times before that and after. He made an impression on me the first time I heard him speak. He’s that kind of man. It’s why we had him on our leadership panel. In my opinion, you can rest assured knowing that our state’s veterans are in the stable hands of Gen. Orr. And, if things go his way, bringing a few thousand men and women like him to the state can only be a good thing for the future.

A lesson from Roman times
Orr confessed before speaking that he had confided to Partnership President Gene Meyer that he was a bit nervous about following Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) President Rob Denson. (More on that in a second.) Meyer’s advice apparently was inspired by the life of Julius Caesar. He told Orr, and I’m paraphrasing: Caesar conquered nations, led an empire and was beloved by many -- until he gave a speech that went a little too long and was subsequently stabbed in the back. Good lesson, Gene. I’m sure it put Orr at ease. 

Get him a gig at the Funny Bone
I mentioned Orr was nervous. That’s because he was due to follow the comedic stylings of Rob Denson. Apparently it’s a tradition for Denson to give his DMACC sponsorship speech on the Friday morning before flying back to Des Moines; the crowd often needs a pick-me-up following the previous night’s “networking” activities at The Dubliner. He didn’t disappoint. I learned this year that Denson drives semitrailer trucks for fun (see this photo shoot), but, I had no idea he had stand-up skills. Beyond being funny, I thought the way Denson mixed his sponsorship with humor was a great way to get his message - which was a passionate overview of all the things DMACC has going on - heard. All too often, sponsorship messages at events fall a bit short. His didn’t, and his message was heard. I wish I had recorded it to share - maybe next year. In the meantime, maybe we’ll ask him to do stand-up to warm up the crowd before our next Power Breakfast.

The senior housing question
One of the panels on the trip I attended centered on federal tools for housing and development projects. I left with two main thoughts (second one below). One, I wonder how prepared the metro area is to deal with housing for our aging population. Panelist Chris Bosen of Tiber Creek Associates of Capitol Hill strongly urged those in attendance to take a look at the demographics of the area. Today’s seniors don’t want the same housing options of yesterday’s seniors, and they are living longer. I know that we’ve seen quite a few senior living projects come online over the past few years, but I’m not sure whether that’s outside the norm. Here’s a look at a story from two years ago by reporter Kent Darr on senior housing. One quick fact from that story: According to the U.S. Census Bureau. 22.4 percent of the state’s total population in 2030 will be age 65-plus. That’s 663,186 seniors.

And, the YP housing question
My other takeaway came from a question asked by Carlisle Mayor Ruth Randleman, who was trying to identify whether results from a recent survey, which showed that young professionals weren’t buying homes, was a short-term or long-term trend. Marcea Hosay Barringer of NeighborWorks America pointed to real estate agents’ attitude studies that said those in the 18-30 age group still “aspired” to be homeowners. I think that’s true, but I wonder if there aren’t two psychological factors holding some in my generation back from buying a house. It used to be widely assumed that the value of your house would increase - it was an investment. People like me in the 18-30 age group lived through the economic and housing market collapse. I can’t help but think that could be scaring off potential home buyers. Purchasing a house can seem like a complicated process, and it doesn’t seem to be the same great, safe investment it used to be. With the way the job market has been, retaining the flexibility to move has been a necessity, and the need to find a buyer for your house can hamper that. For the second factor, I’ll quote a song from my youth by Less than Jake : “My American dream is to have it, a little bit better than my parents ever had it” (Click here if you must listen to the music of my punk rock days). I think the prospect for many of buying a house that isn’t quite up to the standard of living they had been used to can steer people away from home ownership. It’s a thought I often think about across a variety of areas, and inherently there is nothing wrong with wanting to be successful in life. But for the many who graduated with mountains of student debt and had been used to a certain quality of life living with their parents, a starter home might not seem all that attractive. Aspire is a good word. I aspire to own a home. I’m the exact person that should own a home currently - I’m recently married, we both have good jobs and even have a puppy who’d love a yard - but frankly as much as I hate paying rent, a house doesn’t seem like something I want to invest in - in the short-term.

17 and counting
It’s been nearly a week, and I still don’t think I’ve fully recovered from a group meal at a tapas restaurant - Jaleo - which was organized by the Des Moines Social Club’s Zachary Mannheimer. It was 17 courses and featured round after round of tapas that included foods ranging from a reconstituted olive, to sea urchin, to a skirt steak of ibérico pork. Besides the great food, what struck me was that at 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, the restaurant was still hopping and people were still walking in the door to eat. It’s a different culture in Washington, and you’d be hard pressed to find that in Des Moines.

Washington D.C. in 140 characters or less
Here’s five top tweets from the other reporters...err participants on the trip:

10TONYD May 10, 10:20am via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Happy trails Richard Bender! Thank you for the IA caucus & much more! Enjoy retirement! #DMDC2013

mbsellers May 10, 10:05am via Twitter for iPhone

#DMDC2013 - 3 good teachers put you on a good trajectory - 3 bad teachers will put you on a very different trajectory - Arnie Duncan

emileeann May 09, 2:17pm via Twitter for iPhone

Pentagon facts: 23,000 employees. 6.5 million square feet. #DMDC2013

May 09, 8:21am via Twitter for iPhone

A more bipartisan tone from our IA congressmen this year at #DMDC2013. Hope we see that in actions!

benbruns May 10, 10:08am via Twitter for iPhone

Per Arnie Duncan - US has a 25% dropout rate and we're 12th in the world in college graduates. Wow. #DMDC2013