Mental health. Diversity. Affordable housing. Transportation. 

These are just a few of the issues that our 2019 Forty Under 40 class, which was honored earlier this spring, believes our community needs to address to truly become a world-class city. 

Who better to envision the city's future than those striving each in their own way to lead us there.

All told, in this week's issue the honorees provide a peek into 40 issues and challenges that today's up-and-coming leaders say face the region.

I hope you enjoy their ideas and collective challenge for constant improvement.

- Chris Conetzkey, Publisher & Executive Editor of the Business Record

How do we open up the cultural-economic gates to showcase what all communities in Des Moines have to offer to the region? The coolest cities in the world tap into all communities and help them grow and flourish economically, which brings more money and tax dollars into the region. We need a game plan.

- Joshua V. Barr, director, Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission

For the business community to actively support fully funding Iowa’s judicial branch. A fully funded judiciary will help the courts provide access to justice for all Iowans and will allow specialty courts to continue to serve those with the greatest needs, including children and families.

- Caroline Bettis, corporate legal counsel, EMC Insurance Cos.

Recruiting young talent and retaining the talent we have in Central Iowa is very important to the growth of our city. All metro companies should be making it a top priority.

- Lindsay Black, director of corporate communications, Workiva

Balanced growth in our communities. Progress and growth are vital to keeping Des Moines strong, but we need to make sure growth is balanced with workforce and affordable housing. All members of our community should have the ability to find access to a place to call home. The same goes for our aging populations. We need to have an infrastructure that allows older adults a place they call home and allow them to stay in the communities they have lived in for years. 

- Matt Blake, director, government relations and membership services, LeadingAge Iowa

In my professional career, I’ve been an advocate for diversity for many years. Our workplaces are making great strides, following recognition that diversity adds to the bottom line. Central Iowa leaders (and voters) need to keep pace by striving for diversity on local boards, commissions and city councils. Diversity brings a new lens through which we can view our communities, a lens that could positively impact our priorities and decision-making.

- Shannon Bielski, chief legal officer, DLL Finance

I would like the business community to be more inclusive of immigrant and POC [person of color]-owned businesses in our community. We have such a vibrant community of restaurants and shops that aren’t always included in conversations about entrepreneurship and community development.

- Karla Bromwell, rational quality manager and compliance manager, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland

The cost of quality child care needs to be addressed. One of the hardest parts of dual-income families is finding someone to entrust with caring for your children. Fortunately, my husband and I were able to afford it once we found it. However, many families do not have this freedom. Leaders need to address the “cliff effect” impacting child care assistance, the tax treatment of child care costs, and even potentially increasing child care supplements.

- Mari Bunney, financial adviser, RBC Wealth Management

I think Central Iowa leaders need to continue to address the mental health needs of our community. I don’t necessarily have all the answers, but I do think it is time we raise awareness, educate, provide support and fight the stigma. 

- Lauren Burgeson, executive vice president, branch administration, Iowa State Bank

The No. 1 opportunity I’d like to see Central Iowa leaders address is ensuring we continue to attract the necessary talent to the state so we can meet the constantly changing needs of business in Iowa. There is currently a workforce shortage, and it must be addressed in order to keep the state growing. This emphasis will require investment and calculated focus on education and training. Economic and workforce development must be a priority for our leadership and business community.

- Jennifer Carruthers, owner/executive producer, 11 Eleven Productions

One issue I would like to see Central Iowa leaders address is that of growing our diversity and inclusion efforts in Central Iowa and throughout the state. I am thrilled to see how many organizations are embracing this issue as a strategic priority, like Dwolla, and I also can observe that we have a ways to go as there are many times I attend community events or participate in conversations that do not have diverse representation. More representation, diversity and inclusion only make organizations stronger. Even though Iowa may not be known for a diverse population, there is diversity all around us to celebrate and include to advance the growth and vitality of Iowa.

- Miriam De Dios Woodward, CEO, PolicyWorks

The issue that can use the support of Central Iowa leaders is the development of an educated and skilled workforce that meets the needs of businesses. Businesses are needing a reliable source of quality labor to come, stay and grow in Central Iowa. For the job force, access to good paying jobs will provide for them and their families. There is much going on the in community around this. However, more focus can be placed on education in financial literacy. Financial literacy education AND mastery for individuals is critical to the success of our community and well being. Involving the public school leaders along with college, business and nonprofit agencies can make a difference that would set apart Central Iowa from anywhere else.

- Kendra Erkamaa, owner and financial adviser, Triangle Financial Services 

Continue to provide additional transportation alternatives. From more flights in and out of the Des Moines airport to ride-sharing or to new technologies, let’s make sure our community is one of the easiest to get to and from as well as to go out and about in.

- Brandon Foldes, principal and CEO, Shyft Collective

There is a shortage of mental health providers in Central Iowa and around our state. I would like to see leaders focused on increasing resources, residency programs, and inpatient and outpatient services. Increased funding and support as well as partnerships from businesses and state appropriations are necessary to help overcome this dire situation.

- Stephanie Greiner, chief development officer, Des Moines University

I believe one extremely important focus area should be on attracting and retaining new, profitable businesses to Central Iowa. These businesses are game changers for our community and bring talented individuals to our region who provide new and diverse perspectives.

- Lydia Hornung, communications strategy and visitor services manager, John Deere Des Moines Works

Childhood obesity. Childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1980. A recent study ranks Iowa as the 10th-highest state in the nation for childhood obesity at 18 percent. As a mother, these statistics are alarming and have driven me to become involved with the Farm to Table committee for Waukee Schools, a program that works to provide a deeper connection between children and their food source. While many initiatives are underway, more needs to be done to ensure our children have access to healthy food choices and plenty of physical activity so they can go on to lead long, healthy and productive lives.

- Shelly Kopriva, account supervisor, Strategic America

Iowa’s child-welfare system — I’m passionate about this topic, and a policy change is critical. The recent cases in Iowa are heartbreaking. Taxpayers fund subsidies that can provide necessary income for loving foster families; that money also can supplement income to abusive parents. There needs to be stricter monitoring of registered home-schooled children and mandated medical/dental exams for adopted children. We have a responsibility to protect these children as we would our own.

- Angela Kruse, vice president, community outreach for consumer lending, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

One issue I would like Central Iowa leaders to address is the limited supply of safe, affordable housing for low-income individuals. A stable home helps individuals thrive, and for many in Central Iowa, this stability is out of reach. We need to normalize rent in relation to incomes, and get more people in permanent housing near their work, schools, church and family.

- Melissa Knutson, vice president, risk operations, NCMIC Group Inc. 

Single-use plastics have direct effects on wildlife. Animals mistake plastic for food or become entangled. Microplastics (broken-down plastic) pose an even greater threat. It’s time to curb our “throw away” culture. (And please don’t ever release balloons.)
Jessie Lowry, director of conservation and research, Blank Park Zoo

One issue I’d like to see the Central Iowa business community address is student debt.  Students are graduating with more debt than ever. Unfortunately, as students transition from education to employment their debt load impacts their opportunities and decision-making. I don’t believe there’s an easy solution, but I believe we’re all better off if we’re thinking about and addressing this issue. 

- Reed McManigal, account executive, Holmes Murphy

Business leaders must continue to think creatively about addressing the workforce issue. In order to grow our talent pool, we need to engage in quality of life projects. Investing in community initiatives that make our region the best place to live and play will give us an edge in recruiting a talented workforce.

- Joe Murphy, senior vice president of government relations and public policy, Greater Des Moines Partnership

I would like to see additional advanced manufacturing brought to Central Iowa. We have a passionate local workforce with an excellent work ethic and creative mindsets. We also have great infrastructure and incentives. When combined, I believe we are well-positioned to take on additional advanced manufacturing opportunities in Central Iowa.

- Hank Norem, president, Ramco Innovations

While ending homelessness seems far-fetched and out of reach for many people across our nation, it’s not for Iowa and surely not for Des Moines. We have been recognized by many outsiders, set trends and been looked at as a model community across the country. Why not for ending homelessness? We can do it, and it will take all of us as neighbors to serve others to make a measurable difference.

- Melissa O’Neil, CEO, Central Iowa Shelter & Services

We need to somehow overcome the idea that Iowa is a boring place to live. To do that, we need to be innovative to make sure we don’t become boring and we need to tell the story. Water trails and other attractions are going to be great – the next step will be to tell people about them. I love hearing about conferences that have chosen Des Moines as their location: They stimulate the local economy and give attendees the opportunity to experience all that we have to offer. We need to tell the story.

- Robert Palmer, general counsel and director of government affairs, Iowa League of Cities

Opportunity equity for Central Iowa youth. The demographics of all of our communities are changing, and while that often brings opportunity, it also brings disparity. Within the urban core and throughout the suburbs, entire populations of young people are missing opportunities because they do not have access, transportation or mentors. Central Iowa leaders are a hotbed of varied backgrounds, experience and abilities, positioned perfectly to address this issue.

- Lara Plaisance, attorney, McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips

Expand access to higher education and health care.

- Matt Romkey, vice president, enrollment and external engagement, Mercy College of Health Sciences

I would like to see Central Iowa leaders focus on mental health. With 

1 in 5 adult Americans experiencing a mental illness, we need to work together to raise awareness of this important topic.

- Teresa Roof, public relations manager, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield

Learn about the educational system and its existing resources to discover strategic ways to build a stronger Iowa. Many initiatives are seeking to fill the skills gap to develop skilled employees for open positions. However, to achieve that, industry must start engaging at the K-12 education level. Find out how your business can partner with the school to increase educational resources and initiatives and to show existing opportunities available in Iowa.

- Emily Schmitt, general counsel, Sukup Manufacturing Co. 

The shortage of skilled labor is an important issue that needs to be addressed. Without new electricians, plumbers and other necessary construction workers coming into the workforce, prices for homes, apartments and commercial spaces will rise. To help revive the industry, it is important to attract and retain new skilled workers. This means showing the benefits of the construction industry to younger generations and ensuring that their talents are fostered and properly trained.

- Jennifer Schumann, senior counsel, real estate, BH Equities

Des Moines is a wonderful city to live in – especially if you look like me. However, there are serious economic and racial disparities that we’re not talking about. Read the “One Economy Report”; it will tell you everything you need to know. People of color, specifically black people, are not given the opportunities to succeed in Des Moines like many of us. In order for Iowa to be truly great, we need to address this.

- Gina Skinner-Thebo, human resources manager, B&G Foods/Tone’s Spices

Affordability of living in our community. Let’s focus on the top three expenses: housing, transportation and child care. If we can create a community that has quality, low-cost options for these three areas, we will be the place people will want to work, raise their children and call home.

- Katie Stull, human resources consulting partner, Principal Finacial Group

I would challenge leaders in Central Iowa to find innovative ways to share some of the success and recognition we have had with more rural parts of our state so they are not left behind.

- Jeremiah Terhark, CEO, Webspec Design

Roughly 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted. With Central Iowa’s growing food scene and thriving farmers market, we’re well-poised to serve as a national model in combating hunger through increased food recovery by engaging restaurants, hotels, caterers, event planners, grocery stores and others to donate surplus food so it feeds the hungry instead of going to waste. Eat Greater Des Moines’ ChowBank app provides a great platform to connect the two.

- Nora Tobin, executive director, Self-Help International

I would like to see Central Iowa leaders focus on attracting and retaining top business talent to the state. We need to ensure that there is a pipeline of workers available so that Central Iowa can reach its full potential.

- Matthew Van Loon, Ryan Cos. US Inc.

Renewed energy and enthusiasm for meaningful public-private partnerships to continue developing our built environment and network of common green spaces — trails, parks, playgrounds and waterways. We’ve seen tremendous strides toward making Central Iowa more active through programs like Healthy Hometown powered by Wellmark and the Greater Des Moines water trails master plan, but we all have a role to play, personally and professionally, in ensuring the vitality of our communities for generations to come.

- Chris Verlengia, senior brand marketing manager, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield

There is lots of educational support for small business, but I would love to see the corporate entities dig in a little deeper to this environment. Example: Large-scale C-suite executives sharing resources, education and support with small-scale CEOs. Let’s encourage our “small business” to stop thinking small and start thinking about scale, impact and sustainable profitability. 

- Whitney Warne, chief empowerment officer, Ivory House Photography, and co-founder of Brand Launch

Poverty. It’s an unfortunate reality that while the Des Moines community is continually heralded as one of the best places to live, 1 in 5 Central Iowa children goes to bed hungry every night. This is caused by a multitude of factors, from the unavailability of affordable housing to rising health care costs and a minimum wage that has failed to keep up with inflation. With our abundant resources, our state, local and business leaders should prioritize the fight against poverty. Combating poverty benefits us all. A rising tide lifts all boats. 

- Emily Webb, in-house counsel, Businessolver

I agree with this organization’s vision. … The Street Collective of Greater Des Moines envisions a region where everyone can walk, pedal, ride or roll comfortably throughout the entire community. To achieve this, the collective champions transportation options that are accessible, safe and enjoyable for everyone.

- Tyler Weig

Teach the next generation to be creators of technology, not just consumers. Most of us use technology every day to run our businesses, communicate with others and be more productive. Technology is growing, and it’s important for those who use it to know how to create it as well and understand its inner workings.

- Tyler Wyngarden, vice president of development, Technology Association of Iowa

I would love to see Central Iowa leaders combine efforts more. Each leader and/or company brings different strengths, skills and experiences to the table and could potentially accelerate progress finding solutions with a collective intelligence approach. Purposefully building these relationships would help both profit and nonprofit organizations do better for our communities overall.

- Mee Yang-Lee, senior director of human resources consulting office, Principal Financial Group

Central Iowa has great momentum in our efforts to make our community a destination to live, work and play. We must not take our foot off the gas. As leaders we have to continue to invest in the communities we live in. It starts with making our schools some of the best in the nation and providing opportunities for young people to grow and thrive in our community.

- Jessica Zaugg, associate vice president, small commercial underwriting, Nationwide Insurance