Thank you, Danny Beyer. And yes, I realize this section is titled for Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham, but it’s not a misprint.

If not for the networking prowess of Beyer - a 2014 Forty Under 40 honoree and one of our bloggers on the topic of networking - I likely would not have attended a January West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce luncheon that featured Durham. I’ll circle back to the all-star networker in a bit, but first Durham.

Between her West Des Moines chamber speech and her pinch-hit effort at the Iowa Business Council’s annual meeting when Gov. Terry Branstad fell ill earlier in the day, I took away a number of interesting points to highlight. Here’s what I learned:

Ready, set, grow

One of Durham’s biggest concerns is that Iowa is losing deals because we aren’t ready for growth. She shared a story about a city that called saying they were upset with her because she hadn’t brought them any leads. Upon further examination, the city had just two sites for her to show: a 60-acre site that wasn’t ready for develop, and an old Wal-Mart it was hoping (rather loftily she said) that it would be a distribution center. “If you are not ready, I can’t bring deals,” she said. Being ready for growth is a common theme and concern we’re hearing on a variety of fronts and in a variety of industries, especially as the economy continues to heat up. And that leads us to the next point...

Coming home

Iowa’s total population is remaining stagnant, and the biggest concern we’re hearing right now is the steady drumbeat of employers, economists and business groups recounting the struggle to find skilled workers, both now and into the future. Iowa’s population could be one of the largest barriers to growth in the state. Durham spoke of the need to birth more babies, but of course, that’s a longer-term proposition. In the meantime, strategies to increase the net overall migration into the state are in focus. IEDA’s plan is to target former Iowans - specifically kids that have left the state - and try to bring them home. Durham hinted at a plan from her agency that businesses would be hearing about in the future. On the bright side, momentum might be on Iowa’s side. In the most recent Iowa Business Council report, Iowa’s net overall migration between 2012 and 2013 was 4,814, good for 27th in the country. Room for improvement, sure, but that ranking is eight spots better than in the prior year. Here’s more information about population trends from our Population Issue last fall.  (IBC report)

Homebase Iowa

Speaking of coming home, the Homebase Iowa program - the state’s effort to help veterans find jobs - is the latest example of Iowa setting the tone and leading on a national level. Durham presented about the success of the program at the National Governors Association event in Nashville, and has been fielding calls to help other states take the same comprehensive approach. Principal Financial Group Inc. CEO Larry Zimpleman reported that the program will likely surpass the goal it set of hiring 2,500 veterans by 2018. The number hired so far was just shy of 900 at the end of January. 

Selling Iowa

Although the IEDA investment portfolio is approximately 80 percent is devoted to Iowa-based companies, it’s continuing to pursue out-of-state businesses. In fact, Durham shared that IEDA is doing a direct-mail marketing campaign that’s targeting 2,500 businesses. The effort involves sending a series of provocative questions such as “Are you having trouble with water supply?” Then at the conclusion, it sends a “magic eight ball” essentially saying you can find all the answers in Iowa. Durham said that “Hell yes Iowa” was her preference, but, she lamented, she wasn’t allowed to use that phrase. IEDA is also sending copies of Forbes magazines to targeted companies with a wrap that features Iowa CEOs on the Forbes cover. It was so popular, IEDA plans to do it again for six months. 

Freight optimization study

Durham has a new tool, one she claims no other state economic director in the United States has, that she is using to target out-of-state businesses. She shared that IEDA and the Iowa Department of Transportation have been collaborating in a number of areas. The two organizations used big data and worked together on a freight optimization study that shows the location of every piece of freight that is moving in and out of the state and where it is going to market. She showed a messy, albeit informational, regional map with all the lines of freight drawn onto it. As an example of utilization, she said they could see that many of the lines were going to a small town in Minnesota that was processing cereal grain from Iowa. They are now pitching that company the cost savings of moving to Iowa, closer to where its product comes from. The data also allows IEDA to work with the railroads to suggest places where investments could be made off the main line.

More online...

In the online version of this story, you’ll find two additional takwaways. One about Durham hinting at a possible program to target former Iowans in an effort to bring them home. Another updating the progress of the Homebase Iowa program - the state’s effort to help veterans find jobs - and how it’s garnering national attention. 

Networking with Style

I met Beyer, the director of sales and marketing at Kabel Business Services, for coffee at the end of 2014. Nobody networks like Beyer, and though I do all the time, I wanted to better understand why and how he networks like he does. I wound up interested enough to read his new, and first, book “The Ties That Bind: Networking With Style.” The book features a range of advice and tips - many based on his blog posts on - but in particular, it’s a nice entree into networking for up-and-coming young business leaders looking to build a foundation or those hoping to hone their skills. But the core of what he wrote helped put the word “networking,” which everyone talks about and knows is essential, into a different frame of reference for me. Beyer talks about the rule of reciprocation. At the heart of effective networking is a belief in reciprocation. People want to repay kindness with kindness. Beyer ends all of his meetings with some variation of “How can I help you?” He then leverages the connections he has to help. From a selfish perspective, though he likely wouldn’t spell it out like this, reciprocation is bound to come in some form in the future. He asked me how he could help me, and I requested an opportunity to observe him networking in his natural habitat - hence, the West Des Moines chamber event. His book is available at Reciprocation complete.

A tip from Suku

It’s widely known that Bankers Trust Co. President and CEO Suku Radia networks so much he doesn’t sleep, and that he routinely meets with anyone who asks. Here’s a good quote from Radia in Beyer’s book on that philosophy. “The first meeting is free. You have to earn the second.” Radia is far from the only one in Des Moines with this philosophy, but it’s one of the things that makes this community so easy to network in.