The hot baths of Des Moines

It seems silly to compare Des Moines to a hot bath. As I write this, it’s 8 degrees - 40 degrees below the average November high.

I was one of the emcees at the 2014 Celebrate Business and Economic Impact Awards on Nov. 12, and as always, I left the event with a number of interesting takeaways. I’ll start, however, with the guy who used his acceptance speech to pass along a few key nuggets of wisdom from an outsider’s perspective - a really far outsider’s perspective.

Shashi Menon, a native of India, arrived in Des Moines in 2006. He’s the managing partner and co-founder, along with Jim Ramm, of EcoEngineers, a small business that provides compliance and market access solutions to the renewable energy industry. We wrote about the company back in late 2013:

Menon, like many newcomers, received the same sort of questions after his move to Des Moines from quizzical family, friends and relatives: “Is it all corn?” “Does it always snow?” “How’s Ohio?” 

But I thought Menon’s assessment of how he described the region to them was spot-on:

“I always tell them that Des Moines grows on you. I tell them it is like a hot bath. Once you get over you initial apprehension, you dip your toe in and then get in, you just relax. And you appreciate how beautiful it is to be here.”

I’ll be incorporating that metaphor into my own attempts to sway outsiders.

Menon shared three of the things he has been most surprised by since arriving.

Asian food: He praised the quantity and quality of the Asian restaurants in the area and said that Des Moines has more variety than his previous home in Chicago. High praise, and I agree. Try my favorite, Wasabi Tao on Fourth and Walnut Streets. I suggest the Paradise Roll, but I promise you can’t go wrong.

Salsa dancing: That’s a new one to me, but apparently the salsa dancing scene is top-notch. Jay Byers told me in confidence he loves to dance the Macarena on Fridays. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that isn’t true salsa. Ok, that’s a joke.  But the thought does give me a chuckle.

The workforce: No surprise there; you all know what type of workers we have here. But it’s nice to hear the reinforcement from the outside.

Near the end of the event, Clint Dudley, owner of Shade Tree Auto LLC, poked a bit of fun at an earlier assertion from Menon that EcoEngineers might be the smallest company at the event.

“I think we’ll arm wrestle for being smallest company here today, although we are only joining you in the hot bath metaphorically.” Frankly, I can’t feel my toes. So, I’ll join you, Menon.

Transplants on Display

Menon wasn’t the only “Iowa captive” at the event. Fidelity & Guaranty Life’s Chris Littlefield (Cleveland), myself (Chicago area), Holmes Murphy & Associates Inc.’s Dan Keough (also repping Chicago), and if not for Menon, the transplant from the farthest away would have been Simpson College’s Rosemary Link (England). I have more, but I should probably start a file. If you need some testimonials for Des Moines, ask a transplant. Just don’t ask my wife (Florida) right now; the weather is affecting her mood a bit.

The first data center

Facebook Inc., which held a ribbon cutting for its new data center in Altoona last week, and was honored as part of the Nov. 12 awards ceremony. That didn’t stop LightEdge Solutions Inc. Vice President of Sales TJ Bangs from letting the room know that his company, which has operated for 18 years, is actually responsible for the first data center in Altoona. LightEdge Solutions, which is a leader in Midwest data center development, received an award directly after Facebook, and Bangs poked some fun at the social media giant: “They are on the map now, but we were first, so thank you very much.” Bangs shared that LightEdge planned to expand into five new markets in the next five years.

Des Moines: French for The Moines

Since it was my first time emceeing, as some sort of rite of passage, the first company I had to introduce was French-based Norbert Dentressangle. Yeah, you try to pronounce that six times. I didn’t. I changed the script to read “the company” throughout. Fun fact: I only got one D in grade school, and French was the subject. The company - ha - recently acquired Jacobson Cos. and announced a 30,000-square-foot expansion project at its Clive location. In case you are curious, it’s pronounced Norbehr-dahn-treh-sah. My attempt at the pronunciation went all right, but it prompted Byers to say I needed to buy the popular Raygun shirt that reads “Des Moines: French for The Moines.”

Quick hits

• The Greater Des Moines Partnership, and it’s more than 5000 members, just learned it is now the fourth-largest chamber organization. We’re the 91st-largest metropolitan statistical area.

• ReWall Co. CEO Jan Rayman talked about what he called the “ReWallution.” ReWall, which recycles cups, cartons and other components into building materials, won the innovation award. It’s a cool company that we wrote about them recently:

• CDS Global Inc. employee relations manager John Noll said the company, which traditionally supported the magazine industry but now supports brands across multiple industries, touches one of two people in the United States. They won the best-kept secret award in the large business category. 

• Speaking of secrets, it’s always the category at this event that makes me cringe a bit. I always hope we’ve written about the company. Help us out. Do you know an innovative company flying under the radar? Let me know.

• It’s no secret Des Moines has been winning a variety of awards. What’s the most important of those? Byers pointed to the Forbes ranking of the Best City for Young Professionals in 2011 and again in 2014.