It’s Time to Pay It Forward, Des Moines

Des Moines, it's time to "pay it forward".
Des Moines, it’s time to “pay it forward”.

Today, the city of Des Moines received another glowing accolade, this time from the Kansas City Star.

Over the past few years and recently, publications, notable well-known people, and a good part of the nation have taken notice on how nice, progressive, and promising Des Moines is.

“We come a long way, baby”* indeed.

As I read the article by Edward M. Eveld, a light bulb went off in my head.

“For as much accolades we have received here in Des Moines, isn’t time we started to give accolades and shot-outs to other places and towns in Iowa?”

Des Moines may be the biggest city in the state, but the rest of Iowa is what helps Des Moines get on a lot of list of “great cities” to live, work, entertain, and visit.

The best creative minds and superstar talent didn’t all grow up in Des Moines. They came from different cities and small towns across Iowa. They saw the promise of what Des Moines and Iowa could be.

The resiliency of Des Moines mirrors the rest of the state. Twenty years ago this summer, Des Moines was underwater. At that same time, Davenport was underwater as well. Five years ago, Cedar Rapids faced the same situation.

All three of them took a page from the rest of the state: you don’t quit…we will survive and get back on our feet.


The push to buy local isn’t just a moniker. It’s a fact. Buying local isn’t totally inside the city limits. It’s the surrounding areas and across the state. We believe in promoting our neighbors and friends, far and wide.

Des Moines and Iowa are tied to the hip most of the time. When Des Moines gets noticed, the rest of Iowa gets noticed as well. That’s a unique spot to be in. You hardly see New York State get noticed when New York City gets mentioned.

With today’s accolade in the Kansas City Star, I’ll be in the minority when I say this: I’m giving a shout-out to all of my fellow Iowans outside of Des Moines. They deserve some accolades as well. It’s time for the city I live in to “pay it forward” and let the rest of the world know about our state, the places, cities, towns, and events that make Iowa just as cool and hip as Des Moines.

*- credit to Virigina Slims for the usage of their famous slogan.


In Search of…an Identity

Mike Draper’s column in Juice tripped my trigger on something that I’ve put off writing about.

I’ve been a Des Moines resident for 15 years. I didn’t grow up here, left the state, and came back, like Draper did. I’m from Waterloo, went to Wartburg College, and came here after college. And yet, I’m still an outsider to some of the locals, because I’m not a native of Des Moines.

Mike noted in his column that no one who visited his store during the Division I wrestling tournament was there for the tournament. Is it me or do I think that the customers Mike polled were local folks that didn’t care much for the wrestling tournament?

No wonder why I feel like an outsider. I was happy as hell to have the tournament here.

If there is one thing that sticks out to me about living here and that is how much a sizable number of locals are indifferent about things and events that people outside of Des Moines are interested in.

This is how a good number of people who live in Des Moines view the Iowa State Fair, high school tournaments, and other events that take place in their city…with a healthy dose of apathy. (

The majority of people who attend the Iowa State Fair, the high school state tournaments, and the Drake Relays, to name a few, are not from Des Moines. A good number of DSM residents do not care for these events, much less be bothered by them. The longer I’ve lived here, the more accurate it is, at least in my mind.

There’s so many other things to do here, which is great and healthy. But let’s not get in the habit of dismissing things that help bring recognition and respect for our city. The wrestling tournament was a good thing for Des Moines. To say that it’s not, is delusional at best.

I was put off by Draper’s comment towards the CVB, the Partnership, and the business community, in the way they are trying to attract people to Des Moines, with his veiled shot by calling the wrestling tournament a useless folly that Des Moines didn’t need.

I think he’s wrong to assert that Des Moines doesn’t deserve to host the wrestling tournament again.

St. Louis and Philadelphia are larger than Des Moines. Secondly, their arenas are built for professional teams and leagues.The Scottrade Center holds 19,260. The Philly Wells Fargo Center holds 19,500.  Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena holds 16,980. Just because Des Moines didn’t get over 100,000 (96,000) fans during all six sessions of the wrestling tournament, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Des Moines blew their one and only chance. Hell, 96,000 is better than zero.

For years, the Iowa State Fair couldn’t crack 1 million in attendance. I don’t see no one calling for the State Fair to pack up and leave.

Yes, Mike, people come for the experience. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s why they are “visitors” for a reason. To experience Des Moines. You shouldn’t be offended by that.

Now, let’s get to the heart of Draper’s column.

Draper is correct when he says that Des Moines needs to utilize its natural strengths. The question is: what are these strengths besides financial services and agriculture? Are we not trying to break out of the stereotypical mold of insurance and corn?

I have attested in the past that Des Moines is searching for an identity to cultivate and grow.

Just like humans, a city in search of an identity have to go through a lot of shifting and shuffling before it finds what they are good at. (

It’s getting tiresome trying to be the next Omaha, Kansas City, Twin Cities, and Chicago. They have their own identities. They have went through the growing pains of finding what works for them.

There is no quick, painless way to naturally develop an identity. It’ll take a many face plants, mistakes, hits and misses, and a few good things to build an identity. Unfortunately, that isn’t good enough for some folks, who think Des Moines should be a midwestern cosmopolitan that would rival Minneapolis and Chicago.

I think we’re doing just fine…as long as we continue to evolve, tweak, poke and prod.

Des Moines is a work in progress. It’s identity will change throughout time, so will these natural strengths that Mike Draper touts.

Des Moines is the city that fits me. Not Chicago, New York, or Dallas. Not too small and not too big. It’s just right.

I like my art and my RAYGUN shirt as much as I like my wrestling.

The Stranger At The Party

My Pandora radio has to have Hall and Oates in it. (Courtesy of

“We like to be the strangers at the party, two rebels in a shell.”

Hall and Oates

We’ve all been there before.  The feeling of being the stranger at a party you were invited to, and yet don’t feel like you belong.  The feeling that you’re in the middle…of nowhere, when it comes to being accepted or welcomed in the social world.

There is a quote that Mary Bontrager at the Greater Des Moines Partnership always uses when it comes to networking;  “it’s not who you know, but who knows you.”

Boy is that true, especially for introverts.

Not too long ago, I attended a charity gala to support an acquaintance of mine and what her organization does.  I was getting over a flu bug which plugged up my ears to the point where I had to ask them repeat what they said louder.

Being the quiet observer that I am, I usually pick up on characterisitcs and behavior of people.  That’s what listeners and introverts do.  We pick our spots.

What I found may not be of interest to you, but I find it to be intriguing to me.

What I’ve noticed is a good number of social circles in Des Moines need to work on being more welcoming to people who are feeling out of place, and who could benefit from a smile, a handshake, and a some small talk at cocktail parties, galas, and other events.

I’m not going to lie.  I felt invisible at the gala.  It’s a deflating feeling when CEOs brush past you to say hello to your friend and ignore you, movers and shakers hanging out with their own kind, up-and-comers chatting it up, and you’re the one person that is trying to make inroads and connections, and coming up empty.

"Alone in a Crowd" by Hank Weber (Aurora Gallery of Vancouver, Washington)

I felt like a fish out of water…a cup of water.

Most introverts are not going to bum-rush a group and introduce themselves in order to get attention.  Nor are we going to do outrageous things to get eyeballs.  But it would be nice if the socialites, the VIPs, and the social circles of Des Moines do a better job of making outsiders feel comfortable, rather than pulling the “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” on them.

People love to be the life of the party, but many of them would prefer to feel welcomed and not be invisible.

“Really New York?!” No, “Really Des Moines?!”

The "Sign" that is getting Des Moinesians in a tizzy (Andrea Laug)

See this sign above?  This was taken on May 21, 2011, by Andrea Laug.  Andrea is a great friend of mine.  She moved to New York City two years to take a job at a salon after graduating from Aveda in West Des Moines.  She posted this picture on her Facebook page.  I sarcastically posted a comment saying “Booo!” in jest.  I thought it was funny.

Apparently for a few folks in Des Moines, they don’t see it that way.

In fact, this sign is a non-story, but it is a story because some Des Moinesians can’t help but to act offended.  Note I didn’t write “feel offended.”  Feel and act are different actions.

New Yorkers have been known to be the brunt of jokes longer than Iowa has been a state (okay, I’m stretching that a bit).  For as much crap as they get, if anyone saw a similar sign and it had “New York” and not “Des Moines” on there, their response would be “fugetaboutit!”  Most New Yorkers would scoff or laugh at it, and then brush it off and go on with their lives.

Des Moines, on the other hand…

…is acting like someone walked up to them and asked if their Mom was a Cougar.

“Really, New York?!”

No, “Really, Des Moines?!” Do we have to overreact to everything emotionally?  Hell, I have a bigger issue on how the headline was written on Radio Iowa‘s blog.  Then again, I’m no journalist or headline writer. 

Sorry, but I don’t buy the notion that NYC was dogging us out.  In fact, it helps Des Moines and its profile.  How many New Yorkers have heard of Des Moines, outside of every four years when the caucuses roll into town?  Secondly, as Suzanne Hull pointed out to me while I was writing this, “No P.R. is good P.R..”  I have good friends who offered their comments to this story on different sites.  I could not disagree with them more on this.  That sign was not put up to “intentionally” demean Des Moines.  To suggest that it is, I think it’s ludicrious. 

If you can’t laugh at yourself and let this go, then that’s a “you” problem, as ESPN’s Colin Cowherd would say. 

This “story” is an non-issue.  Des Moines, take a chill pill and relax.  We are who we are.  Much like New Yorkers, you take it or leave it.  They don’t care if you don’t like them, but they sure as hell wouldn’t be stopping in their tracks and whine about it.

Let it go.

Plus, Andrea should get credit for finding the sign first and then taking a picture of it. 

Role Reversal


Ben Milne of Dwolla. Watch the video of his talk from the BIZ Luncheon.


“I’m the dumbest guy in the room.”

Ben Milne, CEO of Dwolla


Growing up, I was always the “smartest guy in the class”.  I knew more about current events, sports, and miscellaneous facts than all of the other kids in school.  One classmate asked if she could have my brain so she could pass her social studies test.

Today, I wonder if being “the smartest guy in the room” means anything anymore.  Being the smartest guy meant following a script:  get all A’s in school, go to college, get a job, get married, move up the ladder, start a family, make money, yada yada yada.

It was always the “you have to do this, if you want to get to here” road to success.

That script, which I was told to follow and I followed it because it was “the right thing to do” has made me “the dumbest guy in the room.”  I cut myself off from trying or doing different things because someone told me that my dreams and passion was stupid.  I was told to go into a career field that I was never “felt smart” in.  I am an analytical sort of fellow, never creative or imaginative.

I was told to use my smarts to get ahead and succeed.  Oh, I worked hard, but I overworked, stressed myself out, and was never given credit for anything. I felt dumb, used, and washed up.

Bill Gates dropped out of college.  A few others took a detour path and found their drive and motivation.

Sitting and listening to Ben last week talk about how he started selling speakers from his couch to creating Dwolla has made me wished I wasn’t so “smart.”

Because Ben isn’t the dumbest guy in the room.  He’s the most intelligent, humble, and brightest guy in the room.

He didn’t follow that stupid script.  I was the dummy who did.

The Capital City at the Crossroads?


What will the Des Moines skyline look like in 2015?

The Community Foundation of Des Moines and the Greater Des Moines Partnership have launched a initiative to develop of a new five-year vision strategy for the Golden Circle/Greater Des Moines (or Capital) region called “Capital Crossroads.”

The initiative have stated that there are challenges to address, despite the region’s overall quality of life being very good. Economics, employment, and services appears to be the target on the radar for this Capital Crossroads initiative.

At this point, I raise a practical question.  What are we lacking that will make the Golden Circle better and keep pace with other areas?  We hear so much about how great it is to live here, being able to do so many things, and getting involved in the community, but we need more stuff to make it better?

What “big” thing do we need to put the Golden Circle area over the top? Is there a quest to overtake Chicago, Kansas City, and Omaha, as the jewel of the Midwest?

Or is it the little things that need the help more than the big things?  After all, the little cogs in the wheel are the ones that moves the entire operation.

I don’t know a lot about this project because it is in the initial stages of capturing (gathering) information and opinions from citizens about what direction this area will go in the next five years.  There are a lot of heavy hitters who are on board with putting together a master plan.

I’m no shill, but if you want to take the survey and weigh in with your opinions and ideas, here is the link and feel free to type away.

Oh, by the way, what are we calling this region?  Is it still the Golden Circle?  Is it Greater Des Moines?  Or is the “capital region” that the initiative is referring this as?

I’m confused.


Projects are good…as long as we stay “afloat”

This week, 160 Des Moines area business and government leaders head out to Washington, D.C. to lobby for financial funding for projects that will enhance the quality of life. The Register has a special section on the next several years that Des Moines will face, address, and do.

There are numerous concepts and plans that our leaders want to address and put into action…

-Building a DART transit hub

-extending Amtrak service to connect Des Moines to Omaha (and wipe out the southern Iowa routes like Creston, Burlington, and Ottumwa?)

-$9 million to complete the Principal Riverwalk

…and other projects that are good and amazing to have.

Let me suggest one project that should be on the group’s high priority list and must be done:

Let's not have this happen again...

Recognize this area?  It’s the Birdland Park area.  This is the marina in the picture above.  Getting new stuff via federal money is all well and good, but the biggest impact is doing what we can to secure funding to prevent the Birdland area, downtown, Four Mile Creek, and other areas from being underwater again.

People shouldn’t lose their homes and their hopes of having something done to prevent another “flood of the century” only to be followed by another major flood (1993 and 2008, respectively).

It was disappointing that the Des Moines Register didn’t have the Birdland levee project on their poll of what is the most important project that needs to be done.