Bethany Wilcoxon Thrives on Putting the Pieces Together
Published October 14, 2014 by the Des Moines Register
Bethany Wilcoxon’s career in Des Moines is built on taking a step back and seeing the forest for the trees.
The Greater Des Moines Partnership tapped Wilcoxon in early September as the strategic coordinator for Capital Crossroads, the multiyear vision plan for central Iowa.
In that role, she’s responsible for coordinating the efforts of more than 500 volunteers and 10 different “capitals,” or areas of focus, such as work in downtown Des Moines.
“I always like to use the analogy of when I was a child, I loved doing puzzles,” Wilcoxon said. “Now … it’s kind of taking that to a whole new level, figuring out how all of these different pieces fit together, how we can get stuff to move forward (and) continue to build on the great momentum that we’ve had with so much going on in the community over so many years.”
A native of southwest Iowa, Wilcoxon moved to Des Moines five years ago, almost to the day.
“I thought, ‘OK, I’ll be here a couple of years, go see the world,’ ” she said. “Well, five years later, I’m still here and it’s just an exciting time to be in central Iowa.”
Wilcoxon spoke with the Register about what she’s been working on and what has kept her in central Iowa.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: These first six weeks I’ve been doing a lot of listening sessions, just understanding where people are. … The communication is a big piece, just keeping people in the loop, making sure that it is all moving forward, we’re all moving in the same direction.
There are a lot of different opportunities for those capitals to work together, but in the past there hasn’t been anyone to bridge that divide, so to speak.
Q: That seems like a very daunting task. How do you tackle that?
A: You just jump in. … The most important thing is that our region is being aggressive and not just sitting back and saying, “OK, we’ve done all these things, earned all these top rankings, we’re fine now.” We want to continue to push that envelope. …
We just have to capitalize on everything that is continuing to go on … really just leveraging those opportunities as they come along and making sure we’re plugging the right people, the right groups, into them so we can really get the most bang for our buck.
Q: In those listening sessions, what are some issues people have brought up that you are trying to address?
A: I think we will be more aggressive in going after some funding opportunities, but it’s a very competitive climate out there. I think if we’re able to cross-pollinate across these capitals, we can make a more compelling case (for funding).
Q: Is there a specific project that you’re really excited about?
A: It’s really dependent on the capital, what is going to be important at that time. I do see the greenways (linear parks along rivers or other water bodies) as a big opportunity for us, just cutting across so many capitals, knowing that has been on our radar for so many years. … It’s just been something that we haven’t been able to get wrapped around as a region. … It gives people a chance to see the wonderful community and state that we have.
Q: What kept you in Des Moines?
A: First, just having wonderful opportunities with my career. … Then, just looking at everything that this area has to offer.
For a city planner, we’re not Portland (Ore.), where everything is already done, we’re not the Austins (Texas) of the world. There’s still a lot of opportunity for us. I think that’s a very exciting piece, and you really can get involved and make that difference.
Q: In the five years that you’ve been here, what have you seen change?
A: I would say one big thing is just the mentality of people around here. Maybe it was starting to change in the last five years, but now people are so proud of our community, there’s this great civic pride.
I remember when I first moved here, there would be two or three events on a weekend night and I could make an appearance at all of them. Now, there’s just no way, there’s just so much going on.
People who say Des Moines is boring just need to get out more.
Title: Capital Crossroads strategic coordinator with the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Previously worked with the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Tomorrow Plan.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in community and regional planning from Iowa State University, 2008. Geographic information systems certificate from Iowa State University, 2009.