Posted January 20, 2011 by the Business Record

Des Moines has outlined the good and the bad; the next step is to make a plan, officials said at a public meeting on Wednesday.

Alex Pearlstein, director of projects with Atlanta-based Market Street Services Inc., and Ellen Anderson, director of research with the firm, laid out the most important points of a 184-page competitive capacity assessment to a group of about 130 people at the Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center.

The study is part of the Capital Crossroads initiative, a community visioning effort led by local leaders and chaired by Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Co-President Cara Heiden and Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines President J. Barry Griswell.

The initial study involved a public survey in which nearly 4,000 people participated, 30 focus groups and 50 one-on-one interviews with local leaders. Those results will be used by the 50-member steering committee to lay out plans for future community and economic development.

“This is your plan. This is your process,” Pearlstein told the crowd. “We have never worked in a community when a plan is not successful if there was that buy-in from the community to move it forward. When this plan is completed, that really is just the end of the beginning of Capital Crossroads.”

The survey covered a wide range of topics, making it hard to pick out one or two underlying themes. Important points include:

  • Finance and insurance is the region’s most concentrated employment sector, leading some to believe greater economic diversification would help in the event of a downturn in that sector.
  • Young professionals are staying in Des Moines. The city fared better than Denver, Austin, Nashville, Indianapolis, Omaha and Minneapolis in a separate young professionals index study used in the report. Now the city needs to find more ways to get them involved and give them a reason to brag to their friends in other cities, Pearlstein said.
  • Des Moines Independent Community School District enrollments have gone down while those in surrounding towns have gone up. Des Moines public schools have the lowest graduation rates and proficiency percentages in standardized tests of all metro-area schools.
  • Respondents stressed the desire to find ways to form better economic partnerships with surrounding towns and organizations such as Ames and Iowa State University.
  • Overall, “Greater Des Moines’ community trajectory is on a definite upswing,” the report said. However, the region is often seen as a community of “corn and cows,” which many feel doesn’t accurately reflect Central Iowa.

The floor was opened up for public comment after the presentation. Most comments were questions about the survey, but West Des Moines resident John Norwood challenged the committee to make sure regional and economic growth was “good growth” and not growth for growth’s sake.

“Ellen and I are going to Atlanta next week, and we could take you with us and show you sort of an after picture of how not to plan,” Pearlstein quipped.

The final plan will be released at a public meeting in May. Then comes the hard part.

“Ultimately it will be the responsibility of everyone in this region to ensure that all the work that’s gone into developing this plan is not for naught and it gets implemented,” Pearlstein said.