Kaity Patchett’s first week as executive director of the Central Iowa region’s Capital Crossroads initiative was “appropriately overwhelming and extremely exciting.”

The 35-year-old said she is meeting key players and taking a deep dive into the Central Iowa regional initiative’s history and 2024 report “Central Iowa’s Roadmap to Opportunity and Prosperity of All.”

The 12-year-old collaboration among regional organizations, city governments, school districts, nonprofits and residents announced Patchett’s hire on Jan. 10 in tandem with its latest report and multiyear initiative.

According to the report, the goal of the roadmap, initially called by organizers Capital Crossroads 3.0, is to bring local leaders together and produce tangible outcomes for what are considered Central Iowa’s biggest economic drivers – placemaking, workforce housing, job growth and education.

Patchett comes from the world of politics and government policy, including a four-year stint as U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne’s district director and deputy chief of staff and time as a legislative clerk in the Iowa House.

She handled sensitive constituent issues – breaking through the red tape of federal agencies like the IRS and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – and assembled Axne’s local team after the 2018 election, prepared her for the crash course required to learn Capital Crossroad’s history, objectives and regional network of organizations and leaders, she said.

Patchett says she understands the need to move and organize quickly.

“It’s really hitting the ground at a sprint,” Patchett said. “I’m no stranger to that. I had to create a congressional office from scratch on day one. I’m used to that.”

Originally formed in 2011, Capital Crossroads connects nearly 700 community volunteers “to meet the challenges of the future while building on our past successes,” according to the organization.

The initiative and regional vision planning process are in partnership with Bravo Greater Des Moines, Catch Des Moines, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Oakridge Neighborhood, Polk County and the United Way of Central Iowa.

Planning from past Capital Crossroads iterations helped create the Cultivation Corridor to support policy development and build Central Iowa’s business startup opportunities; the Partnership’s public DSM 4 Equity dashboard; and the Central Iowa Water Trails Incubator.

The roadmap released in January is the Capital Crossroads’ third iteration.

Patchett will be in charge of that coordination and bring attention to the effort.

In her nearly seven years at LS2group as a public relations and public affairs director, Patchett led brand storytelling for clients like McDonald’s and Ford Motor Co. Working for Axne, her staff handled nearly 900 constituent cases in 2022 alone.

But Patchett said it was her time clerking in the Iowa Legislature, “seeing what I had learned about in the classroom and read about in textbooks come to life,” was her most “formative experience.”

“I saw so many people from different backgrounds with different experiences, areas of expertise, who had come together in the space, you know, kind of this very formal structure with lots of history behind it,” she said. “To serve their community to try and improve the state and make life better here for people, and that made a big impression on me. I developed a big respect for people who had chosen careers in public service.”

The Business Record sat down with Patchett as she finished her fifth day on the job and discussed how public service was almost a lifestyle choice growing up in a Middleton, Wis., household, and her hopes for the Capital Crossroads Roadmap.

How did you get interested in politics and public policy?

I grew up in a very civically engaged household. Wisconsin Public Radio was always on in the morning while we were getting ready for school and CNN was on by the time I got home from school as well. My dad (John Patchett) actually served in the state Legislature as a young man from the Iowa City and North Liberty areas. We would go on vacations to places like Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg and Gettysburg and Philadelphia, so that interest in history and government and community engagement was very much present in the house growing up. It informed my interest in studying political science when I went to school and it informed my interest in going to work in the State Capitol. And, ultimately, I remained interested in all of that, while I was working in the private sector, but continued to stay involved in political and governmental activities outside of work, which led me to meeting then-candidate Cindy Axne, who became a member of Congress. I had the opportunity to serve as her district director and her deputy chief of staff for the two terms that she was in office and run her constituent services congressional offices here in Iowa, which was an incredible opportunity. … I was also brainwashed from day one to be a Hawkeye by my father. So no surprise, I found myself at the University of Iowa.

What were the differences in working in the federal government vs. state and local government, and how did you navigate each?

When you’re learning about it in school, and I think just on face value, I think a lot of people assume that all of the action and the most impactful things are happening at the federal level. And I kind of had that impression too before I came to do work at the State Capitol for two years. I came to understand that the most impactful legislation that’s being passed is happening at the state level. They are working on issues that are going to have a direct effect on local communities across the state, people living here day-to-day.

How did you become aware of the executive director position at Capital Crossroads and what drew you to the role?

I found it on LinkedIn. And I had heard of the organization previously and in reading the job description, I thought it sounded like a really incredible opportunity to continue to make a positive impact on the community and address issues that are affecting families. And that was my favorite piece of working in a government office. We had the ability to learn about issues and work with organizations to help people solve problems to make their life better. And this seemed like a really incredible opportunity to work with a broad section of community leaders who had come to the table, who were passionate and driven about these same issues and continue to impact the community that way. I reached out to a couple of different people and [asked] what do you know about the organization? How do you feel about it? And ultimately, I’m just really grateful to be here. I’ve experienced a very warm welcome. It’s been really uplifting for me to feel the energy of the people in the room. There’s a genuine interest in activating this plan for the community. And I think Capitol Crossroads has tremendous potential to really make an impact on these issues. And for me, that is such a huge motivator. If I’m going into work every single day, and I’m able to collaborate with people who have energy, who have passion, who have expertise on issues, and I can learn and grow and continue to give back, it’s not gonna feel like work.

Considering Capital Crossroads’ two-year timeline to produce outcomes, looking 24 months down the road, what are your goals for this latest iteration of the initiative? What will be your role in implementing Capital Crossroads?

I’m really excited at the idea of working really hard at this. We have our focus issues – workforce housing and education – and working really hard at these issues with community partners, with the community members, with our leaders on actual tactics that we can then look back on and say, “we accomplish this in a very, you know, measurable way.” In two years, pause for a moment to reflect on what’s worked well, take a look at some of those indicators on where did we do well, what impact have we made? I want to be able to see some tangible results in two years. We do have that big, bold vision and these are big goals. And it might be smaller bites of the apple to start, but it’s a start. We have to start somewhere, and I want to build on that momentum. I want to be able to see tangible outcomes that we mapped out in the beginning. I want the community to feel connected to the plan. So, I want them to understand what it is that Capital Crossroads does. I want them to feel like they can reach out to me. I’m eager to be meeting with our subject-matter experts with community members who have a stake in these issues. I want them to be more familiar with what we’re doing and feel that it is an effective execution of their plan and then be able to use that momentum to continue to carry forward. One of the things that I said early on in this process … I wasn’t born and raised in Iowa. I chose Iowa. That means something to me. To be able to give back and engage in community service for the community that I have chosen to live and work in is important to me. And it’s a strong motivator. I also have a stake in the success of this plan. I want to create a life here, build my family here. There’s so much opportunity and potential in this community, and that’s reflected in Capitol Crossroads and the people that we have at the table to undertake these issues. But there’s also still great need. There’s so much room to grow and to improve. And I’m really excited to be part of an initiative, to help lead an initiative that is focused on addressing these issues that are going to create a better quality of life in the place that I have chosen to live.

What publications, books and podcasts are you reading and/or listening to right now that you would recommend and, going deeper, informs your world view?

I love reading. Reading is one of my favorite things in my spare time. Last year, I read 55 books and some of those I read more than once. I primarily enjoy fiction. Fiction reading is a lovely way for my mind to be quieted and just experience some escapism. So this year, I’ve already read four books. The last couple that I read were, “We Could Be So Good” [by Cat Sebastian] and I just last night finished “First Lie Wins,” [by Ashley Elston], which is getting some buzz right now. It’s a nice way for me to just kind of unwind. In terms of the news that I read, I love the Business Record’s daily a.m. and p.m [newsletters]. I feel like I stay well-connected there. I listen to IPR [Iowa Public Radio] every single day. And in terms of news podcasts, I really like the Daily from the New York Times. I basically became my parents – news is on in the morning, news is on in the evening. And I tried to do a good job of also making sure that I’m curating my social media and my online platforms to follow community organizations and local news outlets. So I’m aware of what’s going on and looking for opportunities to tell stories and engage groups. It’s important to me to stay informed of what’s going on at the national level, the state level and the local level. That really helps me, historically, and will continue to, be better at my job, help me be more strategic, help me understand who the players in the room are, helped me understand their perspectives, and make sure that I’m being strategic and holistic in my approach. And it’s always good to listen and get ideas and be exposed to issues and perspectives that you weren’t aware of before. So yeah, I think news and staying informed is critically important.

At a glance

Age: 35

Hometown: Middleton, Wis.

Family: Partner, Chris Hall; two cats; a 2-year-old rescue dog

Work background: District director and deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne from December 2018 to January 2023; director of public relations, public affairs and events at LS2group from March 2012 through December 2018; and legislative clerk for the Iowa House of Representatives from January to April 2012.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science and government from the University of Iowa

Activities: Reading fiction; spending quality time with family and friends; traveling “with my significant other especially to go camping and hiking in National Parks”; making embroidered art; walking the dog; tossing a Frisbee; “golfing badly”; and having a drink on a patio.

Published in the Des Moines Business Record on February 9, 2024.