If Iowa is so great, why do we keep defending it?

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March 15, 2013 by Eric

I am typing this post from Aurora, Colorado (just south of Denver).

I thought this was relevant information as I’m about to write on a topic that seems dear to many of Iowa’s residents as seen in trends on local blogs and Facebook. Over the past few years a “defend-Iowa” movement has grown in the Midwestern state.

The basic purpose of this movement is spreading the word that Iowa, particularly the capital city Des Moines, is a growing Midwest hotspot that has transformed into a cool place for young career-oriented individuals to live in and work, despite many “big city” residents not knowing the first thing about the city and state or its (in their minds) probably redneck farmer population.

Des Moines looks pretty nice, doesn't it?

Des Moines looks pretty nice, doesn’t it?

My question for everyone who writes or vocalizes their opinion in defense of Iowa and its capital city (including myself) is this – If Des Moines (and Iowa in general) is so great, why do we feel the need to keep defending its worth? Shouldn’t we be happy reveling in the simple joys of Midwest life (less traffic, lower cost of living, friendlier people, relative safety), rather than feeling the need to defend our state to those who don’t care anyways? Or is our defense of Iowa ultimately a classic case of self-denial?

I’m plenty guilty of feeling the need to defend Iowa at times, most often when traveling out of state, usually after a couple of beers among friends.

I love Des Moines. The people who live there are overwhelmingly friendly. There are some awesome bars like the nationally renowned El Bait Shop, Royal Mile/Red Monk and High Life Lounge downtown. The music scene continues to grow with its annual 80/35 festival and venues like Wooly’s bringing in some big name acts. There are plenty of great things happening socially and culturally within the capital city.

While the Colorado house recently passed a bill allowing civil unions (becoming the 18th state to do so), Iowa is only one of nine states to allow same-sex marriage. The state is at the forefront of the presidential caucuses every four years and it has one of the greatest college sports rivalries between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Iowa State Cyclones.

Despite all this, I (at least temporarily for a few weeks) chose to leave Des Moines to explore a bigger city over 600 miles away from it (Denver, Colorado). Iowa is a great place to work if you are looking for a career in insurance (Nationwide/Allied Insurance, Wellmark Inc., Marsh), financial services (Principal Financial Group and Wells Fargo & Co.), or agricultural fields (Pioneer, John Deere, Monsanto). Also Meredith Corporation is the biggest media group in town, recently making headlines after plans for a (now failed) merger with Times, Inc.

We do have at least one big building downtown!

We do have at least one big building downtown!

While Des Moines does have some top-level employers, recent graduates looking to get their hands into businesses outside of the financial, insurance and agricultural fields don’t have as many options available as in larger market Midwest cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis. The tech start-up scene is growing in Des Moines, but places like San Francisco still dominate the market.

This is likely why Iowa’s more experienced residents in the key mid-30’s professional demographic are still leaving at a concerning rate, gaining skills in Iowa and moving onto bigger markets with more options and higher paying salaries.

And once you get out of Des Moines and its suburbs, things only look bleaker outside of the occasional hotspots such as Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Iowa City, and Ames (the latter two of which are fueled by housing the states two largest universities).

There’s no question Des Moines (and the state of Iowa) is a great place to live. People who grew up here, or even visited for awhile, will quickly realize this, but outsiders will continue not to care despite how much defending we do in our newspapers and online. Des Moines, and the greater Iowa area, needs to prove its worth with actions rather than words – by continuing to create compelling reasons for college graduates and young people to stay in the area – and it is likely other states will eventually take notice.

And if they don’t? Who cares. We all know how great Des Moines is and that should be good enough. We have nothing to prove to anyone, despite our natural impulse to do so. Take a deep breath, sit back, and enjoy the easygoing Midwestern way of life.

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