Forbes Magazine just released its "Best Places for Business and Careers" list and it's no surprise to me that Des Moines, Iowa just landed in the top spot. Nearly 5 years ago, I'd have said the same thing you may have just muttered. "Des Moines...that's fly over country...who'd want to live and work THERE?" I fully appreciate your logic with our cold winters, humid summers, and ag-centric heritage. But weather and corn fields aside, the Des Moines metro, a circle consisting of about half a million people, has captured my heart and I've become its most passionate evangelist.
After a lifetime of Southern California bustle, my wife wasn't exactly thrilled about my desire to abandon our friends and family infrastructure. But ultimately she wanted me to have more than a view from the windshield of a Honda Civic and to be a stay-at-home mom for our kids. We began to see clearly that reaching goals for entrepreneurship, more family time, and more civic engagement were unattainable in our current location. We were ready to reclaim our time, live with less hassle, and stretch a bit.
So in 2005, we executed geographic arbitrage landing in Clive, Iowa, a beautiful community on the West side of the Des Moines metro. Soon the memory of my 2.5 hour daily plunge into freeway hell was fading. Views of the beaches and mountains from the window of the 6:20AM flight to DFW became real life experiences on urban bike trails and fishing at the lake blocks from my house. A 20-minute drive from end-to-end, the Des Moines metro area defines easy living and 70 miles equals 60 minutes. (I'm still chronically early to my appointments.)
During those first months here a local business blogger who'd been reading my copious posts on "Why Des Moines?" reached out to me. After coffee and a few introductions, my personal and business network began to flourish. It was hard to comprehend how quickly anyone who's willing could reach top level contacts in business, associations, and in government. Before long I was shopping a business plan to investors and prominent business owners in town. I was even introduced to State House representatives who cared about my thoughts on what's happening in their districts. (I went 33 years never meeting a Congressman in CA.) I realized that within a few phone calls I could reach top decision makers, corporate leaders, and legislators and they were willing to listen to me. My business createWOWmedia is growing rapidly now and I'm reaping the benefits of 2.5 years of head down execution and statewide relationship building. I had the time, the energy, and the start up capital through my CA home sale to stop dreaming and start doing. The Des Moines metro gave me that opportunity and I'm thankful for it.
I've figured out that if you're willing to endure a couple months spent largely indoors or bundled up that the trade-offs are magical and worth their weight in gold. I wouldn't trade what I've found here for anything. The Des Moines metro and the state of Iowa as a whole offer so much…and ask so little in return. Des Moines is easy living defined.
Am I worried about a massive influx of new Iowans pouring in from Western states based on this piece and Forbes's recommendations? No chance. But if you do decide to take the plunge and reclaim your life from the concrete jungle, shoot me an email and I'd be happy to guide you. That's what good neighbors and Iowans do.
Doug Mitchell is a Southern California refugee who moved his family to Des Moines, Iowa to build a better life. Doug can be reached at doug@createWOWmedia.com or on twitter @doug_mitchell