Getting down in downtown Des Moines

May 6, 2015 admin

Des Moines, Iowa, skyline

It is that time again in Des Moines, Iowa. Every four years, a horde of politicians pining to become the next President of the United States descend on the city and pretend to be people they are not, and make promises they cannot possibly keep. Trailing them is an even larger horde of media reporters from around the world.

Yes, every presidential election cycle is Des Moines’s season in the sun.

Meanwhile, those among us who think in terms of primary and secondary cities see Des Moines’s intermittent elevation into the national spotlight as a bit of an oddity. It is a tertiary city, after all, and what serious real estate investor is going to dawdle in such a diminutive locale?

True enough for most institutional players, but there are real estate investors of a lesser god who find the getting is very good in plenty of tertiary cities, Des Moines among them. And it turns out the capital of Iowa has an outsized story to tell.

“We do have a resurgence happening here,” says Amy Baker of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. “We are seeing an economic development boom in commercial, residential, hospitality and public spaces.”

The cost of doing business in Des Moines is 16 percent lower than the national average, and the cost of living is also modest. That helps explain why the city has almost 50 projects currently in progress valued at more than $800 million. One of those is the first phase of Principal Financial Group’s massive renovation of its sprawling headquarters campus in downtown. Phase one alone is a $284 million undertaking, though the full renovation will total $400 million. This project map published by The Business Record nicely illustrates the extensiveness of the city’s development boom.

Aiming to fuel the long-term prospects of the city is the Des Moines Redevelopment Co., a non-profit entity formed to acquire land and buildings targeted for redevelopment in the city’s downtown area. Some 22 business organizations comprise the DMRC, which was conceived to give city leaders a tool that gives them the power to act quickly in taking advantage of development opportunities that meet city planners’ vision for the area’s economic development.

Also planting seeds for the future is an initiative dubbed the Global Insurance Accelerator, launched in February and modeled after the successful Techstars program. Its goal is to help grow insurance-based technology startups. Winning business concepts are given seed funding, space, and access to mentors and advisers.

Though land-locked, city business leaders have aspirations that reside oceans away, which is why the formation of the Greater Des Moines Export Plan has become yet another component in the region’s business agenda. Its objective is to increase both the number of identified exporters and number of export markets by 10 percent during the next five years, increasing each by 45 and 19, respectively.

Not too shabby for a tertiary market.

Des Moines has long played an outsized role in presidential politics. It might also do the same economically if its regional development campaigns prove to have winning strategies.

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MikeCfinalwebMike Consol is editor of Real Assets Adviser.

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