Regional spotlight: Des Moines' niche markets, from PR to politics

Chris Diebel, MD at LPCA Public Strategies, details how the caucus process and urban investment make the city a hot destination for PR pros

The months leading up to primary season in Des Moines, Iowa, might feel a bit like a home team’s Super Bowl run in other cities across the country.

"Our state has no professional football, baseball, or basketball teams," says Chris Diebel, MD, LPCA Public Strategies. "So while some of our neighbors might rally around their sports teams, we rally around the caucus process in Iowa, regardless of party. This is our pastime."

Candidates descending on the city are a welcome sight to the residents as "it’s not only a blast" but also prosperous for the local economy, too, he adds.

"We take the responsibility very seriously. We know we’re first and that those who get a boost here will likely go on to do great things," Diebel says.

Locally, Blackbird Investments is "poised to change the makeup of downtown Des Moines" and Iowa at large because of the company’s green efforts.

"It is doing some really wonderful work with adaptive reuse of old buildings," he adds. "Blackbird is renovating them and, in many cases, doing projects that are environmentally friendly and applying solar panels.

Now you see this new technology and this undeniable character of old buildings."

Des Moines is largely comprised of white-collar labor, says Diebel – some 77,000 work downtown, which "has a really stimulating effect" from the uptick of housing to the culinary scene and art spaces.

For example, the Des Moines Art Center’s John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park has 28 pieces by 22 artists and "is the most significant donation of artwork ever made to the Des Moines Art Center," according to the center’s website.

However Diebel can recall a time when the city wasn’t as much of a draw for young, ambitious professionals.

"When I was finishing school, a lot of people were leaving the city. Then a major switch happened in the early 2000s where people really started investing in the urban core," he explains.

Drake University and Des Moines University are located in the city with Iowa State and The University of Iowa less than two hours away. Building a strong network in the city is key to hearing about job opportunities in PR.

"Because of the size of Des Moines, a lot of deals are done by word of mouth. You don’t see a ton of postings for new jobs or internships," Diebel says.

The comms space covers a range of specialties, whether it’s full-service firms such as Flynn Wright or Strategic America or something more targeted such as LPCA serving the public policy sector, adds Diebel, who also works with clients in development and hospitality.

"You might see one firm that focuses on agriculture, and another focused on education," he says. "People here develop a niche market and stick with it."

Fast facts

1. Dell ranked Des Moines 20th out of 25 "future ready" cities, based on factors including human capital, commerce, and infrastructure. According to Dell, the city’s economy "has attributes that enable its people and organizations to access new tools and ideas that deliver better connections, better outcomes – and a better world"

2. Two Des Moines companies were ranked in the Fortune 500 this year: Principal Financial Group (#282) and Casey’s General Stores (#382), which made more than $10 billion and over $7 billion in revenue, respectively, in 2014

3. In a city of more than 611,000, unemployment is low at 3.9%, according to Forbes, compared to 5.1% nationally, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. The Greater Des Moines Partnership says the finance-insurance space has "a $3 billion annual payroll"

5. Iowa does have a basketball team – a D League squad named the Energy

Reach out

Des Moines Downtown Chamber of Commerce
301 Grand Ave.
Des Moines, IA 50309

PRSA Central Iowa Chapter
Lori Vodraska, chapter administrator and president, Principal Financial Group

Des Moines City Hall
400 Robert D. Ray Dr.
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 283-4500

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