Leaders learn lessons from Iowa’s capital city

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Des Moines, Iowa may not sound like a dream destination, but dozens of city leaders are taking the trip.  Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. has sponsored two visits to the capital city in the last month. The first group spent four days there last month.

Around 15 leaders went on Monday’s trip to find what Des Moines is doing well and adopt that for Fort Wayne. Business and community leaders only spent about six hours in Des Moines on Monday. Mayor Henry was one of two elected officials to go on this week’s trip. This week’s visit was much shorter than the first one.  Despite the quick trip, Mayor Henry said the city offers many valuable lessons and takeaways.

“We spent the entire time talking to various heads of organizations, the president of the bank, the head of the United Way, head of a foundation, we also took a tour of the city. So, it was a very productive day,” Mayor Henry said.

So why Des Moines, Iowa of all places? Well, to start, the capital city ranks number one as the midsize metro area by Greater Fort Wayne Inc’s economic index study. Fort Wayne didn’t receive quite as high of a ranking, coming in at 52nd.

“It ranked very high in a number of areas that we’re interested in as far as Fort Wayne is concerned, so that was a city that we thought could offer us some advice, offer us perhaps some additional tools, on how to keep our city moving forward,” Mayor Henry said.

The visit focused on public and private partnerships and the involvement of the community foundation.

“There was a lot of talk about public and private partnerships and how community foundations worked. They thought it was important to get a group of businessmen and women who were in a position to partner together with the city on a number of projects and also brought some foundation people so they could talk to the heads of United Way and the head of the Des Moines Community Foundation and  see how they were also involved in economic developments,” Mayor Henry said.

Last month’s trip focused on the capital city’s successful economy and downtown development. This one was more targeted with a focus on public and private partnerships and the involvement of the community foundation.

“The second trip was really planned and the individuals who went were picked for a particular reason. I think what I’m interested in is number one how involved businesses were in partnering with the city. There seemed to be a lot more businesses in Des Moines who put themselves in a position to create a partnership with the city then we have here. I’m trying to find out exactly what the city was offering to create that partnership and create that synergy between the two. They have a massive community foundation and they’re very involved in economic development. Plus, a lot of individuals in the community have stepped up and they want to be involved individually in helping the city move forward. So,  there were two or three areas that were really a big interest to me,” Mayor Henry said.

It’s something the mayor said gave everyone inspiration and ideas for the future.

“I think it was a sense of excitement, almost a renewed excitement about what Fort Wayne can do. I think we’ve all been very proud of how our city has stepped up as far as downtown development and riverfront development, which are some things that Des Moines has already done. We’re doing those now, but how can we keep that momentum going and keep that excitement in the air. I think this is a real opportunity for Fort Wayne to learn from other cities and to embrace government officials from other cities as well as businessmen and women and learn from them, learn the things that they’ve done well, and they can learn from us to, so it’s a sharing process,” Mayor Henry said.

Mayor Henry said he doesn’t think a third trip to Des Moines is necessary, and now it’s time to focus on analyzing their findings from the trip.

“We’re going to try to get together as a group and figure out what each one got from the meetings and from the trips and try to put it all together and perhaps create an additional strategy for the city. I think we need to take a step further. We need to study some more, look at the information they gave us, and they gave us quite a bit of reading material. We’d also like to have them come here and visit us and tell us what they think we’re doing right and if there are some initiatives that we need to pursue perhaps they can help us skip a few steps along the way and perhaps learn for some of the mistakes they made,” Mayor Henry said.

The trips aren’t just benefiting the Summit City, either. A group from Des Moines is planning a trip to Fort Wayne early next year. Mayor Henry said he’s looking forward to sharing the city with them.

“We too are moving forward. Perhaps, not in the accelerated way that they did, but again, they have some opportunities, they have some investors that we don’t have. So, we have to look at different revenue streams. I want to show them that we’re doing quite well for a city that really has to work on it all by ourselves. We don’t have deep pockets in this community as far as individuals or organizations that can give us millions of dollars, so we really have to depend on ourselves. I think we’re doing pretty well,” Mayor Henry said.

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