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Sunday, 25 October 2015 23:37

Looking to the outside: The Des Moines example

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John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park COURTESY PHOTO

As stakeholders seek to attract more corporate tenants to Grand Rapids’ central business district, they could look to Des Moines, Iowa as one example of a similarly-sized city that’s been successful at luring in major corporate tenants.

Close in population to Grand Rapids, Des Moines’ downtown is home to media conglomerate Meredith Corp., Principal Financial Group, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and a host of other financial and insurance institutions — all in addition to the law and accounting firms often found in downtowns.

[RELATED: GR lags peer cities in attracting downtown corporate HQs]

According to Jay Byers, president and CEO of Greater Des Moines Partnership, a regional economic development group, stakeholders began long-term planning initiatives back in the mid-1990s, a decade or two ahead of Grand Rapids. Those initiatives have helped pave the way for what he called “quality-of-life” investments that assisted in attracting corporate investment.

Byers pointed to the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in the Western Gateway area of the city’s downtown as a project that has led to significant investment.

“I would make the case that the sculpture park specifically has been really critical to our corporate recruitment,” Byers said. “We had local philanthropists who donated the sculptures to the sculpture park and now it has served as a major attractor for major employers. For example, (insurance company) Nationwide’s headquarters are located right on the sculpture park with over 4,000 employees working there.”

Byers said that a vibrant urban core certainly helps with the community’s corporate and talent attraction efforts.

That rings true for Kara Wood, the economic development director for the city of Grand Rapids.

“Making the environment more appealing is probably the best thing we can do for attraction,” Wood told MiBiz.

That means the city needs to ensure there is ample parking, but it also must improve bus service and make sure nearby neighborhoods provide walkable access to downtown, she said.

“We have to make sure we improve availability of all modes of transit to accommodate employees,” Wood said.

— Reported by Nick Manes

Read 2452 times Last modified on Monday, 26 October 2015 16:31

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