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New Survey Sings Praises of Des Moines Metro Area

Local leaders are quick to show off magazines and websites that call the Des Moines metro area a great place to live, work, or raise a family.

Now, they say, there is data to back up all the praise.

The results of a new survey show the overwhelming majority of central Iowans feel safe in the community, are optimistic about the economy, and believe they can reach their professional goals here.

But the Central Iowa Human Capital Survey also outlined challenges. Nearly half of survey respondents were not confident they could find another job in their field here if they had to. And less than half participate in school and community meetings.

Mary Bontrager, executive vice president of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, said businesses will be able to use the survey to recruit top employees—and keep them here.

"When you're talking to candidates and they're considering Des Moines and Minneapolis, you can say: ‘This is how Des Moines stacks up. Do you know how Minneapolis stacks up against this?'" she said. "It's just another really wonderful tool that we have."

The 67-question survey was produced by the partnership, Character Counts in Iowa, and the Institute for Ethics & Excellence, a New York-based nonprofit that conducts workplace development programs.

It took the responses of about 2,500 people from a six-county region. They were asked about their community involvement, workplace, and overall well being.

How did the Des Moines area stack up?

Based on respondents who completely or somewhat agreed with the premise:

• 91 percent said the metro is a good place to raise a family.

• 84 percent said they vote.

• 78 percent said they hope to live in the community for a long time.

• 77 percent said they can meet their professional goals in this community.

• 71 percent said they were satisfied with community infrastructure like transportation and health care.

J. Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts in Iowa, a Des Moines nonprofit that works with teachers, coaches, and community leaders, said the survey validates what outsiders are saying about Des Moines. In 2013, Forbes ranked Des Moines the best place for business and careers and named it one of the three best cities to start a business. The Business Journals, meanwhile, called it the best Midwest city for young adults.

"What this tells me," Raecker said of the survey, "is this is a great place to live, work, and raise a family."

The survey produced some 1,800 pages of data: survey responses broken down by age, race, industry, and ZIP code. That data will be taken to local cities and chambers of commerce so they can identify their own communities' strengths and weaknesses.

It was produced locally and is not tied to any national survey. Bontrager said to her knowledge it's the first of its kind. That gives Des Moines a leg up on other cities, but also means there are no benchmarks to measure the results.

One outlier in the survey was in responses to the statement: "If I wanted or needed I could find another job in my field of work in this community." Some 53 percent of respondents completely or somewhat agreed with the statement.

But the results varied by industry and age. In the insurance and finance sector, 68 percent agreed they could find a new job, while only 20 percent of those in the logistics industry did. Young workers (ages 18-35) and older workers (ages 60 and older) were more confident in their ability to land a new job than middle-age workers.

Ken Brown, a professor of management and organization with the University of Iowa's Henry B. Tippie School of Business, said the survey suggests a need to recruit complementary employers.

"If we want to retain the best workers, we need to continue to work at building depth in the industries where we compete," he said.

The survey also didn't ask residents about their wages, which on average are lower than those of neighboring cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City.

Raecker said organizers would consider adding questions about pay when they replicate the survey this summer. After that, officials plan to conduct the survey every two years.

One goal is to get more survey responses from blue-collar workers and minorities, officials said. The survey skews toward married, white, college-educated people. Some 93 percent of survey respondents were identified as white, 67 percent said they had at least a four-year or graduate degree, and 71 percent were married.

Two-thirds of the respondents were women.

The optional survey was distributed by employers, chambers of commerce, and other local organizations.


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