News and Trends
The capital of Iowa has long had a reputation as one of the least hip, least interesting and least dynamic cities in the Western world, a dull insurance town set amid the unending corn fields of flyover country, a place Minneapolis looks down on and the young and ambitious flee as soon as they graduate. “Usually you are born here or marry into here or get transferred here,” says local entrepreneur Mike Draper. “Not many people come to chase their dreams. If they did, you’d be like, ‘What, you want to be an actuary?’”
But unbeknownst to many outside the Midwest, over the past 15 years Des Moines has transformed into one of the richest, most vibrant, and, yes, hip cities in the country, where the local arts scene, entrepreneurial startups and established corporate employers are all thriving. Its downtown — previously desolate after 5 p.m. — has come alive, with 10,000 new residents and a bevy of nationally recognized restaurants. A few blocks away, the uber-cool Des Moines Social Club draws 25,000 people a month — more than a 10th of the city’s population — to take part in everything from Shakespeare and avant-garde theater to live music and aerial gymnastics classes. Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne showed up at its opening in 2014 because he thinks a city once called “Des Boring” may be America’s next creative hub.
But out-of-towners are taking notice, says Republican political consultant Tim Albrecht, who confers with a great many when the presidential caucuses roll around, including the political reporters deployed by the national news organizations. “I used to say to them that Des Moines isn’t so bad and that I think they’d like it,” he says. “This time around I told them the same and they would respond: ‘We know, we asked to come here.’ That’s a big difference.”