OneVoice DSM Podcast: The Beginning of The Partnership (Part 1)
Steve Chapman is a retired businessman and one of the original founders of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, founded 20 years ago. He has also been a member on The Partnership’s Board and has served as a past Board Chair. Steve sits down with The Partnership’s Chief Strategy Officer and OneVoice podcast host, Tiffany Tauscheck, to discuss the history of the region, the growth we are seeing in Greater Des Moines (DSM) and what we can learn as we move forward. This is part one of a two-part series. In part two, Suku Radia discusses The Partnership’s role an impact through the years. Of note, Chapman’s interview was recorded prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Creating The Partnership
Prior to becoming chair of the Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce in 1999, the president of the Chamber resigned. His predecessor, Lynn Horack, told Steve it would be up to him to decide how the organization moved forward so he took the opportunity to think about where the Chamber stood within the region. At the time, economic development was not being achieved and there was no long-term economic development strategy. The Chamber back then was project-driven, with the staff working on implementing a project. Without long-term focus, Steve knew he wouldn’t be able to implement the changes the community needed.
Local DSM Organizations and Community Leaders Work Together
Four local DSM organizations were all meeting monthly to discuss similar issues within the city. These organizations included: Des Moines Development Corporation, which boasted senior and community leadership and financial resources; the Greater Des Moines Chamber; the Downtown Partnership, which focused solely on Downtown DSM projects; and the Downtown Committee, an offshoot of the Chamber. Steve knew that members of the boards of each organization were discussing important issues, but time and again no progress would emerge through any of the four on their own. Steve realized there was an opportunity to bring them together to create something new that would combat the issue of project-based business and seek to implement a long-term vision.
A former chair of the Chamber, Steve Zumbach, had an ability to attract the right industries to develop marketing plans and secure financing. He had a knack for building targeted industries for DSM. At the time he served as chair, he worked on a project known as Project 21, but even though the project had some steam, over time focus again returned — as it was known to do — to short-term thinking. Still, Steve C. knew that Steve Z.’s ability to develop a long-term vision would be integral to what he hoped to do for DSM. Steve C. knew what he had to do: hire the other Steve.
Implementing the changes needed within The Chamber would mean collapsing boards, taking away organizations and consolidating funding. Steve C. was aware that the change would need to happen fast and that board members might not be quick to dissolve the organizations they belonged to. But it might help if he found the right person to run the new organization. He asked Steve Z. to meet with him for coffee and asked him to resign from the Belin Firm, where he was employed, and become president of the new organization. Steve Z. said he couldn’t accept the position, but he did accept the thought and spent that morning discussing what should be and how to design an economic development organization.
The Right Leadership
With the window of opportunity to implement change in DSM closing, Steve C. went after Michael Blouin, who had been instrumental in the success of the development happening in Cedar Rapids. A meeting happened after New Year’s Day, and Michael asked whether the DSM community would support the changes that, in their eyes, needed to be made. Steve C. was confident that it would. It was in this meeting that the name Greater Des Moines Partnership was born.
From that point on, Steve C. hit the ground running. He spoke with DSM community leaders and talked about future funding and operations within the region. Once again, he met with business leader Bill Knapp, who in previous conversations had been reluctant about Steve C.’s idea. This time Bill was intrigued. Steve C. began to reinforce the mission for this new organization. He hosted a dinner at the Des Moines Club with 16 key decision-makers within DSM. Steve C. walked through the idea for The Partnership and introduced Michael as the one to lead this new organization.
The Partnership Launch
In March of 1999, The Partnership began to put together new boards, new structure and launch the organization. With Michael as CEO, The Partnership got off to the right start and setting the pace for what the organization has become today.
Growth in DSM
Steve C. also discusses the Major Projects Task Force and the projects that would redefine the community. By reaching out beyond the city of Des Moines and asking surrounding communities, or suburbs, to be involved in the evolution of the region, growth became inevitable and the vision became inclusive rather than competitive, with each community working together and supporting the others to drive success. This development continues to this day.
Listen to the entire podcast by clicking here.
Suku Radia takes the evolution of The Partnership one step further and explains how the organization stays engaged in the community in the next episode of OneVoice DSM.
Inspired by this OneVoice DSM Podcast? Listen to more Partnership podcasts.