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Event proves Iowa is where powerful possibilities unfold

By Dawn Sly-Terpstra

Call it coincidence or call it fate. The week Touchstone Energy® brings its newest initiative – the Main Street Summit – to Iowa, Major League Baseball announces next year’s Field of Dreams game. The 2020 game will be a match-up between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees on a new field adjacent to the field of movie fame near Dyersville. For those of us in flyover country, when the big leagues play on our fields, powerful possibilities unfold.

Those possibilities were perfectly encapsulated at the Des Moines Social Club (DMSC), site of Touchstone Energy’s Best in Class: Strategy Execution program and the Main Street Summit. As effective storytelling is more about the “show” than the “tell,” this venue immersed 135 participants in the creative placemaking experience. Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness and well-being. The theater and meeting spaces in this converted fire station – a project of founder Zack Mannheimer of McClure Engineering, who is also a presenter at national cooperative events – was its own case study for those who gathered to learn more about economic development strategies and resources.

The Summit’s focus during the first half of the event included managing change by developing strategy, translating change to create a new reality, and aligning strategy and leading change. The room was set to facilitate small group work. Table exercises played a key role in learning more about strategies implemented by cooperative peers.

Discovering “Iowa Nice” is real

The attendees from 22 states, many of whom had never been to Iowa, discovered that “Iowa Nice” and Midwestern hospitality are real. A committee of Iowa electric cooperative staff who formed a Welcome to Iowa group made sure that was the case, along with participants from local cooperatives. A reception on the rooftop of the DMSC, a food truck throw-down and DJ in the courtyard, allowed everyone a chance to get to know each other better while sharing their region’s opportunities and challenges.

After lunch on the second day, the balance of the conference focused on economic development – the star of the show. Discussions ranged from how to start an economic development program by building partnerships and identifying funding sources, to practical tools and applications, as well as types of development initiatives from across the country. Speakers included Bette Brand, administrator, USDA/RD Rural Business Cooperative-Service; Zack Mannheimer; Jim and Mallorie Rasberry from HGTV’s Home Town, as well as presenters from electric cooperatives and development groups.  

Seamlessly intersecting the past and present

On the second evening, 30 attendees participated in a mobile classroom experience to Winterset organized by Iowa Area Development Group (IADG). Participants from South Carolina, Oregon, North Dakota, Florida, Kentucky and a handful of Iowans learned how history and culture can become big draws in small towns. A farm-to-table dinner at the Northside Café (made famous by “The Bridges of Madison County) preceded a tour of Winterset’s town square – where all the storefronts are occupied – and a behind-the-scenes look at the John Wayne Museum. Mark Catton, a museum exhibit designer from Iowa, accompanied the group and discussed his experiences working with project stakeholders to develop and curate a public space that engages an audience while keeping the story of John Wayne relevant.

Visiting the energetic hub of Iowa

Many visiting Iowa for the first time discovered the unexpected cultural life in downtown Des Moines – trendy restaurants and bars, the hip vibe of the East Village, Triple A baseball, and the rapid growth and development of a city and a state identified by many national publications as a top place to live. The phrase “Who knew?” was repeated often by those making fresh discoveries, prompting smiles of pride and surprise among natives.

As the conference ended, many attendees seemed reluctant to leave – hungry to learn more about growing their communities, building on their local legacies and aspiring to merge past and present.

This trip to Iowa – to learn about economic development and placemaking – showed visitors “if you build it, they will come!”   

“The teamwork and cooperative spirit from the Iowa Welcoming Committee was infectious. It made what could have been a grueling week for staff into a fun, energized trip to a hidden gem of a city. We couldn’t have picked a better place to get our members fired up about community and economic development.”

- Scott Bialick, Senior Business Development Program Specialist, Touchstone Energy®

“Before the Main Street Summit kicked off in Iowa, I had an opportunity to meet with teams from several electric co-ops and exchange ideas about the cooperative difference. I was blown away with all the wind generation I saw on my day trip, loved experiencing firsthand the importance of leadership in revitalizing local communities and had corn on the cob so satisfyingly sweet I didn’t need dessert. But the story that really stuck with me was the Freedom Rocks. It highlighted many lessons from the Summit like the importance of making the ordinary outstanding with a simple story, giving communities something local to celebrate and being open to opportunities.”

- Anne Harvey, Director of Member Relations & Communications, Touchstone Energy®

“Iowa was the perfect backdrop to celebrate and promote community development. Co-ops across Iowa are committed to their communities at the local and state levels, including creating, owning and supporting development organizations, namely IADG. Efforts like these mixed with “Iowa Nice” hospitality, made our Summit valuable to attendees from dozens of states and sets a template other states can emulate.”

- Josh McGhee, Strategic Communications Manager, Touchstone Energy®

Dawn Sly-Terpstra is the vice president of corporate communications for Central Iowa Power Cooperative.


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