Greater Des Moines is the most rapidly growing metro in the Midwest — boasting a nearly 19 percent population increase since 2010 to zip past Omaha, Minneapolis, Kansas City, St.Louis, Milwaukee and Chicago in percentage climb. Simpsongrad Jay Byers plays a large role in driving that success by building dynamic partnerships region wide, including with his alma mater.
As president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Byers heads a regional economic and community development partnership that serves more than 6,500 member businesses and organizations in DSM. That’s a tall order for the 6’ 6” once aspiring hoopster with small town Iowa roots.
“I grew up in a town of fewer than 200 people,” said Byers, in his 11th year leading The Partnership. “We didn’t even have a chamber of commerce, but my parents were heavily engaged in the community and ingrained in me the importance of giving back. So, I feel very fortunate to get to work in this profession.”
Since graduating from Simpson, Byershas traveled an interesting road back to his native state.
“Right after Simpson, I got my law degree from the University of Iowa and ended up taking a job with a large law firm in Indianapolis. I figured out pretty quickly, though, that practicing law wasn't what I was meant to do.”
Byers was instead drawn back to Indianola in 1997 by John Norris ’81, his former law school classmate and current colleague on Simpson’s Board of Trustees. Norris, serving as chief of staff for Congressman Leonard Boswell at the time, hired Byers to serve as the congressman’s district director — a post Byers held for seven years.
In 2005, Byers began his days at the Greater Des Moines Partnership as senior vice president of Government Relations and Public Policy. Since being promoted to his current role in 2012, he’s helped lead Greater Des Moines’ impressive ascension as a prominent “place of choice” for more and more professionals and families.
Today, Greater Des Moines is outperforming larger Midwestcities across leading economic indicators including percentage of population, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and job growth. The momentum rolls on with transformational regional projects in motion, including a new DSM International Airport terminal; the icon Water Trails initiative that will bring whitewater rafting, kayaking and surfing to downtown, as well as 150 miles of water trails; and a new downtown pro soccer stadium and global plaza to anchor a 60-acre redevelopment project.
“There’s a lot more swagger in Greater Des Moines today,” said Byers. “I think there is just a much stronger belief in how far we’ve come, where we can go, and that we can compete with anybody."
Seeking synergy with Simpson
In his 11th year as a Simpson trustee, Byers can see a similar transformation in motion at his alma mater.
Having lived in Indianola for 15 years and Des Moines for the last 10 years, Byers is intimately aware of the valuable connections between Simpson College and the rest of the greater Des Moines region. “Simpson is a talent magnet for our region,” said Byers, in describing the College’s vital contributions to building an adynamic, exceptionally educated and prepared workforce.
“It’s those power skills Simpson gives you— the ability to reason analytically, problem-solve, communicate, collaborate and lead. Regardless of your major, these are the things that transcend job changes and help you advance your career. The speed and importance of lifelong learning has never been more important. That’s what makes a Simpson education so invaluable.”
While Byers asserts that Simpson already has a strong brand in Greater Des Moines, he says it’s essential for the College to enhance its presence and impact throughout the region. It requires, he adds, a Simpson-wide commitment — from faculty and staff visibility in the community to stepping up recruitment and promotion, as well as providing innovative career and educational advancement options.
“What are those opportunities, for example, that Simpson can create directly with employers? How can the College help employers skill up their existing talent (through adult learning programs) and create more internships and job pipelines that will help them with their long-term needs? It’s about maximizing mutual benefits for Simpson College and Greater Des Moines.”
Whether teaming with Simpson trustees and College leadership or collaborating with community partners across Greater DesMoines and Central Iowa, Byers is relentless in pushing forward with grand ideas.
“It’s all about thinking really big and creating a bold vision together — helping people see the future that maybe they don’t see. Then it’s about building a team and other partners to rally around that vision and bring it into reality. You’ve got to be able to imagine five or 10 years ahead and always be leaning into that future."