Lincoln, NE through Des Moines, IA
After successfully navigating Rex through Friday afternoon traffic in Lincoln, we spoke with Lincoln City Council member Leirion Gaylor Baird (herself a native of Portland). We learned how the Pinnacle Arena has helped spur economic development in the West Haymarket area of the city by attracting high-profile music acts (we missed Pearl Jam by a night), conferences, and sporting events. Ms. Baird introduced us to City Attorney Jeffery Kirkpatrick, who told us more about the history and workings of Nebraska’s unique Unicameral. On Saturday morning we volunteered at the 13th Annual Pumpkin Run, a 1 mile kid’s fun run, and later enjoyed some terrific coffee and pancakes at Cultiva.
Due to our arrival in Omaha falling on Columbus Day, we weren’t able to schedule any meetings but we enjoyed our brief time in the city nonetheless. We met a young couple who completed the RAGBRAI-an annual bike ride across Iowa. Our first couple of days in Iowa, state #5, consisted of strong winds and a lot of big rolling hills on Route 6-quite a change from relatively flat Nebraska! In Atlantic, we met with Mayor David Jones, who told us a bit about the positive economic impact of a Coca Cola bottling plant and rotational molding manufacturing company, as well as the community involvement in a recently built YMCA facility.
We enjoyed camping in two beautiful state parks before arriving in Des Moines. Adam discovered the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which took us into West Des Moines and was a wonderful break from roadside shoulder running! In Des Moines we met with Assistant City Manager Matt Anderson (who works on economic development), Mayor and City Council Liaison Amanda Romer, and later Adam met with Mayor Frank Cownie. One interesting program is the Community Ambassador program, which brings together police and influential faith leaders in challenging scenarios. The city is also very proud of its push for government transparency; this was shown during a recent city manager hiring process. Specifically, candidates were taken through a multi-day vetting process involving public questioning and numerous panel discussions with department heads, city council members, the mayor, and others. The city, which is the world’s third largest insurance capital, continues to bring in young professionals who flock to its downtown to work and live. There is also a sense of philanthropy: a wealthy professional donated many pieces of sculpture to the city, creating the foundation for a public sculpture garden, and many finance and insurance institutions contributed to the city’s beautiful Riverwalk. We enjoyed the downtown farmer’s market on Saturday and while we wished we had more time to spend exploring the city, we continued our run east.