By Katherine Harrington, President/CEO | West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce
So let’s think back to 2020. What crazy time. Business were shutting down. We all started working from home and doing something called “Zoom”. No one was going to work except essential workers. If you were a company, you were scrambling to find computer for workers… Well, that was my first day on the job. On April 1st – April fool’s day to be exact.
It was a super crazy time, but we felt like, as a Chamber we have a HUGE responsibility. To be there for our members. The only way to be there was to instead of retracting, we doubled down on our programming and created new ways for people to engage and help grow their business and amplify them through digital, photography, online, events, video, and social media. Our goal was to be one of the loudest towns around and not back down.
Reflecting, back on April 1st, we had two employees: Kara Matheson, who is now our vice president of workforce development and culture, and myself. Today, we have a team of 6 including three interns who help oversee and orchestrate 150 events and gatherings a year, 15 programs, 14 committees & groups, and support 722 members.
Our team is high achieving. We do this by creating a trustworthy support system that lets our team work when they want to work, work where they want, and what they want to work on. We are like a startup. Everyone has projects they lead. The sky is the limit and a ‘think big’ and innovative mindset is encouraged. We are kick ass community problem solvers and no idea is a bad idea.
Our goal is to make West Des Moines the best city in America to live, work, and play. Also – being the 6th largest city in the state of Iowa, we feel it is also our duty to help market and promote IOWA, as the best state in the planet to live, work and play.
There are four vital pillars that defines our work and everything we do.
- Workforce Development and Talent Attraction.
- Supporting our West Des Moines Chamber Members with tools, resources, and powerful ways to amplify and promote their business.
- Community Development, Placemaking and Tourism.
- Helping to make the City of West Des Moines a welcoming place for all. Because it does not matter who you are, where you come from, or who you love, you are welcome here.
Over the last three years, we have developed new, groundbreaking, and award-winning programming. Our team has been working so hard that in 2022 we were awarded one of three finalists as the Chamber of the Year USA by the most respected, national chamber trade organization (ACCE). In all, our Chamber and team has been honored with 14 awards. Some of these awards are due to the Chamber and City working closely together and include in 2022 we were awarded the Technology Association of Iowa’s Statewide Technology Community of the Year, and the US Small Business Administration Small Business Community of the Year. Additional honors include the West Des Moines Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Organization Leadership Award, Tom Florian – Sr. Director of Membership and Strategic Marketing was honored nationally as 40 Under 40 by ACCE, and I was honored with the PRSA Iowa Chapter Iowa Advocate Award.
Some of the accomplishments our team has achieved includes the development of several brand-new programs which includes (but not limited to):
The Best of The West Awards that is a community voting program where we spotlight 50 member businesses and the great people in West Des Moines.
The West YP for young professionals has quickly grown and is now the largest young professionals’ group in the state of Iowa with 225 members.
The statewide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Workplace Excellence Awards has been recognized nationally as a program our chamber trade organization (ACCE) encourages other Chambers around the USA to replicate.
The Explore West Des Moines Committee created the MACE award finalist and City View Runner up Best Festival in West Des Moines, the statewide Raccoon River Rally fall festival where thousands gather at Racoon River Park to celebrate and enjoy bands, beers, bikes, and boats. Cardboard boat races, that is.
The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee created the International Athene Black & Brown Business Summit that was the winner of the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s brand-new Equity Innovation Award in 2022. Including in 2023, we have totaled $82,000 donated to minority business owners through the pitch competition.
To help business make sales, we created the West Des Moines Leads groups. These are business networking groups where businesses development professionals share leads and develop strong relationships.
A spin off of West Des Moines Leads, is the rapidly growing, regional Latino Trade Network where business owners collaborate, celebrate, and support each other to help their businesses grow.
With the talent attraction crunch, we developed several new programs in 2022 including a talent attraction partner program where 10 companies have the opportunity be co-branded alongside the West Des Moines Chamber in finding young talent across the Midwest at career fairs, and at TREK days where we bus talent to their companies so they can see and experience what it would be like to work at our region’s top firms. Part of this program includes a national advertising campaign this summer where we will strategically be telling the story of ‘why West Des Moines’ and ‘why Iowa’ to help draw more talent to our city and companies.
This summer, our YURtern for summer interns’ group is going regional and we are combining with the Greater Des Moines Partnership for a social gathering downtown at the new Big Grove Brewery.
We launched a brand-new partnership with the BetterCulture organization and we have the exclusive license in our region to help companies create the best culture possible and companies have the chance to be BetterCulture certified to help with their talent attraction efforts.
Uplifting women is key to our mission, and we were proud to introduce a new, sold-out event called TINA TALKS where six women tell their story of perseverance to help inspire others.
Telling the story of Why West Des Moines is critical if we are going to attract and keep talent. We have created many new ways to tell that story and to give an opportunity for our members to be highlighted including the publishing of the 515 West Magazine, the weekly West Des Moines Newsletter, the monthly Influencer newsletter, a student newsletter The Scoop and the West YP Newsletter. Open rates are extremely high on these story telling assets (averaging 38%) and our reach is 5,500. Plus, our social media presence has grown by 40% through systematic campaigns and engaging content.
We are all about keeping our community strong by giving back and helping others. Part of event sponsor proceeds helps to benefit a nonprofit organization that aligns with our event’s mission. With the support of our cherished sponsors, we have been able to donate over $100,000 to community organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa, Latina Leadership Institute, Conmigo Early Education Center, West Des Moines Community Foundation, CultureALL, Jewel’s Academy, Wilkie House, the Athene Pedestrian Bridge, west Des Moines Safety Cadets, NAACP Iowa Chapter, Al Razi Academy, Children & Family Urban Movement, Oakridge Neighborhood, and currently we are fundraising for the By Degrees Foundation.
And, with the 15th year of the nationally recognized West Des Moines Leadership Academy, as part of the program’s community service project, we calculated that well over $100,000 has been raised for regional nonprofits.
In 2024 we will be enjoying our 100-year anniversary. To help keep our Chamber strong for the next 100 years, our goals are to reach 1,000 members by 2024, reach 24 new Presidents Council Members, and find innovative ways to amplify our city and members.
This is few of the many new ways we have innovated over the last three years. We are just starting to scratch the surface on how we can serve our community, region, and state. Important to note that 30% of our members are not within West Des Moines. People and organizations want to be part of the growth and excitement of our city and we have worked hard to position West Des Moines for the advancement of all and we could not have done this work without our investors support.
Thank you especially to Presidents Council Members Sammons Financial Group, The Iowa Clinic, Hurd Real Estate, Hy-Vee, West Bank, NCMIC, Iowa Realty, Principal, IMT Insurance and new members President Council members Merchants Bonding Company and Casey’s. Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers, members, investors, sponsors, supporters, and the Chamber team for making this happen. We could not have done this work without Chamber leaders Kara Matheson, Tom Florian, Anna Doud, Meredith Murphy, and Tiffany Piper. It takes us working together to help build a strong city. We are honored to do this work and to serve you. We love our city and Chamber family. The West Des Moines Chamber means business and the ‘West’ is yet to come. Thank you for all of your support and let me know how we can help you!