Des Moines: A Model for Economic Development

to this story from the National Journal, Des Moines is a hipster mecca.

Young people here know what you think of this city. It doesn’t need repeating. But ambitious minds are in the process of building a new Des Moines, a tech hub in Silicon Prairie, an artistic center in the Heartland, a destination for people who want to create something meaningful outside of the limits imposed by an oversaturated city like Chicago or New York.

How do we get there? Culture and opportunity for young professionals.

“How much are you working every day? How much are you being paid? How much is your cost of living?” Mannheimer asks. “What if I told you we have per capita the same amount of cultural amenities here that you do in New York? Get over your, ‘How do we even pronounce Des Moines?’ and ‘Where is it?’ and ‘Why should I even care about it?’ Get over it, and come out here and visit.”

Besides, he says, “In the world of hipsters, is there anything more ironic than coming to live in Des Moines, as opposed to living in Brooklyn?”

On paper, Des Moines has the assets to back up Mannheimer’s pitch: Cost of living is six percentage points below the national average, median salary is $51,200, job growth is 2.9 percent, there is one company with 500 or more employees for every 612 people, and millennials are pouring into Des Moines at a higher rate than they are nationally. Forbes even lists it as the best city for young professionals.

El Paso needs a cultural base. Maybe the Artspace Lofts, the artist gulag slated for construction next to the DoubleTree, will help. Everyone that I know who is looking for a place to live is attracted by cheap rents. But cheap rent alone won’t attract that elusive, oft-maligned, creative class.

Part of the problem is that El Paso is fractured. We’ve divided by culture, language, and geography. And efforts so far seem to be directed by and for a mono-cultural upper class.

El Paso should leverage it’s comparative advantage by working to attract “hipsters” from Mexico, (cadereros, I guess you’d call them), and among Mexican Americans. Unfortunately, all our recent efforts have been looking north.

If you look at El Paso’s past successes, you find significant achievements in the field of “Chicano” art. Gaspar Enriquez, Luis Jimenez, and Manuel Acosta all attained national prominence. El Paso should be fertilizing the fields where we already have something growing, instead of sowing mustard seeds where they might fall on rocky soil.

If you look for El Paso’s natural assets, and comparative advantage, it’s the border. For Americans, the advantage of the border is cheap labor in Mexico. For Mexicans, El Paso is a gateway to the United States. That’s something we can sell.


  1. You sort of need to have an education and not be cutting lawns for a living to be a hipster, which is difficult when you choose instead to start your family at 16. Then again, the kids are grown and out by the time you’re 40. So you could still be a midlife hipster.

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