New Hot Spot for Jobs: Workers Flocking to the 'Brain Belt'

des moinesSilicon Valley (Northern California) and Silicon Alley (New York) are so last century when it comes to being major high-tech draws. Even the Boston/Cambridge and Washington, D.C./Arlington areas seems to be taking a back seat to the nation's new "Brain Belt," so christened by Joel Kotkin, the internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends. This new area of high tech development spans the Heartland states, particularly the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.

That's right. We said Brain Belt, not Bran Belt. It includes once bucolic-sounding cities like Sioux Falls, Des Moines and Boise, which consistently rank high in quality of living, and low in unemployment (6.2 percent in some areas). There are jobs in health care, finance, technology and other well-paying fields. Also, the lower housing, goods and real estate costs, plus excellent public schools and universities draw large professional service firms, information companies and innovative manufacturers.

Prestigious companies such as Dell Computers, U.S. Bank Corp. and Clarion have all expanded and invested heavily in Heartland areas, and Wells Fargo is setting up a huge new office complex of nearly 1 million square feet in a Des Moines suburb.

Living the dream

Until recently, it was the dream of almost every top student in the Midwest's myriad universities to graduate and prove themselves in the thriving metropolises on either coast. But the frustrating congestion and outrageous cost of living in the big cities has become more daunting of late. The Midwest, with its wide open, uncrowded spaces and reasonable costs, has become far more attractive to many.

hot jobs"I'd always envisioned working in New York after I graduated," says Lauren Aust, a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. With dreams of her name appearing on the masthead of a glossy magazine, she was no different from many aspiring journalists. "Landing a summer internship with Men's Journal was an absolute dream," she says. "Finding a job and an apartment, however, wasn't."

Aust returned to her hometown of Kansas City in the fall when her internship was through, and started hunting for work. While waiting to receive a job offer for an event-planning position, Meredith Corporation in Des Moines called (she admits it was a lesson in persistence -- she submitted her resume three times). The next morning she drove to Iowa for a day of interviews; within a week she accepted an offer, and within a month she relocated.

"Little did I know, the best-kept secret of the publishing world was in Des Moines," Aust says. "It would have taken me years in New York to earn the job title and responsibilities I have now -- and the lifestyle I can afford here in comparison is beyond comfortable. When it comes to my professional development and growth, I'm in the best place I could be."

That old sense of isolation, of being "out in the sticks," is no longer an issue, according to many Midwesterners. Advances in telecommunications and transportation and their decreasing costs make it easier than ever to communicate, research and travel. Thanks to the Internet, a software writer or a stockbroker in a small, remote town has the same access to electronic resources as anyone in New York or San Francisco.

Home is where the Heartland Is

Meagan Grandgeorge is an example of a young grad who left the Midwest to make it in the big city, but found herself longing for the greener pastures of the prairie. "I graduated from Drake (in Des Moines) in May of 2001 and moved back to the Chicago suburbs to start my job search," she recounted. "By the next spring I had found a secretarial position that paid next to nothing and was across the street from my parents house --not that dream job every college graduate is looking for! I was an hour from the city and missing out on all the post-college fun.

"In November of 2002 I decided that something had to give. I was stuck in a rut and thought, "If I do not leave home now, I may never leave." That thought spurred my decision to move back to Des Moines. I thought that in Des Moines, I would be a big fish in a small pond. I moved just days before the New Year wanting to have a fresh start in 2003.

"I quickly made connections in Des Moines and took a seasonal job with the Arts Festival. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to meet people and make connections. In my four years at Drake, I never really experienced Des Moines as a city. It has all the benefits of a large city (great restaurants, public transportation, amazing events, great parks, I could really go on and on) without the hassle (expensive cost of living, traffic, parking, crime, etc). Having a 13-minute commute doesn't hurt either!"

Now hot jobs owns a "great home," works for the Iowa State Fair and owns a restaurant with her husband. She also gets involved with the community by taking classes at the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute and participating in Junior League activites. A full life like that makes most major city dwellers' heads spin. It seems like something their parents might have been able to achieve a couple decades ago, but is now beyond their reach.

Of course, there are still those who scratch their heads and ask, "You're moving where?" when informed that the Midwest is calling. Aust admits she had to get over the shock that she was moving to Iowa: "Quite the switch from New York," she told people. "But when Forbes featured Des Moines among its best places, I knew I was in a city I was proud to call home."

Naysayers are invited to stay put and enjoy the smog, traffic, and sky-high living expenses.

Next: Hiring Trends for 2010: Where the Jobs Are >>

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Tom Flynn

This is a great article and very true. I have lived in Des Moines my whole life and it is amazing, the changes that have taken place in just the past 5-10 years. We have a strong, diverse business base that is home of big companies and also a very lively entrepreneurial culture. It is a great place to grow a family. As a kid, I thought it would be good to move to a bigger city. Now, I wouldn't consider it.

September 01 2010 at 9:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tom Flynn's comment

I lived in Des Moines and Iowa City for a total of about 3 years and found both areas overall very pleasant. However, Iowa has high income and business taxes and the government has a very hostile attitude towards business. Generally, Iowa ranks at the bottom of "business friendly" states. Politics in the state are extremely left-wing and many people are radical socialists who love income redistribution.

Housing costs in both Des Moines and Iowa City are outrageous... more like Minneapolis. Omaha is much more reasonable and politically more conservative.

Also, I found people in Des Moines and Iowa City suspicious and hostile. In the work environment (professional IT shops), I found co-workers and managers absolutely ruthless and cold-blooded. Worse than the 10 years I was in D.C. BTW, my hometown is Huntsville, AL, which was just received recognition as the #1 place to live in the U.S.

September 02 2010 at 1:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's what you get used to. I now live in michigan and would move back to the mid atlantic states tomorrow if I was able to.

September 01 2010 at 7:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

svs: I am not opposed to change.....I am opposed to people who move into a community and instead of embracing it harp about how things were better/different where they came from. If where they came from was so great perhaps they should have stayed there. I am an Air Force brat and my husband and I have been moved aound a lot with his company. We became members of the communities where we lived. I learned new things from them all and hopefully I was able to show others new things too. I did not try to impose on anyone. All I am saying is don't belittle the ways of the people that were there before you-----share and learn---it goes both ways and don't try to change things just because they don't suit you. I agree if things were the same as they have always been we would still be living in caves.LOL

September 01 2010 at 6:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Obama-types need not apply !

September 01 2010 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was stationed near Omaha Nebraska in the Mid to late 90's. They were talking then about the coming Tech boom, and at the time I heard the term "Silicone Prairie" tossed around. I guess it never caught on. "Brain Belt" is a little more original, and distinguishes itself from the Silicone twins.

September 01 2010 at 4:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Let's hope that people moving into the new "Brain Belt" respect the traditions and values of the people that have lived there for years. It has been my experience that too often the newcommers want to make their new places of residence into copies of their old citeis and towns. While some changes are OK most of them are not. The low crime rates and the affordable housing will change to reflect the influx of new people. When we lived in a rural area of Colorado the county actually had to send out letters telling the new ex-city dwellers that they now lived in the country and that meant baby calves crying, chickens clucking and farmers up at the crack of dawn plowing their fields and to please remember that these things had been a part of the county and country living for years---long before the newcomers came with their whining about how they thought "things ought to be". The newbies complained about not having enough fast food resturants, not enough options in the grocery stores, the stores closing too early, etc., etc., etc. Embrace where you are not where you came from and if you can't do that stay away. "We don't care how you did where you came from".

September 01 2010 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Debora's comment

This is why i'll never go back to the midwest...where I grew up. Very close-minded to change and diversity. It's a changing world. It would be nice if we all accepted each other. When new people move in, there will be change. A community is an evolving organism made up of all people who live there, not just the ones who were there first. Both sides should give up their whining and enjoy life and all the changes that come along with it.

September 01 2010 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Faux Blonde Foe

I also stumbled over "Lehman Bros." I don't think there are any "Lehman Bros." left. The "Lehman Bros." led the freefall into what became TARP under the last administration, aka Troubled Asset Relief Program or "bailout."

Suddenly, I don't believe a word this article claims as fact.

September 01 2010 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great. There go our great housing costs, etc. Who leaked the fact that the plains are a great place to live? Soon we'll have traffic jams like Los Angeles and tons of people crowded together like New York. We have great food (think Bar-B Que for a start), Lots of entertainment, and it's a great place to bring up kids. Lots of wide open spaces (Not city next to city like California). Hope all those folks stay on the coasts and enjoy their polution and leave the clean air to us in the Heartland!

September 01 2010 at 3:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
objective stick

You lost me a "prestige companies such as ... LEHMAN BROTHERS" Duh we have been and are going thru a financial crisis because of companies such as Lehman Brothers and Wells Fargo. Wouldn't want to work for either one of them regardless of where they open up shop.

September 01 2010 at 3:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to objective stick's comment

Good point

September 01 2010 at 3:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People in the midwest are the nicest people you would ever want to meet. I hope the buttheads from the coasts dont move there and spoil it.

September 01 2010 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bill's comment

Aw shucks, we're not all like that! Shouldn't catalorize people.

Phil from New York City

September 14 2010 at 12:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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