Partnership eyes action on airport terminal, water trails

By: - June 29, 2021 12:26 pm

A new airport terminal in Des Moines is among the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s priorities. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Greater Des Moines Partnership will push for added funding for a new Des Moines airport terminal and water trails in the area.

The organization, the largest chamber group in Central Iowa, also included immigration reform, infrastructure spending and small business support among its top five federal priorities for this year.

“We look forward to working closely with our federal congressional delegation on advancing priorities that will make DSM and Iowa, its businesses and its residents stronger,” Matt Ahmann, chairman of the Partnership’s  Government Policy Council, said in a statement Tuesday.

The Partnership’s annual lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., is typically held in May, but was delayed to Sept. 22-24 due to the pandemic. The 2022 event will be May 8-11.

The 2020 lobbying event was held virtually in September due to COVID-19.

Here’s a look at the five main priorities this year:

Des Moines International Airport terminal

Des Moines International Airport has seen a surge in passenger traffic lately, at times drawing 70% to 80% of pre-pandemic traffic, said Kerty Levy, airport board member.

The airport expects to return to the roughly 3 million passengers per year that used the facility before the pandemic. The airport has a $644 million impact on the local economy, Levy added.

The new terminal would have larger gates capable of serving bigger jets, she said.

Early work on an airport makeover in preparation for a new terminal continues, but the airport still has a $200 million budget shortfall. Des Moines area officials have said they hope federal infrastructure grants may help, and they continue to lobby for the right to raise fees on tickets to come up with money to build the terminal.

“The Partnership believes that as the current terminal facility comes to the end of its useful economic life, it is imperative to invest in a facility and space that accommodates Greater Des Moines’ (DSM’s) economic growth and allows the flexibility that the airport will need in the future,” the Partnership’s new report reads.

Central Iowa Water Trails

Central Iowa Water Trails plans improvements along 150 miles of Central Iowa streams, including the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers in downtown Des Moines, to improve recreation. The 86 projects would include whitewater runs, access points, and areas for fishing and wading.

“… The Partnership views the primary pathway to success as a public-private investment. With just under $25 million in private dollars from individuals and businesses already committed, the Partnership supports allocating adequate and permanent funding sources to meet the infrastructure needs of the project,” the report said.

“Outdoor recreation is incredibly important,” said Kathryn Kunert, a MidAmerican Energy Co. vice president and a leader on the Central Iowa Water Trails board, said.

Money for the $100 million-plus regional plan is likely to come from federal grants, private investment and local governments, she added.


The infrastructure spending proposed by President Joe Biden and a bipartisan congressional committee is a chance to speed up important projects, the Partnership said. “The Partnership believes reliable and well-maintained infrastructure is imperative to a strong business climate and growing economy,” the report noted.

Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly said the Partnership hopes for major funding for roads and broadband improvements.

Small business support

The Partnership called for continued technical and financial support from the U.S. Small Business Administration as businesses continue to recover from the pandemic.

“The Partnership supports streamlining the government procurement process and increasing business opportunities for the private sector in the federal market,” according to the report.

Karen Kuhn, assistant vice president at Nationwide, said small business support, minority business programs and support for manufacturing are among the most important elements of federal support.

Immigration reform

The Partnership is continuing its long push for immigration reform, including expansion of the H-1B visa program for highly skilled workers. Iowa businesses have long listed shortages of skilled labor as one of their biggest challenges.

Expanding the Employment-Based Immigrant Visa Program and making it easier for foreign-born entrepreneurs to start businesses in the United States are also among the Partnership’s goals.

Taking those actions “will further the goals of a diverse and inclusive population and establish Iowa as a welcoming state,” the Partnership said.

Tej Dhawan, strategic initiatives officer at Principal Financial Group, said travel restrictions during the pandemic showed the difficulty college campuses and businesses had without the full complement of foreign-born students and workers.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.