Why Iowa? Five Questions with Lori Chesser
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Why Iowa? Five Questions with Lori Chesser


Lori Chesser

Dentons Davis Brown

Lori Chesser, Shareholder, Dentons Davis Brown

After earning a law degree at the University of Georgia, Lori Chesser returned to the Midwest to be closer to family and join a law firm where she felt she could make a difference. A shareholder in Dentons Davis Brown law firm in Des Moines, she has built a reputation as one of the preeminent immigration lawyers and advocates in Iowa and around the country.  

Chesser assists employers, business owners and individuals as they navigate the complex U.S. immigration system. Her clients range from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies across healthcare, IT, insurance, agriculture, chemical, higher education, churches and non-profits.  

She has also served in a number of leadership and advocacy roles, including working with business associations like the Greater Des Moines Partnership and Iowa Business Council to inform advocacy for immigration reform. She is past chair of the American Immigration Council Board of Trustees and co-founded the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Iowa/Nebraska Chapter, serving as its first chair. Chesser advocated for the opening of the Des Moines Suboffice of the Immigration Service so Iowa residents would not need to travel to Omaha for their immigration applications. 

She also serves as a facilitator to the Corridor’s Cultivo® Virtual Academy sessions focused on immigration and human resources topics to provide critical insights for companies planning their U.S. market entry.  

1. What are the key things that international scaleup companies need to know when expanding into the U.S. market? 

Employment and tax laws are different for each country, and in the U.S., employment laws particularly vary by state. Expert advice is critical in these areas before hiring the first employee. The U.S. immigration laws are federal (meaning they are the same across the U.S.) and are uniquely complex. Talking with a competent U.S. immigration attorney should also be top of the list if any non-U.S. employees will help set up or staff the company. Solutions usually exist, but can be jeopardized if the wrong decisions are made at the outset. Finally, U.S. law requires that the work authorization of each employee be confirmed by completing a Form I-9 upon hire. Some states have special rules about this aspect of immigration compliance, such as requiring certain employers to use E-Verify, an on-line program to confirm the Form I-9 information. Immigration counsel can assist in understanding these obligations as well. 

2. What advantages does Iowa provide to international companies looking to enter the U.S. marketplace?  

I often hear from my clients that they enjoy the same aspects that kept us here: They like the small town feeling with access to amenities. Many describe Iowa as “calm”. They also find the business community to be accessible and open to new ideas. The Cultivo Virtual Academy is a great example of the kind of assistance available to companies locating here.  

3. What advice do you have for young professionals in getting involved in Iowa communities? 

1. Show up. The benefits of being involved is worth the time and effort invested in the community.  

2. Do what you say you will do. If people can count on you, they will give you more responsibility.  

3. Know your limits. You can’t do everything all at once. Choose something you care about and let other opportunities go as needed to succeed in your job and maintain your non-work responsibilities and interests.

4. What advice do you have for someone considering a move or return to Iowa? 

So much of what is great about Iowa is found by living here rather than visiting. While we have plenty of fun things for tourists, the real quality is experienced in the day-to-day. I once hosted a business contact from Washington, D.C., to speak at a conference in Des Moines. She was astounded at the casual interactions of strangers greeting each other on the street. She was impressed with the quality of the community interactions at the conference, the deep engagement and expertise exhibited. And she loved our amenities and how easy they were to access. We definitely surprised her. I realized that I take all this for granted because it is the way we live here. 

When I took the role at then Davis Brown law firm, I was engaged and my fiancé agreed to join me in Des Moines. We married that same year. We thought Des Moines would be a great place to raise a family and when we had our children – two daughters – we were proved right! Although balancing work and family is never easy, the culture of the firm was so helpful in navigating that challenge, as was the easy commute and the educational offerings for our children. It was also easy to become involved in the community and our parish.  

Also, the business and legal community is collegial and has a “small town” feel. Becoming involved and gaining leadership opportunities does not require a lot of personal connections or deep family roots.  

5. Please share three recommendations of things to do or places to go in Iowa. 

Local restaurants: We have amazing chefs and a wide variety of cuisine from all over the world. We have trouble finding comparable Mexican, Thai, Indian or Vietnamese or locavore restaurants when we travel except in the largest cities. 

Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market: The queen of the many local farmers markets, it is every Saturday from May through October from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine. The people (and dog) watching is almost as good as the produce and prepared food on offer. Several live music performances run simultaneously throughout the market. 

Art: Iowa is home to notable art museums and public art, as well as the host of one of the top art festivals in the country. Local artists and art districts can be found in many cities, both small and large. The Stanley Museum of Art in Iowa City is home to an historic collection of modern art, including Jackson Pollock’s Mural. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art includes Grant Wood’s studio, where he painted American Gothic. The Des Moines Art Center’s buildings, collections and grounds are all world class, as is the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Downtown Des Moines. And that is only scratching the surface! 

Published February 2024. 

Corridor News