Why Iowa? Q&A with Director Durham
As Director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA), Debi Durham is focused on building coalitions, supporting new ventures and strengthening the state’s industries and communities. Director Durham was first appointed to lead IEDA in 2011 and has turned the agency into a successful public-private partnership, landed billion-dollar economic development projects for Iowa and worked tirelessly on expanding trade and investment opportunities for the state.
Prior to joining IEDA, Director Durham served as president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce in Sioux City, Iowa. She is a native of Missouri, holding a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Marketing and Management from Missouri Southern State University.
1. What brought you to Iowa and why did you stay?
I came to Iowa as the trailing spouse for my husband’s career. I told my husband I was willing to stay for three years. And when three years passed, I decided I wasn’t leaving. There is something special about Iowa. It’s a great place to raise a family, our communities are vibrant, and there are opportunities in every corner of the state. In some places, you need pedigree to step up and lead. In Iowa, you just raise your hand. It’s a different world here.
2. What advantages does Iowa offer to founders or startups looking to develop a new idea, especially in agriculture?
Iowa’s startup scene is absolutely flourishing. The network in Iowa is not only strong, it’s very accessible. Access to seasoned business mentors is often one phone call away. You’ll find the opportunity to meet with university researchers, CEOs, and other entrepreneurs who have walked the path. People want to extend a helping hand to those just starting out.
Iowa is the best place to live out the American Dream: US News and World Report recently ranked Iowa #1 in the nation for opportunity. We’re very proud of that.
And while Iowa creates opportunities for businesses to grow, we’re equally invested in building communities where people want to live. It’s a pillar of our economic development strategy. We invest in everything from our trails system to our Main Streets and quality of life initiatives, including housing, child care and broadband. The pandemic taught us that you can run the world from anywhere if you have good connectivity. And this year we saw a significant investment in broadband, thanks to Governor Reynolds and legislative leaders.
3. What resources are available to entrepreneurs and companies through IEDA?
You’d be hard-pressed to find another state agency as nimble and as invested in the success of others. Most of the direct financial assistance IEDA has available to award goes to startups and small businesses through our innovation platform programs, and we have invested more than $27 million in projects since 2011. We also provide business-building resources at IASourceLink.com and partner with a company called VentureNet Iowa to mentor entrepreneurs along the path to commercialization. Countless companies will tell you how instrumental we’ve been through the growth cycle of their business, not just startups. Still, state government plays a small role in supporting innovation. It takes a total ecosystem. But we’re sometimes that lifeline until other funding follows.
4. What are some recent programs or efforts that are focused on making Iowa the best place for our residents to live and work?
We are constantly innovating in our work to make Iowa the choice to visit, live, work and do business. When research told us young adults and families are willing to move for the right opportunity, we dialed up our marketing through IEDA’s This is Iowa initiative. We are introducing Iowa to the nation for the first time through a multimedia ad campaign that lets others in on Iowa’s secret, including our stunning views, arts and culture, and opportunities to grow – a career, a business, a family.
Another great example of big thinking: Iowa is leading one of the most comprehensive studies of carbon management through a statewide task force convened by Governor Reynolds. Carbon management projects have so much potential to grow our economy and help our ethanol plants meet aggressive carbon-free goals set in other states and countries.
5. Please give us three recommendations of places to go or things to do in Iowa.
Choosing just three is difficult! Iowa has so many wonderful attractions, events and communities. No matter what your interests, we have the tools to help you build your trip at TravelIowa.com.
• Hinterland Music Festival near St. Charles pairs renowned musicians with incredible panoramic views of Iowa’s rolling hills.
• Events like the Iowa State Fair and attractions like pumpkin patches and apple orchards showcase Iowa’s rich agricultural heritage. The Farm and Fun Passport helps travelers find more of those hidden gems and encourages them to experience agriculture in a more hands-on way.
• Iowa is fortunate to have so many passionate brewers crafting beers that attract national and international attention. Toppling Goliath’s release events draw thousands of visitors to Decorah from the Midwest and beyond.
• Iowa also has thousands of miles of paved trail routes that take bicyclists through incredible landscapes – it’s the best way to experience Iowa’s small town hospitality and local restaurants.