Greater Des Moines Partnership CEO talks to Newton Chamber members

Members of the Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce got a chance today to learn more about the Greater Des Moines Partnership, of which Newton is a member, as well as the partnership's role in government affairs during a special event at Newton Manufacturing.

Jay Byers, chief executive officer for the partnership, spoke during today's luncheon sponsored by Newton Manufacturing, Hy-Vee and the Newton Chamber. Byers began with a brief history of the partnership.

The organization began in 1999, when a group of downtown Des Moines business people began to ask themselves how they could better leverage their business community for growth and economic development. A dual membership model was formed in 2008 with several outlying chambers of commerce, and finally the partnership was formed which now includes more than 4,300 businesses, 24 affiliate chambers of commerce, including Newton's, as well as economic development organizations in seven counties, including the Jasper County Economic Development Corporation.

The partnership works with regional community development organizations to augment the work of the member chambers of commerce. A focus for the group is on new company recruiting through trade shows, and through the regional workforce development offices, to build skills and create "talent magnets" to bring new entrepreneurs to the area.

There is also a focus on small business development, and the partnership offers technical assistance to businesses to help them succeed.

In the realm of government, Byers said, the partnership asks such questions as "How can we help TPI get a wind energy tax credit extended?" Government affairs is helping companies gain access to government officials, networking with other companies and government agencies as well.

Partnership members, including the Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce, are encouraged to participate in a government policy council, in order to develop state and federal agendas, and discuss regional issues. The partnership also organizes an annual lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., with a focus on funding and other legislative issues.

A Public Service Academy, sponsored by the partnership, encourages increased involvement from young entrepreneurs.

At the Iowa Statehouse, Byers said the partnership has been advocates for K-12 reform, property tax reform, an increase in the fuel tax and other economic development incentives. After the Iowa Values fund expired a few years ago, the partnership has been working on a new program to replace the state incentive fund. A small business wellness tax credit, to encourage small businesses to implement wellness programs for their employees, is another program the partnership is working on.

Locally, Darrell Sarmento, Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce director, said he has received permission to advocate for reinstatement of the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District tax (SMID), a small tax on downtown area businesses to be used for beautification projects and street-cleaning. The tax was eliminated in downtown Newton in 2005.

Byers previously served as communications director for Rep. Leonard Boswell, and as the partnership's senior vice president, government relations and public policy.

He currently serves on the American Chamber of Commerce Executives Board of Directors and also is active with the Professional Developers of Iowa, Iowa Association of Business and Industry and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.