Postcard from America’s Heartland

I have just returned from America’s Heartland ~ Des Moines, Iowa ~ where state business roundtable executives from around the country gathered for our annual meeting. As a first time visitor to Iowa, my working knowledge of the state was not going to win me any money on Jeopardy, but such are the side benefits of these annual meetings. Even stoic Yankees can become fans; like Robert Frost who commented on Iowa’s soil that had lain undisturbed for millennia by saying, “It looks good enough to eat without putting it through vegetables.” And in this early autumn, with vast fields harvested of its corn, my eyes traveled for miles across “the bright golden haze on the meadow” that not only feeds the nation, but the world as well. It was, indeed, a thing of beauty.

But though we were on the doorstep of the Iowa State Fair, we spent precious little time talking about the failed farm bill. Instead, and not surprisingly, we talked about activities within and across our respective states around P-20 education; energy supplies and infrastructure; health and wellness initiatives; and, tax policies and fiscal cliffs. We talked about “debt addicts on budgetary crystal meth”, “the do-nothing 112th Congress”, “blue zones” and “thin places”, and steered away from the November 6 presidential election because we fairly well cancel each other out.

We all agreed, however, that change in these important sectors will not happen unless the business sector (including both private and not-for- profit institutions) steps up to lead where government increasingly cannot: to articulate the long-term vision, harness talent and alliances, create the road map, and leverage data and deadlines to remove obstacles toward progress.  And though it was painful to acknowledge, we recognized that the commitment takes decades to bear fruit, not biennial sessions.

Speakers are the two-day meeting included: Former Governor John Engler (Michigan), President of the Business Roundtable; Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Martha Kanter; former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth Quinn, President, The World Food Prize Foundation; former CEO and Chairman of Hy-Vee Ric Jurgen, Chair of the Healthiest State Initiative; and John Norris, Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.