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Trip to conference well worth time and cost

On May 22-25, I had the opportunity to attend the National Main Street Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. Although I received a complimentary scholarship to the conference by virtue of the Estacada Development Assn. being a Transforming Main Street member, my transportation and lodging costs were well worth my personal expenditure.

Unfortunately the trip coincided with Midwest stormy weather that disrupted my travel plans and some of my conference experiences. I spent a great deal of time in airport lounges awaiting delayed flights while watching tornado replays and the wrenching details of the Joplin Missouri tragedy unfold just a few hundred miles away.

Des Moines is the capital and largest city in Iowa, with a population of around 200,000, and is named after a French term meaning 'City of the Monks.' Its colonial history dates to the mid-1700s, when it was settled as part of the French empire, and it was named a U.S. city in 1851.

Some of the tours I missed, due to the weather, were of the well-preserved historic districts of Des Moines. Des Moines serves as the financial, insurance, manufacturing and transportation center of Iowa, which is generally considered part of the agricultural heartland known as the Corn Belt. Due to housing growth lower than the national average, the area was less affected by the recent recession and currently has a 7 percent unemployment rate.

One of the benefits of conferences, in addition to the information received in workshops, is the opportunity to network with other attendees. I roomed with Oscar Hult, the Albany, Oregon, Main Street Manager, but also was joined by local attendees Amy Koski of Molalla, Amy Kieffer of Canby, Sam Honl and Jamie Johnk of Clackamas County Main Street and Sheri Stuart, the Oregon State coordinator. Oregon seemed well represented and demonstrated an unusual influence in sharing best practices. However, it is always interesting in hearing the views of people from other parts of the country and listening to their particular challenges.

Katie Tucker and I divided up the workshops so we could attend the most possible. The workshops I attended included ones on the IRS's new checklist and requirements for tax exempt organizations, understanding changes in consumer spending, asset quilting and focusing marketing on community assets, developing entrepreneurs, applying 'Smart Growth' principles and learning how to identify historic buildings. All of these have great relevance to Estacada and I hope to share the ideas and adapt the lessons locally.

One tour I did have the opportunity to take was to Valley Junction in West Des Moines. Its downtown area is about the size of Estacada's and has been adapted to retain the historic character in what they call the intersection of 'hip and History.' They have re-invented their community to attract visitors through several weekly street fairs that feature music, entertainment, food booths and their mix of galleries, antique and specialty stores, and restaurants and bars. The tour was an entertaining evening that capped a memorable trip.

Phil Lingelbach is chairman of the Estacada Development Association.