by John Kenyon
CEDAR RAPIDS – Everyone who touted Jeff Pomeranz’s attributes last week as they relate to his pending role as Cedar Rapids’ next city manager used some variation of this description: he’s up to the challenge.
For his part, Mr. Pomeranz chose other terms, landing most often on “action” and “aggressive” when describing his style.
If Mr. Pomeranz, who will leave the city manager’s post in West Des Moines to take the job in Cedar Rapids, delivers as advertised, he will join a city administration that has taken words like “action” and “aggressive” to heart.
In six months, the city council, led by Mayor Ron Corbett, has accepted the resignation of Mr. Pomeranz’s predecessor, Jim Prosser, secured millions in funding for flood-recovery and economic-development projects, sought to purchase the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel and more.
It is an aggressive agenda of action items that stands in stark contrast to the more deliberate, study-based work of the past council that worked with Mr. Prosser.
Asked if he was aware of the fact that the perception of too much planning and study led in part to Mr. Prosser’s exit, Mr. Pomeranz said that there always is a need to analyze alternatives.
“But my nature is to take action,” he said. “Getting things done. That’s where I enjoy being a city manager.”
Cedar Rapids will certainly be a challenge for Mr. Pomeranz, and there should be plenty of opportunity to take action. Unlike the growing city of West Des Moines that he leaves behind, Cedar Rapids continues to recover from the 2008 flood, is dealing with job losses and faces housing stock issues.
Mayor Ron Corbett said Mr. Pomeranz’s clear hand in the growth and development of West Des Moines, coupled with his work chairing the state’s I-JOBS board were key qualifications for the Cedar Rapids job.
“This piece was very important to us,” he said of I-JOBS. “Hiring someone who has to get up to speed would take time.”
Former Aegon USA CEO Pat Baird has worked with Mr. Pomeranz on the I-JOBS board for the past two years. He praised Mr. Pomeranz’s selection.
“I think of all the options and ideas I have heard come from the council, I think Jeff is the best option by far that we have,” he said. “I think the mayor is right that we need someone from Iowa. Because of what happens with flood recovery, we need to work with people in Des Moines, and Jeff knows everyone there.”
Mr. Baird said that under Mr. Pomeranz’s leadership, the board moved much more quickly than any similar committee.
“I’m a business guy, so I can move very quickly, but someone needed to know how to get it through to stand the test of time, audits, media and so forth, and Jeff facilitated that,” he said. “I am absolutely 100 percent convinced he will focus on what gets done as opposed to who does it.”
If the city council votes June 22 to hire him — and that seems all but assured — he is expected to start in September. Interim City Manager Allan Thoms will serve until that time.
Mr. Pomeranz will earn $225,000 annually. He earned $200,000 in West Des Moines. Mr. Prosser earned $165,000. Mr. Pomeranz will be joined in Cedar Rapids by his wife, Nancy. They have two children who attend the University of Iowa.
Mr. Pomeranz said that while there are things he will need to address immediately, he plans to reach out to the community to see what needs are perceived.
“Then I’ll put a plan together of the things we need to work on,” he said. “Execution is critical. After listening, it’s about leading. What excites me is getting things done. I’m part of the solution.”
Mr. Corbett said Mr. Pomeranz’s agenda should include rebuilding the city’s tax base, being pro-development and bringing jobs back to the area. Flood recovery will be a key task for the next decade, he added.
Beyond flood recovery, economic development will be a key task. There, he has a proven track record. West Des Moines under Mr. Pomeranz has been named the best city government conducive to business for several years in the Des Moines Business Record’s annual “best of” poll of readers. In 2009, the most recent year the poll was conducted, the city was recognized for its continued business and retail development.
Since Mr. Pomeranz became West Des Moines city manager in 1998, the city has seen the opening of the Jordan Creek Town Center mall and offices for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and Aviva USA. It is working with Microsoft on a planned data center, though the company last week would only confirm that it wants to build in Iowa.
Iowa Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene Meyer worked with Mr. Pomeranz for a decade while the former was mayor of West Des Moines. He was part of the team that hired Mr. Pomeranz, and worked with him until he retired to take the state job in 2007.
“I’m excited for the city of Cedar Rapids, and I’m excited for Jeff,” he said. “As much as I’m sad to see him depart, I promise you he will excel in Cedar Rapids, and in the wider area in Eastern Iowa. He is a leader, a consensus builder. He gets things done.”
Mr. Meyer said that if Mr. Pomeranz lacked anything in the late 1990s when he was hired in West Des Moines, it was economic development experience.
“I knew he would develop that,” he said. “You can look at West Des Moines and see how he did.”
Asked to compare Cedar Rapids and West Des Moines, Mr. Pomeranz said Cedar Rapids obviously is larger, with about 130,000 residents compared with West Des Moines’ 57,000. West Des Moines also continues to grow geographically, having annexed 12 square miles in the past decade.
Cedar Rapids, in contrast, is more traditional, with a downtown, and is more of a full-service community, which he said is exciting.
Mr. Pomeranz said his recruiting pitch to companies on behalf of Cedar Rapids would include that it’s a great place to live, has great housing, successful educational institutions, terrific medical facilities, a supportive business community and climate and a can-do attitude.
“Consider us; we’re open for business,” he said.
He also noted Cedar Rapids’ place in the Corridor, saying that collaboration with other communities in the region was absolutely critical.
“I don’t see Cedar Rapids as an island just working for ourselves,” he said. “We work for a region, all trying to make the other communities as well as our own the most successful we and they can be.”
Go Daddy update
Mr. Corbett was criticized earlier this month when it was revealed that he had approached Go Daddy about relocating to downtown Cedar Rapids.
The company, which has offices in Hiawatha, had been set to renovate and move into additional space in Hiawatha. After Mr. Corbett’s offer, which involved a building at 323 Third St. SE, Go Daddy put its plans on hold in Hiawatha.
Mr. Corbett said that while he will continue to have a role in economic development, he will rely on Mr. Pomeranz to do the technical work of putting deals together.
“He knows how to put these things together,” he said. “I’m the ambassador, dealing with the political side.”
Mr. Pomeranz said he didn’t know all of the details of the Go Daddy situation, but said more generally he would not be passive if there is the chance of luring jobs to Cedar Rapids.
“When there are potential, opportunities, we will be aggressive,” he said.
A Go Daddy spokesperson would only say that the company working to open a customer care center in the “Cedar Rapids/Hiawatha region” this summer, and that it is hoped a location will be determined soon.