Mannheimer created something that would have taken the rest his life and $300 million to complete if he'd stayed in New York. It took him seven years and $12 million. He also left his crappy, expensive apartment in Brooklyn for comparatively lavish digs in Des Moines. Now, he wants people living in New York or Chicago or Washington to think about doing the same.
"How much are you working every day? How much are you being paid? How much is your cost of living?" Mannheimer asks. "What if I told you we have per capita the same amount of cultural amenities here that you do in New York? Get over your, 'How do we even pronounce Des Moines?' and 'Where is it?' and 'Why should I even care about it?' Get over it, and come out here and visit."
Besides, he says, "In the world of hipsters, is there anything more ironic than coming to live in Des Moines, as opposed to living in Brooklyn?"
On paper, Des Moines has the assets to back up Mannheimer's pitch: Cost of living is six percentage points below the national average, median salary is $51,200, job growth is 2.9 percent, there is one company with 500 or more employees for every 612 people, and millennials are pouring into Des Moines at a higher rate than they are nationally. Forbes even lists it as the best city for young professionals.
It was a normal night at the Social Club when we visited. The art gallery was open, just next to Capes Kafe coffee shop and comic-book store; upstairs, nine people in a comic-book drawing class watched an eccentric, gray-haired instructor in skinny black jeans and thick-rimmed glasses draw a cartoon about a retired Elvis impersonator named "Sid." Out on the purposely graffitied porch with rope-spool tables, dozens of members of the local Young Nonprofit Professionals Network chapter met to network, drink, and take professional head shots.
Looking out over the courtyard marked by an old telephone tower and murals, Brianne Sanchez and Danny Heggen, both 29, describe the chapter they founded in 2013 for monthly coffee meetings. It has turned into a group of more than 550 members that successfully draws millennials downtown to connect and help each other out. It's a quintessentially Midwestern mix of selflessness in a deep pool of ambition and drive.
"We always joke that Des Moines is a big small town," says Heggen, a project manager for a firm that transforms old art deco buildings into new apartments. "But really, Des Moines is a large living room. There's this homey feel. What I most want is everybody around me to be successful. And I believe that everyone wants that for me, as well."
Sanchez, too, moved to Des Moines "to start building things, to do something bigger than yourself." Her hope in starting a chapter, she says, was that maybe more young professionals would move to Des Moines. Or to borrow a line from a movie based in Iowa: If you build it, they will come.