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New coloring book highlights careers in architecture.

Numerous programs and theories have arisen over the past few years in an attempt to address the growing need for young people in the skilled trades. The majority of those efforts target high school students (through programs like that at Des Moines’ Central Campus and the Build My Future events across the state) and young adults looking for an alternative to the traditional four-year degree (through apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs offered by many employers).

The Iowa Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Iowa) is targeting an even younger audience—elementary students—with a new coloring book the group recently introduced. “We want to inspire the next generation by fostering, educating, and helping to spark interest in a career in architecture for young readers,” says AIA Iowa’s Executive Director Jessica Reinert.

She says the original concept for the project began last summer. The first copies of the book were released in April. “We realized there was a need for more outreach to young readers, highlighting the great things architects do for our community. I’ve always loved the books my boys received in elementary school that taught them about what a firefighter or a police officer does, and I thought, ‘We can do that for architects!’”

The book, Bee an Architect Activity & Coloring Book, highlights the important skills and interests an architect needs, following Bee through different activities. “There are a variety of fun interactive puzzles, activities, and illustrations designed for preschool, kindergarten, and elementary children,” Reinert explains. “It’s important for children to know what an architect does and how architecture affects all of us in our daily lives, from our house to our school and to the local grocery store or hospital in our community.”

The book is available through libraries and classrooms across the state. Reinert says the Iowa Chapter has made it a priority to reach underserved neighborhoods throughout the state, including rural and urban areas. To help with accessibility, the book is available in both print and digital formats through aiaiowa.org/page/FutureArchitects, the group’s website.

The group began distributing promotional materials, including bookmarks and posters, in advance of the print release, which clearly served its purpose. “All 7,500 printed copies of the book and 5,000 bookmarks are already earmarked for distribution to public libraries across Iowa, to elementary school educators, sponsoring architectural firms, the Boys and Girls Club, and a number of other kid-friendly community events over the summer,” says Reinert.

As with any Association project, Reinert says the Bee an Architect book was a group effort from initial concept to finished product. “The character itself was designed by Azusa Allard, AIA, an architect at FEH Associates. The ideas for activities within the book came from Gladys Petersen, Associate AIA, who’s an intern architect from Hy-Vee Corporation. And Emily Lyon, AIA Iowa Communications and Outreach Coordinator, handled the printing and promotion of the piece.”

Reinert herself formulated and wrote the story for the book. “It’s so important for children to be exposed to resources like this. It helps them visualize themselves as an architect one day, just the way my boys used to do with books about police officers and firemen,” she says.

Activities in the book include word searches, mazes, and shape identification and offer glimpses into the tools used and tasks performed by an architect throughout the day.

The first of its kind in the country, Bee an Architect has already spurred interest from other AIA chapters that have inquired about the project. Reinert says the Iowa chapter plans to release more books in the future, possibly creating new characters to highlight different aspects of the architecture world. “We hope this will inspire other AIA chapters across the country to build upon the impact this book is having and to meet the needs of the young readers in their respective states,” she says.

Whether it’s designing the structures, constructing them, or playing a part somewhere along the way, the future of the architecture, engineering, and construction industries depends on young people who are inspired to pursue careers in these fields.

Maybe any child in the United States can grow up to be President. But a lot more are needed in other roles. Those are dreams worth inspiring, too.

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Iowa State University’s unique Master of Real Estate Development program.

If the first rule of real estate is “location, location, location,” then Iowa State University’s Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) program has taken the next step with that concept: The location is as unique as the students enrolled in the program.

“From the outset, the program was designed for working professionals,” says James Spiller, director of the program. “Courses are mostly online, some with synchronous components to encourage dialogue between the students. But we wanted the program to be flexible to suit the students’ needs.”

In addition, two in-person courses are required, one at the beginning and one at the end of the program, to establish and develop networking opportunities and relationships. Past and present students from the growing program have said this has been key for them.

Nathan Drew, a Des Moines real estate broker and developer who was part of the inaugural graduating class last spring, says, “I wouldn’t have enrolled if it had not been online. It just wouldn’t have been possible with my schedule otherwise. But it was a perfect fit.”

“I had been doing marketing for a civil engineering company, and I was sort of reevaluating the direction I wanted to go,” says current student Anna Eldridge, an Iowa native now living in Minnesota. “Real estate development was one of the areas that interested me. I got my undergrad degree at Iowa State and heard about the program from one of its alumni publications, so I decided to enroll.”

Eldridge began her coursework last fall, and having that on her résumé has already resulted in a new job with Ryan Companies. “My marketing experience and degree qualified me for the job,” she says. “But the MRED program caught Ryan’s eye because that interest in development adds value for them.”

Spiller says it was similar industry feedback that spurred the program’s development in the first place. “The program launched in 2019, but it was probably five years earlier that a task force was organized in response to input from industry professionals in the business and design fields,” he says. “They indicated that there was a gap in recent college graduates’ knowledge and training in real estate development.”

The resulting MRED curriculum is unique in the marketplace. It pulls coursework from three distinct, interrelated areas: the College of Design, the Ivy College of Business, and the College of Engineering.

“The core courses come from each of these areas, covering architectural planning, finance and management, and construction,” Spiller says. “That trifecta isn’t present in any other program, and it brings together all the key moments along that chain of action in a real estate development project.”

Although the curriculum and the program requirements have continued to evolve since that first semester, all those involved say the model with which Iowa State started has been integral to its growth.

“Even with COVID hitting that second semester, we really didn’t skip a beat. Courses went on as planned. We wore masks and social distanced when we were on campus, but it didn’t really affect anything,” Drew says.

Despite the distance-learning approach, Drew says it was the relationships and the interaction between students, professors, and mentors that meant the most to him. During that initial in-person setting at the program’s outset, students are introduced to industry professionals who serve as mentors throughout the students’ time in the program.

“The networking aspect during the program as well as with the graduates of the program has already been such an asset for me,” he says. “My mentor met with me once a month throughout the program, and he continues to reach out to me regularly just to check in.”

Whether students are local to Iowa or not, Spiller says one of his ongoing objectives is to continue building that mentor network across the country. “We currently have students in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota,” he says. “So it’s important to have that national network in order to serve students across the country. The amount of one-on-one curation [individual customization] that’s a key element in the program is naturally time-consuming from an administrative standpoint, but it’s so important to how the program was designed.”

Eldridge says, “I initially questioned the need to be on campus for that initial week, but I loved that in-person experience. The networking conversations, meeting the different people in the program, it really helped kick off the program and connect everyone from the beginning.”

Both Eldridge and Drew say that balance of broad coursework and flexibility attracted them to the MRED at ISU.

For Eldridge, it’s helped her narrow her professional focus in just the first year. “Starting a new job in the midst of this, the courses I’ve been taking have really helped me understand the work my employer does. I’m constantly doing things in class that come up every day on the job,” she says. “I saw the program as something that would expose me to as many different aspects of development as possible. I could narrow my focus to where I wanted to go professionally. It’s doing that, but it’s also helping me understand my current role even better.”

Drew says his biggest takeaway has been the confidence the program gave him. “I learned a lot in my undergrad and in my MBA, but the MRED has given me more confidence,” he says. “I’ve wanted to be in land development for a long time, and now I have the confidence to go out and do it. It’s not a someday anymore. I’m doing it.”

The MRED program at Iowa State may be unique because of its hybrid learning approach and its three-pronged course focus, but Spiller says there’s more to it than that. “What really makes us unique is our students. They’re creating that unique network of resources that continues to build back into what we offer. The students and the graduates are the program.”

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West Des Moines designer named to National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Thirty Under 30.

For more than half a century, the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) has sought “to inspire, lead and empower the kitchen and bath design industry through the creation of marketplaces, networks and certifications.”

One way the association does that is through its annual Thirty Under 30 award program. The program was established in 2013 to recognize an elite group of young designers at the beginning of their careers who represent the future of the industry.

This year, Becky Leu of West Des Moines’ Leu Interiors was included in this prestigious group. She says the award was as much of a surprise as the nomination. “I wasn’t really that familiar with the award,” Leu says. “I was contacted by an established designer and friend of mine in Florida who had been following my work as an industry professional online, and she told me she was nominating me for the award.”

Cheryl Kees Clendenon, owner and lead designer of In Detail in Pensacola, Florida, told Leu she had been “blown away by her expertise and wisdom beyond her years.”

Only seven years into her career, Leu has been owner and lead designer of her own company for six of those years. “I’d always planned to start my own business someday, but hadn’t really thought I’d start that soon,” she says.

After attending Iowa State University’s College of Design, Leu got a job designing residential remodels for a design/build firm in Des Moines and moved into the role of the lead designer quickly. “After about one year in, I started thinking more about going out on my own,” Leu says. “But I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take that leap at such a young age.”

When she ran the idea by her employer of transitioning to part-time so she could start a furnishing and decor business on the side, he was wonderful, Leu says. “He obviously had an entrepreneurial mindset, having started his own company. He said, ‘Your heart won’t be in it if you try to do it on the side. I think you should go for it.’”

Leu says that he encouraged her ambitions, and his firm even installed the built-in shelves for the first design job that Leu Interiors completed. “I will always remember how I felt when I saw that first project completed exactly how I intended, and it was even more wonderful in person than in my mind,” she says.

Six years later, Leu is in the final phase of another unique design challenge—a long-distance project for which she has yet to see the finished results in person. “I’m doing a large custom remodel and addition in Fort Madison. Everything I’ve contributed, other than the initial site measure, has been done remotely,” she says. “I have to give credit to the client for how well the project has gone. They saw my work online. We connected via my website and just hit it off, so they’ve been willing to make the distance work.”

Leu says, “I can’t wait to take my photographer to Fort Madison with me once it’s finished, hopefully this summer, to see how it has all come together.” She’s sure this is not her first and will certainly not be her last long-distance renovation project. “There are amazing potential clients all over the world,” she says.

Although it’s challenging not being on site, Leu says it just requires more of what she considers good practice for every project—plenty of clear communication, highly detailed drawings, and strong working relationships.

Having just celebrated her firm’s sixth anniversary, Leu sees the Thirty Under 30 award as an opportunity to reinforce the objectives she’s already defined for her business. “I see it as a launching point, and I hope it keeps fueling me to push my own boundaries and that past and potential clients will appreciate that drive to always be striving to grow and to learn,” she says.

The designer has already had her work featured in the Des Moines Home Builders Association’s Tour of Remodeled Homes (where her collaborations have received several awards) as well as a number of design publications. She’s also returned to Iowa State’s College of Design to teach two residential design courses and to serve as a guest juror for student projects.

She is active in the industry through the Home Builders Association’s Remodelers Council and Professional Women in Building, the NKBA Iowa Chapter, as well as DSM Biz Ladies, a women’s networking group she founded in 2016.

“Awards and recognition are certainly always gratifying,” Leu says. “But this isn’t where it ends. It’s where it begins.”

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Outlook from the 15th-Annual Builder & Developer Luncheon.

On Thursday, February 24, Peoples Company and Diligent Development hosted their 15th-Annual Builder & Developer Luncheon in West Des Moines. As usual, three speakers addressed the audience of local construction industry professionals, offering national and local perspectives on the economic outlook for 2022.

With two years of pandemic effects in the rear-view mirror and international unrest around every corner, Kalen Ludwig’s analogy to a high-speed auto race was an appropriate comparison.

As you’ll read below, the consensus from each of the experts seems to be “We’re moving forward steadily, but proceed with caution.”

Michael Neal: The long-range view

Michael Neal, a principal research associate with the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., in the Housing Finance Policy Center, presented a macro view of the current economy and its potential impact on the local construction market.

Although it comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been involved in the home construction or real estate market in central Iowa over the past several years, Neal said that the strong demand that is expected to continue this year is putting additional strain on supply issues.

In addition, he says other national indicators raise caution flags as well. “Productivity, which is a measure of output per hour, hasn’t recovered as well. Labor-force participation rate is actually trending downward, which affects business capacity.”

Wages for those who are working are trending upward, however, which could support continued activity in both home sales and remodeling if concerns over inflation and interest rates don’t create buyer hesitation.“Categories like food and energy prices are both high right now, which are two of the most volatile markets for consumers. Even typically nonvolatile markets are rising drastically,” Neal says.

Because interest rates tend to follow the 10-year Treasury, which is currently climbing, Neal anticipates bank prime rates to rise and affect the cost of borrowing for both consumers and businesses. One potential effect for which economists are watching is the possibility of a recession a year or so down the road.

As Neal says, predicting the future is always a delicate business. “Nuance is needed,” he says. “Yes, there’s uncertainty as always. But knowing the worst and best possible outcomes, as well as their likelihood, helps balance perspective.”

Neal’s balanced perspective indicates single-family construction will flatten over the course of 2022, with multifamily construction and remodeling both increasing slightly.

Jay Byers: The central Iowa region

Jay Byers, President and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the regional economic development organization that serves 10 central Iowa counties, highlighted projects in the works as well as reasons for optimism moving forward.

Central Iowa was already on numerous Top 10 lists, Byers says, and the pandemic has just reinforced that ranking. “Des Moines was named one of the top 10 cities in the country postpandemic because it has big-city amenities but is small enough to offer a lifestyle that allows residents to connect with their neighbors and their community.”

Another advantage Des Moines offers is its cost of living. Byers says, “Affordability remains a long-term advantage. Cost of living and the cost of doing business are both well below the national average,” which draws companies here as well as employees.

Over the past two decades, both population and employer growth have outstripped that of other Midwestern cities, with population growing 40% in just the past 10 years. “We were poised well with a number of economic development projects in the works prepandemic, which set us up for continued growth,” Byers says.

Despite COVID, those projects didn’t stall. Among them are the largest open skateboard park in the country; the Des Moines Industrial Transload Facility, connecting two interstates and multiple railroad lines; a water trails project that connects over 100 miles of water trails; a professional soccer stadium that will host Iowa’s first United Soccer League team; and a new, modern airport terminal.

Byers says an uncertain economy doesn’t have to result in an uncertain future. As Peter Drucker said in one of Byers’ favorite quotes, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”


Kalen Ludwig: Metro Housing Stats

Peoples Company REALTOR® Kalen Ludwig concluded the luncheon with a presentation of the latest new-construction and housing statistics for the metro area, likening the current market to a high-speed auto race.

She says, “Everything is moving so very fast that one cannot help but wonder how long can it last. Eventually the home prices will have to meet the rising interest rates. Should you pump your brakes or keep your foot on the gas?”

Reviewing statistics from 19 communities around the metro, Ludwig says one of the most striking numbers is the percentage of resale properties on the MLS. “Typically, about 30% of listings are new construction,” she says. “That percentage is flipped right now, with 71% of active listings new construction.” That means the current listings provide just one month’s supply of resale properties compared to a decade ago, when inventory typically reflected six months’ supply.

Over the past year, that high-speed market has resulted in more than a 10% increase in home prices. “Low interest rates have kept payments level, but that could be changing as interest rates rise and income levels flatten,” Ludwig says.

Comparing numbers from metro communities, Ankeny, Waukee, Urbandale, and West Des Moines remained at the top in permits pulled in 2021. Rural communities, however, saw the greatest percentage growth, with Cumming leading that category with 89% growth.

Another statistic that’s changed dramatically in the past two years is townhome sales, which have rebounded since the pandemic, when those properties typically sat on the market much longer than single-family properties.

Ludwig’s slide presentation, comparing listings and sales for 2021 and also statistics such as lots in development and permits pulled, provides an indication of what to expect for 2022.

“Looking at these numbers, there are questions I’ll be considering going forward,” says Ludwig (see her website). “But one other question remains: Does one put the pedal to the metal or brake for a cautionary turn ahead? One thing can be certain, no road is smooth forever.”

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