116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When I returned to Iowa in 2012, I had spent more of my adult life outside of the state than living in Iowa. After working for a significant amount of time outside of the country as well as Washington, D.C. and other U.S. states, coming home to the state where I was raised was an affirmative choice. I knew I was returning to a statewide community that offered tremendous economic opportunity and affordability along with people who truly care about their neighbors.
In my years away, I became very familiar with how outsiders view our state which made it clear their opinions were not based upon true knowledge. Many Iowans have a nearly unhealthy pride for people and things connected to our state. In my travels I was no different and became an ambassador for my home state, sharing our history as one of the most welcoming places.
Those who thought they knew Iowa simply as farm fields didn’t know that the University of Iowa was the first public institution to admit men and women on an equal basis, or that it graduated one of the first female lawyers in 1873.
They were not aware that the Iowa Supreme Court in 1839 determined slavery was an illegal restraint on liberty a generation before the 13th Amendment, or that in 1868 our highest court determined that separate was not equal nearly 90 years before Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
I had to explain to friends in Washington, D.C. that the Smithsonian was missing the counter from the Katz drugstore in Des Moines where, in 1948, Edna Griffin staged her successful sit-in over a decade before the more well-known sit-in in Greensboro.
I battled assumptions about Iowa’s diversity that didn’t realize that the state graduated one of the first African American lawyers in the country and helped found the National Bar Association to fight racism within the legal profession. Even fewer people knew that Iowa accepted 80 acres in trust for the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa in 1857 nearly three quarters of a century before the federal government chose to protect other Native American tribes similarly.
They were really caught off guard to learn Gov. Bob Ray’s leadership in the acceptance of marginalized Southeast Asians in the 1970s and that the state has operated a state agency related to the resettlement of refugees since that time.
I chose to come home because I’m extremely proud of this legacy and for those that dismiss these items as the part of the past, I’d point out the Varnum decision was a decade ago or ask them to take a look at the last three Democratic candidates who won the Iowa caucuses. Iowans have been, and continue to be, leaders in understanding differences, encouraging productive dialogue, and welcoming all.
Since I returned, I have advanced rapidly in my profession while also reengaging in the same small community I grew up around. This includes an acreage with a mortgage half of what I was paying in rent and an excellent exurban school district for my kids that is within five minutes from our home.
As we enter 2022 I encourage those who do not understand Iowa to take some time to study our history before casting judgment from afar. Because for those outsiders who chose to breathlessly label my home state as backward or unwelcoming for legislation that is filed, they will see those same bills get filed in their state with about as much movement through the process.
I encourage my fellow Iowans to be proud that perception is not reality as our state does not choose to create politically motivated barriers against other states. While states who chose these overt virtue-signaling behaviors have legacies that include federal oversight of elections to ensure fairness, historically significant race rights, direct government attacks on LGBTQ people or full-blown immigration restriction based upon race.
Unequivocally, the biggest economic challenge facing the state is need for widespread talent attraction. Our state is in a battle for talent that without success will inhibit economic growth.
We need all Iowans to understand that our state offers nearly unrivaled economic opportunity and has been recognized as such year after year by numerous rankings. Those native Iowans, like myself, who have returned understand what makes us unique and to those non-native Iowans who have chosen to move here … welcome … I hope you are seeingwhat people call “Iowa nice.”
And for all of us who chose to call this home, do not listen to those outside voices who want to bring us down through a self-fulfilling prophesy of negativity. They cannot take away what we know to be true about our home and its legacy.
Dustin Miller is executive director of the Iowa Chamber Alliance.