CEDAR RAPIDS — Jesse Thoeming came to Cedar Rapids 13 years ago as part of his job. It was supposed to be only a part-time arrangement.
Coming out of college in 2003, Thoeming said he was one of the first few hires at a new aerospace startup in St. Louis. The company had him work in St. Louis, then Dallas and eventually in Iowa.
“I’d never even been to Iowa before I moved. ... It was supposed to be six months to a year and 13 years later, I’m still here,” Thoeming said.
Now, the 37-year-old is the latest person the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance has tapped to advocate for downtown Cedar Rapids. Thoeming took on the role of downtown executive director about two months ago.
“I was only supposed to live here for six months and this is by far and away my favorite place I’ve ever lived, for a lot of reasons. I want to see the next generation be able to enjoy it even more than my friends and associates have been able to do over the last few years,” he said.
Having lived in Cedar Rapids, including his first year living in downtown, Thoeming has seen the city before, during and after the 2008 flood that changed the direction of Cedar Rapids.
“One of the things that really excites me is — it was fun (before), but since post-flood, downtown continues to grow and improve and enhance, so to be a part of that when this position opened up is what really drew me to this role,” Thoeming said.
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Thoeming’s job includes carrying out “big, high-reaching goals” laid out in the latest version of a vision plan for downtown. His predecessor, Casey Prince, helped develop the 2017 update for the downtown plan and now Thoeming has to push to make it a reality.
While prior versions of the plan, one in 2007 and the next in 2012, dealt with specific ways for downtown to contend with the aftermath of the 2008 flood, Thoeming said the 2017 plan “is a lot bigger and bolder.”
“Just because we’ve had a lot of progress in the subsequent years after the flood doesn’t mean that’s just naturally going to happen in the next five years, in the next 10 years. So, pushing in the same direction, being unified, having bold visions and goals, those are key components to making sure that we continue to move forward,” he said.
The Cedar Rapids City Council approved adoption of the 2017 Vision Downtown Framework Plan during a meeting last Tuesday. The plan details a number of ideas to improve the core of Cedar Rapids, such as better connecting corridors from downtown to the New Bohemia District, utilizing the Cedar River and May’s Island for recreation and adding options for urban living.
In addition to improving downtown, Thoeming said the plan can be used as a retention tool for the city’s younger workforce. He used a young engineer who gets hired at Rockwell Collins as an example. Such an employee may get a chance to move to Portland, Ore. or Melbourne, Fla., where the company also has operations.
“Those are tough places to compete with when you’re trying to retain your workforce at that age, 25 to 30. You start here in Cedar Rapids, things are great, but then you’ve got an opportunity to move elsewhere,” he said. “Unless we really incentivize them and entice them with different amenities and attracters, a burgeoning downtown being one of them, they’ll jump the first change they get.”
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