DSM downtownBY DAVE ELBERT, Columnist

Friday, September 05, 2014 6:00 AM

Have you ever wondered why you see so many stories touting Des Moines in national rankings?

Or how it is that Des Moines receives top rakings as the “Wealthiest City in America,” the city with the “Strongest Local Economy” and “Best Midwest City for Young Adults”? Mind you, Des Moines ranks No. 1 on each of those recent lists, according to various experts.

We’re also currently No. 2 on lists for “Best Cities for Jobs,” “Best Cities to Start a Business” and “Under-the-Radar Tech Hubs.” We’re No 6 among “Best Cities to Grow Old In” and “Cities Where Startups Are Thriving.”

“The simple answer is we are really good at fighting above our weight,” said Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the local agency that helps provide many of the list compilers with facts and figures.

There are two very good reasons the Partnership spends considerable time working with a variety of publishing and research groups that produce nationwide rankings, Byers said.

One is the lists instill pride in metro area residents. Think about it: When was the last time you heard the term “Dead Moines”?

The other reason is they present a positive image to outsiders, whether it’s workers considering moving here or business owners looking for affordable locations in which to expand.

Best-of lists have been around seemingly forever.

Byers said the earliest report of Des Moines showing up on a national list was 1919, when Walnut Street was pronounced by Electrical World as “The Best Lighted Street in the United States.”

But it’s been only during the past decade that the Internet and social media have made national rankings into forces of their own, said Susan Ramsey, the Partnership’s senior vice president for communications and marketing.

Ramsey was hired in 1997 to help give Greater Des Moines a larger national profile, and the lists have helped her do that.

During the late 1990s, local business leaders were among the first anywhere to recognize that lifestyle amenities trump all else when it comes to economic development.

That was a fortuitous discovery, because lifestyle is what drives many of today’s best-of lists.

Ramsey said Forbes magazine was an early creator of national rankings, using the lists to promote subscriptions and draw attention to its websites. During the early 2000s, as Forbes began expanding the types of lists that it produced, other publications and research agencies joined in and began producing and publicizing their own lists.

Des Moines is a Forbes favorite and has appeared on a wide variety of the magazine’s lists during the past decade.

Ramsey said the city’s first appearance on a Forbes Top 10 cities list in 2003 was less than flattering but worked out well in the end.

That 2003 list included skyline photos of all of the cities’ downtowns, except Des Moines, which was represented by a photo of a cornfield, she said.

“I immediately emailed the editor and said: ‘Thank you so much. Des Moines is delighted to be included, but the picture you chose does not represent us very well,’ ” Ramsey recalled.

“I offered a replacement photo of our skyline, and within hours, the cornfield photo was replaced with our photo,” she said.

All well and good, you say. But aren’t some of these rankings a bit over the top. For example how can Des Moines be the “Wealthiest City in America,” a claim that was made earlier this year by NBC’s “Today” show?

It helps if you know that the subtitle for the “Today” show story was “Des Moines, where regular folks can live the rich life.”

Check out the TODAY show story at: http://on.today.com/1aOqEPD

Or see a full list of Des Moines rankings at: www.desmoinesmetro.com

Read more: http://www.businessrecord.com/Content/Insider/Business-Record-Insider/Article/The-Elbert-Files-The-rankings-Boy-are-we-good/191/1013/65196#ixzz3CTUd0xZq