Iowa Metro Guide
It’s a misconception that everyone in Iowa lives on a farm. Although small towns and family farms are important parts of the Iowa landscape, more than half of Iowans live in an urban area. The cities of Iowa range from commercial hubs to thriving college towns. Most people moving to Iowa choose a city based on the location of jobs, schools or family. Here’s a look at what you can expect when moving to one of Iowa’s metro areas.
Moving to Cedar Rapids
Cedar Rapids is the second-largest city in Iowa. The “City of Five Seasons” straddles the Cedar River about 100 miles east of Des Moines. The metropolitan area includes Marion and Hiawatha, with a total population of a little more than a quarter of a million people.
Cedar Rapids is where the crops of Iowa become the food America eats. Corn and grain processing have long been important to the city’s economy. General Mills and Quaker Oats are two large employers in Cedar Rapids. Other Fortune 500 companies based in Cedar Rapids include Rockwell Collins and Aegon.
People moving to Cedar Rapids will find plenty to do when not working. The city is home to minor-league baseball and hockey teams, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and the Paramount Theater. Iowans come from all over the state to attend games, concerts and other events in Cedar Rapids.
Moving to Davenport
Davenport and Bettendorf are the two Iowa cities that make up the Quad Cities, a metropolitan area straddling the Iowa and Illinois border that also includes the Illinois cities of Moline and Rock Island.
The Quad Cities hosts several popular festivals each year, including Bix Fest, a three-day music festival, and Bix 7, a seven-mile road race. The Davenport/Bettendorf area also welcomes national entertainment acts year round at the iWireless Center.
Most of the employment opportunities in the Quad Cities are found in the manufacturing and service industries, with Alcoa and John Deere being two of the largest employers. Davenport, which has shown a growing employment rate, was named the most affordable city by Forbes in 2010.
Moving to Cedar Falls
Linked by proximity into one metropolitan areas, these two cities are very different culturally and economically. Waterloo is the larger of the two cities and had historically been home to more jobs, but the farm crisis of the 1980s severely affected the job market. Today, Waterloo is still largely dependant on the John Deere factory, but it also has a more diverse economy than in the past. Cedar Falls, which was primarily a college town, has grown considerably in recent years.
Cedar Falls is home to the University of Northern Iowa, one of Iowa’s three public universities. There’s an active art and cultural community that caters to the school’s students and faculty. Cedar Falls is also home to many advertising agencies, including several that cater specifically to the automotive industry.
Moving to Des Moines
Des Moines is the state’s capital, the county seat of Polk County, and the most populated city in Iowa, with over 500,000 people living and working in the area. The metropolitan area covers five counties. The suburbs surrounding Des Moines have seen significant growth in recent years, especially the communities of Ankeny, Clive and West Des Moines.
The economy of Des Moines is heavily dependant on the insurance and financial industries. In fact, over 60 insurance companies have offices in the Des Moines metro area, making it one of the most important cities in the country for the insurance industry and earning it the nickname “Hartford of the West.”
Moving to Council Bluffs
Along Iowa’s Western border, the city of Council Bluffs sits across the Missouri River from Nebraska. According to the 2010 US Census, 62,230 call Council Bluffs home, while over 865,000 live in the Omaha/Council Bluffs metropolitan area. Notable neighborhoods in Council Bluffs include: Downtown Council Bluffs, Old Town Council Bluffs, the West End, Casino Row, Twin City, Manawa, the South End, Oakland-Fairview and Madison Avenue. Council Bluffs also used to be home to its own red-light district.
Moving to Ames
Ames is the third major college town in Iowa. The Iowa State University of Science Technology campus is based in this central Iowa city that’s home to nearly 90,000 permanent residents. More commonly known as Iowa State, this public university boasts leading programs in Agriculture, Design, Engineering and Veterinary Medicine.
The state and federal government are the largest employers in Ames. This includes faculty at the public university, as well as employees of the US Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Disease Center, the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and the Iowa Department of Transportation. The city is also home to numerous manufacturing plants, including a 3M factory.
Moving to Iowa City
Iowa City was once the capital of Iowa, and the Old Capitol building is still a popular tourist attraction. However, the city is best known today for being the home of the University of Iowa and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
Once voted by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine as one of the country’s “Smartest Places to Live,” Iowa City has a strong education and literacy heritage. The ACT college testing services are based in Iowa City and UNESCO designated it as one of the world’s Cities of Literature.
Moving to Dubuque
Dubuque is one of few Iowa cities that considers itself a tourist destination. The city sits on the banks of the Mississippi and offers beautiful bluffs and rolling hills. Quaint bed and breakfasts, antique shops and historical mansions attract visitors from all over Iowa and surrounding states.
If you’re moving to Dubuque instead of just visiting, you’ll find healthcare, education, manufacturing, publishing and financial services play important roles in the local economy. You’ll also find an unusually high number of private schools, from primary through college, available in the area.
Moving to Sioux City
Located on the western border of Iowa, this city has been praised by national media for being affordable and livable, as well as one of the country’s drunkest cities (that honor was bestowed by The Daily Beast in 2011.) It’s one of the only metropolitan areas not easily accessed by an Interstate, which may be one of the reasons the population has declined in recent years.