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Des Moines
Capital connections
Iowan connections will be on the up thanks to Des Moines International Airport’s new passenger terminal, for which work is set to begin in 2024.

Pella
Economic variance

Advanced manufacturing, technology, insurance and financial services are developing across the state and in towns such as Pella, where the likes of tractor manufacturer Vermeer is based.

Mason City
Fine food

With 85 per cent of Iowa’s landscape dedicated to food production, produce always lands fresh on your plate in markets and restaurants. In Mason City, you can grab a bite at The Draftsman in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Historic Park Inn.

Glenwood
Four seasons

There’s always a seasonal showcase in Iowa. In Glenwood, there is an average high of 30C in July and a low of minus 1C in January.

Iowa City
Collegial atmosphere

Iowa’s big universities are closely linked to their communities. A record-breaking 55,646 people recently attended a University of Iowa women’s basketball game. The Division I sporting rivalry between the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State University Cyclones has been dividing the state since 1894.

Shaping the state

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Downtown Davenport

Welcome to Iowa
“Iowa nice” might be a local stereotype but, as states and nations battle to win talent, the state is leveraging its personable image to expand on established sectors in manufacturing, biotech, finance and more. This survey will explore case studies in downtown renewal and entrepreneurial smarts across Iowa, and look at the long history of private patronage that has built exceptional public art collections and feats of contemporary design. Being the very middle of the Midwest means that this bucolic state is often wrongfully overlooked but “flyover country” this is not.


Q&A

Debi Durham

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Debi Durham

As director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA), Durham is the first point of contact for any ambitious business wanting to make headway here.

There’s a perception that Iowa is rural and conservative. Is it correct?
This is a very rural state, no doubt about it. But if people come here, they will recognise how sophisticated Iowa is. We have a long history of embracing different cultures. Look at the caucuses: political candidates come to Iowa and want to be vetted by us because we keep it real. We do a great service to the nation because we can still have tough conversations.

Where are the opportunities in Iowa?
There’s a lot of entrepreneurial thinking, particularly in terms of research and development. In manufacturing, it’s about automation and digitalisation; in biosciences, it is firms pushing the envelope to what’s next, and in finance and insurance, which are mature markets here, firms are seeing innovation and acceleration as the way to grow.

What business incentives are there?
The governor has been very bullish about making us more competitive. We have a strategy that, by 2026, we’ll get down to a flat 5.5 per cent corporate income tax rate on sales within the state. For corporations that make all their sales outside Iowa, they will pay zero corporate income tax.


Transforming fortunes

Downtown revivals


Across Iowa, a broad reassessment is underway of how its urban centres reflect the kind of quality of life that has been long-enjoyed by residents in its famed rural and agricultural landscapes. From reviving riverbanks to launching cultural venues, here is how three of Iowa’s downtowns are reviving themselves.


Capitol Theatre, Davenport

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Capitol Theatre

Davenport’s beloved Capitol Theatre reopened this summer. Built in 1920 but left derelict more than a decade ago, it is reviving the city’s cherished pedigree as a live music hub. It will have a cinematic companion in late 2023 with the opening of The Last Picture House, a cinema and bar. The new venue is co-owned by Hollywood writer-producers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods; the latter was born in Davenport and both were raised nearby.

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EMC Downtown Park
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Sign of the times
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Putting the ollie in Olympics

EMC Downtown Park, Des Moines
Iowa’s ties to the Olympics run deep as 20 Olympians hail from the state. But a site next to the Principal Riverwalk in downtown Des Moines is now a qualifying ground for one Olympic sport in particular: skateboarding. Opened in 2021, Lauridsen Skatepark is the largest in the US; it’s currently being certified to allow the staging of national events. For those without Olympic ambitions, head to EMC Downtown Park: the city’s first pocket park. Built on the site of a former department store that burned down a decade ago, it opened in 2023 to cater to downtown’s growing population.

Millwork District, Dubuque
Dubuque’s former industrial hub has, since 2009, been undergoing a transformation. Plans were drawn up to preserve its heritage and create a mixed-use neighbourhood that would support the city’s growing economy. The revitalisation efforts included infrastructure investments that turned the old warehouses into lively spaces that attract shops, restaurants and offices. One local highlight is Brazen Open Kitchen, where founder and head chef Kevin Scharpf has forged relationships with farmers across the state.

Home of entrepreneurs

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Pernell Cezar (on left) and Rod Johnson

Full of beans
Blk & Bold

Pernell Cezar speaks with the passion and the pace of an entrepreneur whose brand is going places – but that might also be all the coffee he drinks. He founded roastery Blk & Bold in 2018 with his business partner, Rod Johnson. Friends since childhood, the pair met in the hardscrabble suburbs of Gary, Indiana, and reconvened in Iowa to fulfil their vision of a premium roasted coffee brand aimed at a mainstream market.

“We want to do artisanal but at scale,” says Cezar, who explains that, while the likes of Starbucks have cornered the mainstream retail market, smaller third-wave coffee shops produce only in small batches and at a high price. “I wanted an option that you could buy at Target and actually enjoy the experience.” Blk & Bold is sold in 11,000 locations across the US, from grocers to university cafés, with their largest market being Los Angeles. This is reflected in the fact that the roastery has been named the fastest growing company in Iowa for the past three years. “We give five per cent of our proceeds to 14 organisations that we support, which teach urban farming, refurbishing technology and appreciation for the outdoors,” says Johnson.

The pair have settled in Iowa thanks to the lifestyle and ease of doing business but they’ve not forgotten where they came from. Cezar hints at opening Blk & Bold cafés, including one in Gary. “Coffee shops done well can be the heartbeat of a community,” he says.
blkandbold.com


Expansive state
Engineering in Iowa

There are more than 3,000 workers at Vermeer’s 1.6km-long stretch of factories and offices in Pella and the family-owned business is as Iowan as it gets. Starting out as a tractor repair shop, its signature yellow agriculture machinery has kept the state’s corn farmers moving since 1948. Vermeer is a global operation, with a presence on six continents, yet in Pella it remains a very labour-intensive operation as skilled engineers turn raw steel into machinery.

Vermeer’s third-generation CEO, Jason Andringa, is bullish about the future of making in Iowa. “Our best days are in front of us,” he says. “Although the origins of the business are on my grandparents’ farm, more than 80 per cent of our business today is in infrastructure.” Vermeer is increasingly building machines that incorporate automation and AI, even if many factory processes remain hands-on.

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An RTX1250 tractor
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Vermeer’s Pella factory
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Bright sparks in Iowa

In Des Moines, a lean operation is making similar leaps in additive manufacturing, a form of 3D printing; Collins Aerospace, a global subsidiary of defence giant RTX, has completed a $14m (€13.1m) expansion of its facility. Its growing team is turning out complex engine parts for civilian and military aircraft. “For Collins, it can offer a major reduction in lead time,” says site lead Renee Begley. “If we want a part, we can just print it.”
vermeer.com, collinsaerospace.com

Plugged in
Tech companies

Iowa is the birthplace of the world’s first electronic digital computer, completed in 1942. Today the state’s tech boom continues thanks to a skilled workforce, generous tax incentives, high-speed fibre broadband and strong infrastructure. Here are three top companies helping to establish Iowa as the “Silicon Valley of the Midwest”.

OpenLoop
This pioneering telehealth start-up is revolutionising access to healthcare in the US, by connecting patients with a nationwide network of providers offering quality, virtual services. Founded in 2020 and headquartered in downtown Des Moines, the company is planning significant expansion in the next three years, seeking to add more than 400 new jobs.
openloophealth.com

VizyPay
This Waukee-based fintech company processes entrepreneurial-driven payments to support small enterprises across rural America. VizyPay’s specialised services address the unique challenges faced by these businesses – and it’s seeing impressive expansion. In 2023, it was ranked 1,841 on a list of the fastest-growing private companies in the US.
vizypay.com

PowerPollen
Headquartered in Ankeny with research operations in Puerto Rico and Texas, PowerPollen is revolutionising corn production with the first scalable pollination technology for commodity crops. By redistributing pollen effectively, the patented tech empowers farmers, enhances agricultural sustainability and solidifies Iowa’s status as a corn-production leader.
powerpollen.com


Home on the farm
Grand View Beef

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Amanda (on left) and Knute Severson

It’s not uncommon for small towns to lose young talent to huge metropolises. But a reverse of this traditional journey has taken place in Clarion, Iowa (population: 2,700). Here, Washington-native Amanda Severson runs Grand View Beef with her husband, Knute.

The couple met in Seattle, where they were both working for the city’s NFL football team, the Seahawks. Love and business pulled them back to Knute’s hometown of Clarion, where, despite no agricultural experience, Amanda has helped grow the brand into one of the Midwest’s finest suppliers of 100 per cent grass-fed beef.

Using Horned Hereford cattle stock purchased from Knute’s family farm, the duo has grown their business with the support of local banks, USDA programmes and NRCS conservational incentives. “One of the reasons I love running our business here is the relationship that we have with our banker and other local businesspeople,” says Amanda. “I feel like the local community, and the state as a whole, really wants to see other Iowans succeed.”
grandviewbeef.com


Driving ambition
Winnebago

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Few vehicles are as synonymous with road trips as the Winnebago – and these road-ready RVs have emerged from a factory in Forest City since 1958. A prototype all-electric RV was revealed in 2023, which comes in the wake of a skew towards younger buyers getting behind the wheel.
winnebago.com


Cereal numbers
Quaker Oats

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The Quaker Oats plant

The Quaker Oats Company began in 1901, after four oat mills formed a brand with national reach. That merger included a cereal mill in Cedar Rapids; now known as the Quaker Oats plant, it has become the Iowan city’s most recognisable landmark. Sitting on a bank of the Cedar River, it is the world’s largest cereal mill – its alabaster silos are a source of local pride and a symbol of industrial heritage. The facility processes more than 900,000kg of oats daily in Iowa’s second-most populous city, producing an array of oatmeal, grits, snacks and cold cereals. It’s also equipped with an industry-leading proprietary process for making gluten-free options of the grain.

The Quaker plant serves as a cornerstone of the local community, aligning itself with the city’s identity – and its economic vitality, as one of the area’s big employers, with more than 1,000 workers. It’s a reputation that PepsiCo tapped into when it acquired the company in 2001.

The facility plays a key role in sustaining Cedar Rapids’ key contribution to North America’s food production, thanks also to the fact that more than 40 per cent of the continent’s bread is produced with yeast from the city.
quakeroats.com

Essential reading

Significant authors
Writers’ Workshop

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Lan Samantha Chang

As the oldest creative writing degree programme in the US, the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa is so synonymous with the history of great American literature that people often forget that it is not a national institution. John Cheever and Philip Roth were among its past faculty, while alumni regularly bag Pulitzers or become poet laureates. “On this year’s longlist for the National Book Award, there were 10 books and five of them were by Iowa alums,” says Lan Samantha Chang, director of the programme and author of multiple prize-winning books, including a short story collection, Hunger, which she wrote in part while studying at the Writers’ Workshop. “When I first came here, I felt immediately as if I were in a part of the country where there were fewer distractions and a very strong literary culture. Iowa City is a city of readers and writers.”

Indeed, the university has just added a new campus building dedicated to nonfiction writing and is trying to elevate other forms to the prestige enjoyed by Writers’ Workshop. The programme has remained relevant and highly regarded because it is primarily about honing the craft. “Our programme values the act of writing and tries to make that central to the experience,” says Chang.
writersworkshop.uiowa.edu

Fine print
Iowa newspapers

Iowa is a hotbed of news media. Here are three top outlets worth reading.

Iowa Capital Dispatch
Launched in 2020, this is one of Iowa’s newer outlets. It is part of States Newsroom, a national not-for-profit network that funds journalism in the state capitals.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette
Iowa’s last independently-owned daily is an important mainstay with 32,000 print readers. It was first published as an evening journal in 1883.

Quad-City Times
Owned by Davenport-based Lee Enterprises, this daily broadsheet was founded in 1855. It circulates throughout its namesake Quad Cities region on either side of the Iowa-Illinois border.


Free sheets to the wind
‘Little Village’

A short walk from Iowa City’s downtown is the office of Little Village. The free print monthly has covered music, culture, news and politics in Iowa since 2001, garnering a loyal readership. “Our emphasis on speaking to, and trying to engage with, the whole community has really paid off,” says president Matthew Steele. The newspaper’s broad base of readers and advertisers, he adds, has buffered Little Village from the flux experienced by print publications elsewhere. “Although we’re a free newspaper, our readers are willing to chip in, through paid subscriptions, so that we don’t require a paywall.”

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The ‘Little Village’ offices
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Matthew Steele (third from left) and the ‘Little Village’ team
Design

State of the arts

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Visual Arts Building, University of Iowa

Higher purpose
University of Iowa

The University of Iowa’s leafy, picturesque campus, which seeps into Iowa City’s bustling downtown, is not only one of the state’s most storied seats of learning but renowned as an architectural hub too. Its department buildings include Max Abramovitz’s original Stanley Museum of Art, built in 1969 after his work on New York’s Avery Fisher Hall and United Nations complex. There’s also Frank Gehry’s laboratories for the advanced technologies department, built in 1992. Newer highlights include Hancher Auditorium by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Steven Holl’s striking Visual Arts Building and Art Building West, and the Voxman Music Building by LMN Architects.

The university has erected buildings that are meant to mirror and invoke the loftier aspirations of the students who use them. “The university felt the need to express its deep level of creativity in the architecture,” says university architect and senior vice-president of finance and operations, Rod Lehnertz. He has continued the shift from the beaux-arts designs, inspired by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, that defined Iowa’s original campus buildings. “They encouraged us to bring internationally renowned architects to do internationally recognised architecture here,” he adds.

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Art Building West
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The building’s stairs

Class on glass
Grant Wood

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Memorial Window

The Veterans Memorial Building, which opened in 1927, remains one of the most recognisable landmarks in Cedar Rapids. Unusually it is a working building rather than a static monument. Its beaux-arts design serves both military veterans and the city: a vast coliseum sits below a ballroom flanked by a city hall and chamber of commerce. The most impressive component is artist Grant Wood’s stained-glass Memorial Window, the creation of which is said to have inspired his most famous painting, “American Gothic”.
cedar-rapids.org

Food and retail

Taste the difference

Shopper’s paradise
Eden

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Browsing at Eden
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Positively 6th Street

The success of the Des Moines-based beauty and lifestyle shop Eden points to a largely untapped local purchasing power. Owner Hannah Krause has found a loyal customer base for her East Village shop. “The store is a place where people come to feel taken care of,” says Krause, a former journalist who took over the business from its late founder in 2020. “You get to the heart of a culture of a city by owning a small business. People here will jump through hoops to buy from us.”
edeniowa.com

Historic East Village is Des Moines’ independent retail district. Here is our pick of the area’s shops.

Fontenelle Supply Co
Leather goods and outdoor gear. Profits from select items go to support the local countryside.
fontenellesupplyco.com

Indie House
One-off furniture and homeware shop that has grown out of an interior design business.
indiehousedesign.com

Storyhouse Bookpub
Literary hangout with a handpicked selection of books, plus events and readings.
storyhousebookpub.com


Shop around
Three retailers we like

An unexpected retail renaissance is unfolding in Iowa as a growing number of high-end boutiques and speciality shops establish a firm foothold in the state’s vibrant towns and cities. From fine furniture to artisanal foods, merchants are catering to a discerning clientele who appreciate quality and craftsmanship.


Des Moines Mercantile
Mallory Richardson’s general store opened in 2020 in the up-and-coming Highland Park neighbourhood as a tribute to the tiny but artful homeware and gourmet food brands scattered across Iowa. “About 80 per cent of our products are made in the state,” says Richardson. These include the famed wool blankets of the Amana Colonies and balms made by the Locust Grove Farm Co.
desmoinesmercantile.com

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Mallory Richardson
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Des Moines Mercantile

Prairie Lights
Giving an in-person reading at Prairie Lights has been a rite of passage for US and international authors almost since Iowa’s best-known independent bookshop first opened in 1978. Barack Obama, John Irving and Alice Munro have all crossed its storied threshold over the years and literary events still take place almost every day of the week.
prairielights.com

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Prairie Lights co-owner Jan Weissmiller

The Cheese Shop
Located in the leafy Roosevelt district, The Cheese Shop is one of Des Moines’ top independent food retailers. “We’re a shop built on relationships,” says long-serving manager Darren Vanden Berge. Founded in 2011, the shop stocks alcohol and cured meats alongside more than 100 cheeses, including the tasty Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Prairie Breeze – Iowa’s favourite cheddar.
thecheeseshopdsm.com

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The Cheese Shop’s wares

Inn and out
Frank Lloyd Wright

Before he was chased out of Mason City for running off with one of his client’s wives, Frank Lloyd Wright bequeathed an architectural icon to this Iowa outpost. The Historic Park Inn is the last working hotel designed by the modern master, completed in 1910 with subtle nods to Japanese forms in its design that anticipated Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

“The so-called Prairie style was about design that blended in with autumn colours, with overhanging eaves and a sense of intimacy,” says Teri Elsbury of Wright on the Park, a non-profit organisation founded in 2005 to save the inn. It had fallen into a dilapidated state before it was put up for sale on Ebay in 2005. Wright on the Park has helped to recapture as much of the architect’s original vision as possible, reopening it as a hotel in 2011 after a $20m (€18.7m) restoration.

Over the years, flatscreen TVs and a bit of Midwest motel chintz has drifted into the rooms but the bones are impressive, as is the preserved atmosphere of cloistered calm. Mason City is a trove of Midwest modernism: just down the road from the Historic Park Inn is Wright’s Stockman House, as well as a number of residences designed by Prairie style acolytes.
wrightonthepark.org


Eat on the go
Quick refuel guide

From artisan bakeries preparing mouth-watering pastries to cosy cafés serving up locally roasted coffee, Iowa’s culinary reputation is firmly on the rise.

Horizon Line Coffee
Founded in 2017 by friends Brad Penna and Nam Ho, Horizon Line Coffee was one of the first independent cafés and roasters to elevate Des Moines’ coffee sector. “The culture here has grown quite a bit,” says Penna. The café is a short stroll from Pappajohn Sculpture Park.
horizonlinecoffee.com

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The Local Crumb
Aaron Hall launched his award-winning bakery in the reconfigured space of a former school classroom in Mount Vernon in 2016. Two years later, he was nominated for a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award, as his sourdough loaves became sought-after across Iowa. Far from a typical baker, Hall has eschewed a traditional shopfront and instead sells bread at farmers markets, direct to restaurants or out of the “trunk of his car” in Iowa City car parks on Friday mornings. It’s an unusual business model but one that has rightly earned him national recognition.
thelocalcrumb.com

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The Local Crumb’s Aaron Hall
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Rising talent

Hamburg Inn No 2
For Iowa-bound presidential hopefuls, there is one unmissable pitstop in Iowa City: the storied dining room of the Hamburg Inn No 2. Established in 1948 and famed for its “pie shakes” (a milkshake blended with a slice of pie), the cheerful diner was thoughtfully restored in 2023, its walls lined with placards, posters and photographs of its famous patrons over the years.
hamburginn2.com

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Inventory


Iowa destinations

Places to be
Five essential stops

Whether you are heading to Des Moines on business or settling in Iowa City for a better quality of life, these are the pit stops that we recommend as you wind your way across the Hawkeye State.

1.
The Redstone Building, Davenport

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The roots of the Von Maur department store chain began in this beautiful redbrick location. Today the building includes the Bix Beiderbecke Museum, a tribute to the jazz legend.
bixmuseum.org

2.
Iowa 80 Truckstop, Walcott

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Off exit 284 of Interstate 80 sits the world’s largest truck stop. Pay a visit to the Trucking Museum next door, where you’ll find vintage trucks and other memorabilia, as well as multimedia exhibitions.
iowa80truckstop.com

3.
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Cedar Rapids

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The impressive building has 16 galleries, home to rotating exhibitions and one of Iowa’s finest art collections, which includes works by the likes of Grant Wood and Jun Kaneko.
crma.org

4.
Arnolds Park, Lake Okoboji

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The Okoboji Lakes are popular with sun-seekers. Pull off the highway at Arnolds Park, where West and East Okoboji Lakes meet, to find an amusement park, beach and picnic spots.
vacationokoboji.com

5.
Covered bridges, Madison County

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Iowa has a surprising number of Hollywood hotspots, including the covered crossing in Clint Eastwood’s 1995 film, The Bridges of Madison County. It is one of a number of structures that offer a lovely setting for a quiet walk.
madisoncounty.com

Local knowledge
Address book

Cobble Hill Restaurant, Cedar Rapids
Seasonal menu, local produce.
cobblehillrestaurant.com

Toppling Goliath Brewery, Decorah
One of Iowa’s best regarded, independent breweries.
tgbrews.com

The Cave, Des Moines
Bottle shop and wine bar.
thecavedsm.com

Moglea, Des Moines
Paper goods and stationery.
shop.moglea.com

Projects Contemporary Furniture, Des Moines
Furniture, lighting and objects.
projectsfurniture.com

Surety Hotel, Des Moines
Set in a restored beaux-arts building from 1913.
suretyhotel.com

The World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, Des Moines
Historic agricultural museum.
halloflaureates.org

Brazen Open Kitchen, Dubuque
Founder Kevin Scharpf is known for his hearty menus.
brazenopenkitchen.com

Field of Dreams, Dyersville
Made for the 1989 film, a movie set and baseball field.
fieldofdreamsmoviesite.com

Fishback and Stephenson Cider House, Fairfield
Independent cidery launched by four friends in 2014.
fscider.com

Daydrink Coffee, Iowa City
Opened as a kiosk in a plant shop, now a standalone site.
daydrink.coffee

Book Vault, Oskaloosa
One of Iowa’s most evocative independent bookshops.
bookvault.indielite.org

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