Living Big in a Small City

In search of the perfect home and place to raise a family, Gabe and Caitlin Wells initially lived in Des Moines before Gabe’s promotion with John Deere Financial took them to Portland, Oregon. They lived in the Pacific Northwest for over a decade, never expecting to return to Iowa where Gabe was raised. However, after Caitlin accepted a job in Davenport, they soon realized that some of the best things (and places) in life are unexpected. They returned to the Midwest and quickly discovered the benefits that Iowa offers both for career growth and quality of life. 

Q. Let’s start from the beginning. Where are you from, and how did you wind up in Des Moines?

Gabe Wells (GW): My parents were both born and raised in south central Iowa, and I grew up in Wayne County, Iowa. I completed my undergraduate degree at Simpson College in Indianola. Then I moved to Des Moines, began my career with John Deere Financial and completed my MBA with the University of Iowa while working there. 

Caitlin Wells (CW): I was born in Connecticut but grew up all over, spending some time in Chicago and Cleveland before living in Texas for 12 years, which is probably where most of my roots are. After spending two years in the Peace Corps in Botswana, I moved to Des Moines for a job opportunity with the Iowa Department of Public Health – my first professional experience with HIV work. 

Gabe and Caitlin Wells standing together.

Q. What inspired your move to Portland, Oregon?

GW: John Deere Financial offered me a promotion as territory finance manager, but the job required me to relocate to Portland. I had never lived outside of Iowa and was eager to jump at the opportunity, but I was also seeing Caitlin and didn’t want the relationship to end. 

CW: I really loved my job at the time but ultimately decided to move to Oregon to be with Gabe.  

Q. How was life in Portland?

GW: I was working remotely before working remotely was a thing. I had a territory that covered Oregon, Washington, Northern California and Idaho, so I was on the road a lot, like four or five nights per week. But, when I wasn’t working, Caitlin and I did a lot of outdoorsy stuff, which was great. I also joined The University of Iowa Alumni Club to meet some new people. I walked into the first Hawkeye watch party and was surprised to see 45-55 people decked out in black and gold. It was cool to have this network of fellow Iowans so far from home.

CW: I really grew in Portland, both professional and personally. Gabe and I got married in 2012, and we bought our first home in 2013. When it came to work, I stayed mostly in nonprofits and spent most of my time at a local organization called Cascade AIDS Project. During my tenure there I had two babies and started grad school. In 2019 I decided to diversify a little bit and try something new, which is when I started a position with a pharmaceutical company. It was good timing because 2019 was the year before the pandemic, and it was a good place to work from home – they were very supportive. 

Q. When did you start to consider coming back to Iowa?

GW: Well, we were both working fully remote and needed more space, which didn’t come cheap. In Portland, you’re going to crunch your budget, or you’re going to push yourself to a 45-minute commute. It’s a lose-lose situation. 

CW: We also missed being a short drive from family. 

GW: Our priorities shifted from ourselves to our children, and we realized that more space and more time together was going to be the most important to our family in the next five to 10 years. So, we started talking about the possibility of moving back to Des Moines.

CW: The whole idea was that I would stay with my job and work remotely because I had that ability at the time, Gabe would find another job in banking, and we would move to Des Moines. 

Riverboat floating down the river at sunset.

Q. How did you choose the Quad Cities/Davenport?

CW: Shortly after our plan was set in motion, I received a call from a recruiter with the opportunity to lead a Quad Cities-based nonprofit organization in the HIV and LGBTQ+ health space – a dream job for me in many ways.  

GW: Although the Quad Cities was not necessarily on our radar, I was familiar with the area having worked for John Deere for many years. We also had some friends in the area, a couple that I met through my time with John Deere, and Caitlin had the opportunity to visit with them before we made a decision.  

CW: I had to travel to Davenport for my interview. I met with a real estate agent, who showed me around. I’m a water person at the end of the day, and there was something fortuitous about the community due to the massive river that divides it. I also had the opportunity to meet up with a friend,  and I asked for her honest opinion about raising a family here, and she assured us that Davenport was a great place to raise our kids. After that visit, I accepted the CEO position with The Project of the Quad Cities, and we officially moved in March of 2022.

The Wells family outside with their daughter's in Halloween costumes.

Q. How has your experience been in Davenport?

GW: It’s been great! I recently started a new job as commercial banking officer for Fortress Bank, a community bank in the Quad Cities. From day one the atmosphere has been super welcoming, and I am finally starting to plug into the community. 

CW: It’s such an interesting blend. There’s a smaller town feel here, but it’s also big enough to be interesting.

GW: We’ve really come to enjoy Davenport for its many benefits, including the decreased cost of living and commute time. From mortgage to daycare, we are saving more money and spending less time driving from point A to point B, which means more time with family. 

CW: We also love the location. Not only have we enjoyed visiting Chicago, but we’ve been able to see Gabe’s parents more times this year than we’ve seen them in the last 11 years combined. 

Wells family standing in a museum.

Q. What opportunities have you discovered for your family since moving to Davenport?

GW: The area was developed around families, especially as far as recreation goes. From the kids’ museums to the biking paths and hiking trails, Davenport has everything we wanted and needed without even realizing it.

CW: People think of Iowa as being so landlocked, but northern Iowa offers many lakes and state parks. We are really looking forward to buying kayaks and exploring more this summer.

GW: It’s been the right move for us, and we couldn’t be happier.   

Cost of living comparison showing Portland, Oregon and Davenport, Iowa.

Last updated January 17, 2024

Published January 20, 2023

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