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Discovering Iowa’s Assets

Why this insurance leader made a mid-career move

John Melvin HeadshotDecades into his successful insurance industry career, John Melvin was finally visiting Des Moines. Until 2021, John’s roles as an investment officer kept him on the East Coast. But the asset management leader followed industry developments in the Midwest, too, and was impressed by what he saw.

“If there is one industry in the financial world that's really hot, it's insurance, and particularly the life and annuity space,” John said. “There’s a lot of attention currently from private equity firms trying to get involved. Outside of New York, Des Moines is the epicenter.”

John’s first visit was inspired by an invitation to interview with Sammons Financial Group, a respected Des Moines-based company John felt could offer the next step in his career. He had considered other Midwest locations during his job search, but nothing had enticed him and his wife to move from Connecticut. Des Moines’ insurance ecosystem offered something different.

Iowa’s Insurance Edge

Long recognized as a hub in finance and insurance, Iowa-based initiatives are propelling industry advancements. Leading companies like Sammons Financial Group are also elevating the next generation of workforce with internship programs like Insure Your Future. The company welcomed a handful of insurance interns and hosted participants for on-site sessions in the program’s inaugural 2023 season.

“The expansion of the insurance industry in Des Moines and across Iowa has been quite amazing over the last couple decades, and I've been able to watch that from afar,” John said.

Insure Your Future participants gather for a photo

Related: Read about how the first-of-its-kind Global Insurance Accelerator is creating ‘co-opetition’ by supporting emerging ideas.

He was excited to get a closer look. When Sammons Financial Group offered John the role of Chief Investment Officer, he and his wife felt like it was time to say goodbye to Greenwich, Connecticut, and hello to the Heartland.

“The combination of the great company and opportunity here, as well as the ease and livability of the community, all seemed to work,” John said.

Their move came right around the launch of the state’s “This is Iowa” campaign, which exposed East Coast colleagues and friends to the attractions and affordability that the state offers.

“I can't tell you the number of people who told me, 'I just saw a commercial for Iowa on TV; it sounds like it's a great place,’” John said.

Life in Iowa

John credits Iowa’s ‘open for business’ policies for helping him plug into the community, both professionally and personally—despite moving during the pandemic. Networking events like Des Moines’ Global Insurance Symposium, a premiere event that engages hundreds of industry leaders, have connected John to a strong pool of talent. His experiences position him as a somewhat unlikely poster child for other East Coasters considering a career here.

“I’m a bit of a unicorn,” John said. “People say, 'You moved to Iowa from Connecticut at that stage in your career? How did that go?' But then they reflect on the fact that they've heard that [Iowa] is a really great place to live. I think that word is getting out.”

John and his wife took their time to find the right neighborhood. They eventually decided to rent a condo on Ingersoll Avenue in a designated Iowa Cultural & Entertainment District, where they watched the upscale Oak Park restaurant take shape. A fast friendship with those neighboring restaurateurs helped them locate an off-market historic home nearby. They’re now renovating a 1930s brick Georgian that’s within walking distance of the Des Moines Art Center, where John’s wife has already begun to get involved. His short commute also frees up more time for John to practice his putt at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club.  

Related: Ready to make your move to Iowa? Calculate your cost of living and see how much you could save.

“[In central Iowa], you can do anything within 10 minutes,” John said. “Then, the quality of employers in the area is also high. I can name half a dozen other Midwestern communities where the insurance company is the only show in town. If you build a life there and something happens, you've got nowhere to go. Here, there's mobility of the workforce. There's really no other concentration of life insurance companies like we have here in Des Moines.”

Published January 16, 2024

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