Libby Crimmings, the vice principal community placemaker at McClure, leads a community vision session at the Manchester Fire Station May 2.

Libby Crimmings said she spent most of her young life looking for a way to get out of Iowa.

Although she left Des Moines to explore the rest of the country, eventually she found herself wanting to move back. And when she finally made that decision, she found something she did not expect — Des Moines was now a cool place to live.

Des Moines, she said, decided years back that it was going to pour more resources into attracting people, not just businesses.

Now with McClure Engineering, Crimmings is helping other communities figure out how they can attract and retain their populations while at the same time improving their communities. Their focus, she said, is what draws people to a community beyond just its infrastructure — namely what it has to offer in the ways of recreation and socialization hubs.

While she said murals, sculptures and other works of art won’t do the job by itself, “at the same time, it’s not just roads and bridges” that draw people into a community.

It’s daycares, housing and other amenities people look for when deciding where to move, she said.

Now that areas like Des Moines are “oversaturated and expensive,” many are now looking to smaller cities within commuting distance of the larger metropolitan areas, something Manchester could capitalize on if it wants to increase its population.

May 2-3, McClure and the City of Manchester hosted Community Visioning sessions at the Manchester Fire Department. The whole process was born after the Manchester City Council unanimously approved a $52,700 contract with McClure at its March 11 meeting.

Money always becomes an obstacle when people are compiling a wish list, but at this stage, she said, the ideas are what is important.

“There are creative and innovative ways to find funding for things, but tonight we just need to focus on ideas,” Crimmings told the crowd.

But before the group began rattling off things they would like to see in Manchester, Crimmings had them focus on what is already here and working for the community.

The Franklin Street Brewing Company was one of the first amenities mentioned, followed by the Whitewater Park, school systems, hospital, parks and recreation, vibrant downtown, safety, physical location to other cities and parks, the county fair and one man even said he believes Manchester’s leaf pickup is valued.

As for things people would like to see, first mentioned was an indoor pool, a dog park, flood protection and stable fine-dining establishments.

“The goal of this process is to help Manchester achieve economic and population growth through cultural and entrepreneurial amenities, concepts, and catalytic projects,” Manchester’s city website states. “The Placemaking plan will focus on three key areas: Building a downtown cultural master plan, addressing the community’s current and future housing needs, and a creating a marketing and branding master plan.”

With the community visioning portion of the project underway, the next step is looking a the community’s capacity — in other words, what funding is available, what are the amenities and what types of organizational structures are out there to help move forward.

By working alongside local and regional leaders, McClure is aiming to complete a downtown cultural master plan, a housing plan and a marketing and branding master plan in the next six months.

Crimmings told the crowd they will launch a website to show what progress is being made once things move a little farther along.