Real Success with Nate Kaeding: David Barker

Sponsored by MidWestOne Bank, this is the latest edition of the CBJ’s new podcast feature with Nate Kaeding and notable Iowa business and cultural leaders, available first to CBJ members. Listen to this episode below, and subscribe on SpotifyiTunesGoogle PlayStitcher and SoundCloud.

By Nate Kaeding

If you want to know what’s happening with the Iowa City real estate market and/or the University of Iowa, you ask David Barker.

A graduate of West High in Iowa City, David went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of California at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago. From there he went on to work as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and invested in real estate in the city before feeling that familiar, familial pull back to Iowa.

Since then, he has served as partner of Iowa City’s Barker Companies, which manages apartments for many University of Iowa students, and was most recently tapped to serve on the state’s Board of Regents, which is trying to navigate the dueling imperatives of a stepped up COVID-19 response on campus and shrinking dollars from tuition and the state.

“These things that we thought we had years or decades to adapt to, suddenly are here in a big way,” he told me. “The primary challenge is dealing with these things that we have thought about, but that we thought we had more time to deal with.”

David and I connected as the University of Iowa prepared for the start of a totally unpredictable fall semester, and as the Federal Reserve announced more efforts to support the economy. We spoke about his path to economics and the Fed, the challenges facing the regents and his goals for the years ahead.

When I think of your story, I think of your dad, Ed [Barker], a renowned community member in Iowa City. He was the first principal at Iowa City West High School and a successful businessman; he started the real estate company that your family owns and manages today. A big part of Ed’s story is education and business. Talk a bit about your dad, and the lessons learned from growing up with him as an influence.

Sure. We started out in Chariton and Boone. Then he got what he considered his dream job, which was principal of West High. So, we moved to Iowa City. I always felt a part of what he was doing because I was in the school system as a student. I could go to the basketball games and football games and plays and concerts and things that he went to. It felt like a family enterprise. The way we lived was preparation for his business career. We spent no money. We were frugal with the idea of saving money to invest at some point. We never went to restaurants, never went to movie theaters, never got haircuts. Our family vacations were camping and cooking food out on a fire. Eventually, he had enough saved up to start that business career, which my mother was very much a part of.

Can you remember the early days as you were getting started?

There were some false starts. He tried a few things that did not work. There were real estate investments that did not work out. There was a try at printing up cards that had Iowa football history on them that he was going to print and sell and that did not work. Then one day, my mother checked out a book from the public library which was “How to make a Million Dollars in Real Estate.” And she read it and it seemed to be something that could be done in Iowa City, it seemed to make sense. She started talking to my dad about that. They had already rented out a house that we used to live in in Boone and so kind of understood the business. So, they started looking around for property to buy. My dad did the finance, my mom did the operations and we all kind of pitched in in different ways.

Read the full interview with David Barker in the Aug. 3 print or digital editions of the CBJ. Not a CBJ member? Join today.