From Lake Superior to the Rio Grande, Interstate 35 winds through the heart of America, through the largest of its cities and over its widest of rivers. To even the keenest observer, the 30-minute stretch of I-35 from Ames to Ankeny has little to offer except mile after mile of bean and corn sprouts that push through the earth in the spring and wither to golden brown in the fall.
But ask an opportunist, and he will paint a different picture entirely. Ask a man with a daft imagination, and he will pull much more than a crop from that soil. Ask a man who’s set out to initiate innovation and prosperity. Ask Iowa State University President Steven Leath, and he will call that 30-minute commute a key part of Iowa’s economic future.
The area has been dubbed the Cultivation Corridor, after an initiative co-chaired by President Leath and other Iowa businesses to manifest growth in agbioscience, biorenewables, biotech and advanced manufacturing industries throughout the I-35 corridor.
The ISU Research Park (ISURP), nestled on 400 acres of land just south of Interstate 30, is the spigot that will flood the corridor with that economic growth and innovation – and the water pressure has been slowly building for years, unbeknownst to many Ames residents.
“For 20-some years there have been some very well intentioned initiatives to market this region and keep young professionals here,” said Alison Doyle, spokesperson at ISURP. “The Cultivation Corridor’s market focus, combined with the leadership and support of some well-established companies and the changing economic climate in Iowa — there really is a great deal of positive momentum and change occurring in this region.”
And when Iowa State was searching for a new president in 2011, Steven Leath fit the bill perfectly. Leath saw a place that was “poised for something big,” and Iowa State saw in Leath a competent former Vice President of Research from the University of North Carolina.
Under the direction of its new president, Iowa State has begun to lay the groundwork for a bright future — and part of that groundwork is the ISU Research Park.
What the Research Park is:
Opened in 1987, the Research Park was established as a not-for-profit run by a board of directors appointed by Iowa State University and the ISU Foundation. Its goal is to “provide the space, resources and community to advance science and technology-based initiatives,” according to the park’s website.
The Research Park provides a number of functions, but at its core, the park brings to the area “tenants” such as new businesses, expanding businesses, start-up companies and entrepreneurial ventures. In return, the park provides these “tenants” with facilities, expertise, technology, financing, recruiting and whatever other resources they can offer. Tenants can also utilize resources and equipment the university already owns, saving them time and money.
“This is a place where relationships begin and grow, between executives, entrepreneurs, students, the public and private sectors,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds during the grand opening of ISURP’s Core Facility.
Currently, the Research Park’s tenants employ more than 1,700 people and up to 300 ISU student interns throughout the year. Former tenants of the park, which have grown and moved out to their own facilities, employ over 2,500 Iowans.
What the Research Park is doing:
Besides its main functions, the Research Park launched a brand-new program at the end of June called the ISU StartUp Factory.
Teaming up with Iowa State Economic Development and Industry Relations (EDIR), the Research Park is providing students, faculty and staff with opportunities to create businesses. ISU StartUp Factory is an intensive, 52-week program that provides participants with formal training, resources and access to a network of business mentors, advisors, counselors and investors.
“We could not be more excited to get to work on growing these companies,” said Bill Adamowski in a release, who is heading up the program. “The teams selected to be a part of our first cohort represent a broad range of areas of expertise from all throughout Iowa State University.”
What the Research Park is going to do:
It’s not just Iowans that are starting to notice the economic contributions Iowa State has been making. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities recently named Iowa State an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University.
“This designation is affirmation of the breadth of our economic engagement programs throughout the state, our record of achievement and our plans for continued service,” Leath said in a release.
Iowa State plans to continue the economic engagement and rapid growth that it has seen through the EDIR and Research Park, and the park’s opening of the Economic Development Core Facility on June 9 is a huge step forward, said Vice President for Economic Development and Business Engagement Mike Crum.
“[The Core Facility] is the first building to be completed in the Research Park’s next major expansion phase,” Crum said. “It’s representative of the types of buildings you’re going to see in the new expansion of the park.”
Not only will the new expansion see more state-of-the-art buildings like the Core Facility, its also adding a café, Ames Racquet and Fitness and recreational parks and trails — all part of a push to make the ISURP more attractive to companies.
“The focus on talent acquisition is paramount to each of our companies’ success, and there is intense competition for the best employees,” Doyle said. “Employers want to provide state of the art work environments to recruit and retain top prospects. We are helping our companies by providing more than just a place their employees come to work, we are providing a community of resources and places to network.”