Pella photo

Students present their Pella capstone projects at the end of the 2015-16 school year

With the help of a long-time neighbor, one of the leading manufacturers of windows and doors is making its mark in the Iowa State University Research Park. Pella Corp., which is headquartered in the central Iowa town that shares its name and a neighbor to fellow ISURP tenant Vermeer, established a 2,200 square foot office space in Ames last October.

While Pella has worked closely with Iowa State University for years, opening an office in the Park is a big step. One that was encouraged by Vermeer.

“We have a significant interest in research being conducted at Iowa State,” says Kevin Gaul, Pella’s director of legislative and regulatory affairs and a key member of the team that spearheaded the effort to establish the Park office. “We also have a big interest in identifying students with the skills we need to continue to advance technologies.

“In conversations we had with Vermeer, we started asking about how their arrangement was going at the ISU Research Park,” Gaul continues. “When they shared the benefits they’ve seen as a result of having a physical location in the Park; it made it an easy decision for us to move forward.”

It also helped to have members of the ISURP staff available to brainstorm and offer insight on options.

“The Park staff was phenomenal throughout the process,” Gaul says. “We had what felt like a million questions for them and they never balked. They helped us in every way we needed and we couldn’t have asked for more.”

Gaul says that while the footprint of the new office is relatively modest, the company plans to grow its use. He says they are focused on taking their relationship with the ISU community to a new level with an emphasis on research that drives innovation, developing a bridge for talent through internships and cooperative arrangements, and engaging as sponsors of senior capstone projects.

He says the office gives interns and students working on projects the space necessary to be successful and have a positive impact on Pella. Gaul, a graduate of ISU himself, says useful workspace is a major benefit to students.

“Back two decades ago when I was doing my senior capstone, it was a real challenge to find lab space to work on it,” he says. “When we finally did find space, we often had to pack up every day when we were finished. There was always good space for making things, but storing them was the issue.”

With the space in the new Pella office, that is not an issue. Gaul says students won’t have to disassemble and store their projects. They will be able to work on them in a dedicated space until they are done. It really is a win-win according to Gaul. Space is provided for projects in the Park, freeing up space on campus for others.

“It is something we hear a lot,” Gaul says. “Space is still a concern on campus. This allows us to step in and not only sponsor projects, but provide a facility to carry them out.”

“We are starting small by sponsoring two mechanical engineering projects,” he continues. “So far the feedback has been great and the students appreciate the opportunity to have a dedicated space to do their work.”

Pella’s office was established a few years after Vermeer made the leap. Gaul says it was something that had been on the radar, but market conditions prevented Pella from making the move sooner. The downturn in the housing market in the latter part of last decade provided a few bumps for Pella to navigate before they could turn their attention to reaching out with a physical presence in the Park. They now find themselves surrounded by innovation.

“It is outstanding to see Iowa companies coming together like they do in the Park,” Gaul says. “And with the Park staff helping to facilitate engagement with ISU, which is our top school for recruitment of future professional staff, this is a pretty difficult arrangement to beat.”

Gaul is confident Pella will look to expand its presence in the Park in the future.

“As an organization, Pella is passionate about technological development and we have a strong 90-year history of innovation,” he says. “That is something that will continue in the future and we can’t think of a better place to do it than right here in our backyard.”

And they are more than happy to follow the playbook established by their neighbor.

“Just like Vermeer did, we are starting small,” Gaul says. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a large vision for the future.”

Near-term, Pella is looking at the feasibility of adding full-time staff at its office in the Park, expanding its outreach to students beyond ISU’s College of Engineering (Gaul says the College of Business is high on the list for engagement down the road), and sponsoring, even more, research.

“What really gets us excited is the opportunity to help students develop skills they can bring to the market and, hopefully, to Pella,” Gaul says. “Expanding on the research being done here will drive innovation even further as students become more familiar with Pella and with our goals.”

“We are limiting ourselves intentionally right now with a narrow focus so we can get our feet wet,” Gaul says. “But make no mistake, we have a vision for growing this partnership.”