Ames, the northern headwaters of the growing Cultivation Corridor, is looking to bookend the west-side research center — the doubling-in-size Iowa State University Research Park — with the city’s first major industrial park.
The man in the middle, Ames Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Culhane, said the 1,350-acre industrial park on the east edge of town, near the Barilla pasta plant and U.S. Highway 30, will give prospective businesses a place to set up large operations, even as they perhaps cooperate in research at ISU and its research park.
The Cultivation Corridor is an effort to make Central Iowa — and really the whole state — an internationally known biosciences center. It’s tough when the competition includes giant employment bases in California and elsewhere. However, the recent rapid growth of medical and other tech companies at ISU Research Park — such as Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., Merck Animal Health, Deere & Co. and Sukup Manufacturing Co. — along with expansions and new facilities of the likes of food additive giant Kemin Industries and Johnston-based genetics and corn power DuPont Pioneer have formed a base that has business leaders bullish on the move. Cultivation Corridor just hired DuPont Pioneer government affairs guru Billi Hunt to serve as the organization’s second executive director after Brent Willett left for another job.
“There isn’t a better time than right now to be in Ames and Story County. I’ve been saying that for six or seven years,” said Culhane, who gets paid to praise Ames but may have a point. “You can look at many corners of Ames and parts of Story County, and for a market our size there has been pretty significant capital investment.”
Ames is, in fact, building in all four directions. Much of the construction in the city of 66,000 has been to keep up with demand for high-level apartments, condos and houses. Iowa State University has built multiple buildings related to the biosciences, along with providing much of the brain power behind the ISU Research Park, where scientists are trying to prevent cancer and advance agriculture technology.
It’s the first major industrial park for the city. “This is kind of a new day for Ames,” Culhane said. “Historically, we’ve been very adept at being able to attract lab, office opportunities and things like that. We are still bullish on that but we have an opportunity to play when it comes to very traditional industrial development.
“We also see this area as a logical place for a company that is going through the process at the research park. They are proving concepts. They can take from the research park to full production out here if they choose to.”
The park was in the long-range plans for the city, and the municipal government has the sewers in its capital improvements planned beginning this year.
Culhane sees it as part of a bigger boom in Ames, much of it fueled by innovation. Tenants
at the research park alone include the likes of Workiva, which creates cloud-based productivity solutions, to Sukup Manufacturing Co., which makes grain storage, and NewLink Genetics, which is attempting to develop cancer vaccines. The Ames airport got a face-lift recently. ISU Startup Factory, another program at the ISU Research Park, is into its fourth cohort looking for immersion in entrepreneurship.
On the other side of Interstate Highway 35 from Barilla, businesses ranging from longtime hydraulics manufacturer Danfoss Power Solutions to biodiesel maker REG base their business on innovation.
“Most observers from the outside would say, ‘Well it’s a university town, it has a research park and of course there is investment in the research park,’ ” Culhane said.
It goes beyond that. “We’re seeing investment on campus. We’re seeing a complete renaissance of Campustown. We are seeing more and more opportunities for industrial growth with the recent annexation of the 1,350 acres on the east edge of town,” an area that offers rail, highway and, not too far down the road, air travel.
“This is a pretty opportune place for a long-term economic development play for Ames and Story County,” Culhane said.
In the middle of the plans for the expansion, Barilla decided to complete a $64 million expansion of its operation in its existing facility. Still, not everyone is Ames — a place known for hardy, dedicated sports fans and what you might call independent thinkers — was crazy about the expansion in an area not far from where many independent thinkers had sought to block a shopping development.
“There were folks locally that didn’t think this was such a good idea, in large part because, like it or not, we are speculating,” Culhane said. “We are speculating for future growth and job creation. They were concerned about costs to deploy infrastructure and that sort of thing.
“There is always that risk that it’s not going to happen as fast as anyone would like,” he said.
There are utilities to lay and other preparations needed, but the marketing has begun in earnest, Culhane said.
“We don’t think every project is going to be $65 million, but we see pretty capital-intensive developments out there, in large part because of the rail access on the north side of Lincoln Way.” He expects small distribution centers, light manufacturing and services south of Lincoln Way, where there isn’t rail.