ISU seeks enthusiastic economic development partners

 
Steven Leath, president of Iowa State University. Photo courtesy of Jeff Storjohann, Carroll Daily Times Herald

Research shouldn’t sit unused, said Iowa State University President Steven Leath — he’d rather see it implemented by start-ups in rural areas through partnerships between the university and regional economic-development organizations.

Leath stopped in Carroll this week to speak with Herald Publishing Co. --parent company of The Jefferson Herald, Guthrie Center Times, and Fontanelle Observer--as part of his continuing efforts to stay connected with the needs of local communities across the state.

The ability of ISU to approach an economic-development board with a patent and a business proposal is a long-term goal of the ISU Research Park, the expansion of which has been a key emphasis of Leath’s since he became the university’s 15th president in January 2012.

His rationale for an economic-development focus is simple — a land-grant institution has a responsibility to contribute something back to the state that built it, Leath said.

Land-grant institutions are colleges or universities founded with funds from the sale of federally controlled land given to the states through the Morrill Acts in the late 19th century. The goal of the program was to create universities that taught practical fields such as agriculture and science — as opposed to a strictly liberal-arts curriculum — in light of the Industrial Revolution.

ISU could license many of its patents to large companies, but much of its research lends itself to start-ups, which help grow the state’s economy, Leath said.

“There’s a gap between when it’s coming out of the lab, and when it’s ready for prime time,” he said.

The ISU Research Park currently serves as an incubator for some of these start-ups, providing a venue for ideas to grow and develop. But it also fosters partnerships between these new small businesses and large established companies, which come to the park to access ISU’s pool of faculty and student talent, Leath said, citing the vaccine industry as an example — Iowa-based companies such as Harrissvaccines and NewLink Genetics collaborate with multinational Boehringer Ingelheim.

The presence of the park also provides internship and employment opportunities for ISU students — the university boasts a 95 percent placement rate across majors, largely due to the work experience graduates can include on their resumes, Leath said. Many find jobs in the park after graduation as well, he added.

“Our number-one product is our students,” he said.

The ultimate goal of the park is to create jobs statewide, Leath said. As companies prosper at the research park, the hope is that they “spin out” and build branches in other Iowa cities.

Leath brings experience and inspiration from his past work in North Carolina’s Research Triangle to his efforts to move the ISU Research Park forward.

“In some ways we are behind a large research park like the Triangle, but in other ways we have more going on at this point in our development than they did when they started,” Leath said.

University officials broke ground on the park’s most recent expansion, a 49,210-square-foot core facility supported by a $12 million state appropriation, in September.

Expected to open in mid-2016, the new hub will bring the university’s economic-development outreach programs under one roof. These programs include the Center for Industrial Research and Service, which provided engineering services to 39 Carroll County businesses in the last five years; the Iowa Small Business Development Center, which worked with 32 Carroll County businesses and provided 209 hours of small-business training in the county last year; Iowa State’s Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer; the Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations; the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship; the Iowa State Research Foundation; and the Cultivation Corridor regional economic-development project.

Leath’s goals include tripling the size of the park, which currently houses 60 tenants and more than 1,300 employees. Phase three of the park expansion includes development of an additional 200 acres, according to the Iowa State University news service.

The park is also working to change its look — companies are adding and updating amenities such as food-service and athletic options, which have been well-received by the students and the park’s relatively young employee base, said Leath.

As the university’s economic-development initiatives continue to move forward, the key will be finding enthusiastic partner cities and organizations with access to a workforce, public spaces that promote quality of life, facility needs and strong telecommunications networks.

“We’ve grown well over the years,” Leath said. “The potential is there.”

— 70 residents currently enrolled: 23 agriculture students; 17 liberal arts and sciences student; 11 human sciences students; 4 business students; 7 engineering students; 2 design students
— 182 ISU alumni reside in Adair County: 32 involved in agriculture, 19 educators, 8 bankers, 4 engineers and 2 veterinarians
— 989 Adair County residents were assisted by ISU Extension and Outreach programs
— 6 businesses received engineering services from ISU’s Center for Industrial Research and Service in the last five years
— 2 local organizations worked with ISU’s Institute for Physical Research and Technology in the last decade
— 10 local businesses received 67 hours of small-business training from ISU’s Small Business Development Center last year

— 86 residents currently enrolled: 12 agriculture students; 21 liberal arts and sciences student; 15 human sciences students; 17 business students; 9 engineering students; 7 design students; and 5 graduate students
— 438 ISU alumni reside in Greene County: 80 involved in agriculture, 38 educators, 15 bankers, 10 engineers, 4 veterinarians, and one architect
— 796 Greene County residents were assisted by ISU Extension and Outreach programs
— 7 businesses received engineering services from ISU’s Center for Industrial Research and Service in the last five years
— 6 local organizations worked with ISU’s Institute for Physical Research and Technology in the last decade
— 14 local businesses received 79 hours of small-business training from ISU’s Small Business Development Center last year

— 98 residents currently enrolled: 24 agriculture students; 24 liberal arts and sciences student; 20 human sciences students; 8 business students; 13 engineering students; 2 design students; 1 veterinary medicine student and 6 graduate students
— 437 ISU alumni reside in Guthrie County: 51 involved in agriculture, 24 educators, 21 bankers, 6 engineers, 8 veterinarians and 3 architects
— 812 Guthrie County residents were assisted by ISU Extension and Outreach programs
— 8 businesses received engineering services from ISU’s Center for Industrial Research and Service in the last five years
— 4 local businesses received 29 hours of small-business training from ISU’s Small Business Development Center last year

Courtesy of Audrey Ingram, Carroll Daily Times Herald (As seen with county details in Fontanelle Observer 11.26, Guthrie Center Times 11.26, Jefferson Herald 11.27)

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