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Ames’ Diverse Economy Attracts Talent and Businesses to Story County

Strength lies in diverse industries, agriculture and access to college talent.

By Kevin Litwin on May 5, 2019

Ames, IA Businesses
Ames / Steve Woit

When you talk about Ames, most conversations start with or return to Iowa State University, and that of course applies to the local economy.

“It’s a Tier I research university with 36,000 students, and Iowa State makes our community feel very alive,” says Dan Culhane, president/CEO of the Ames Chamber of Commerce. “Much of our economic activity in Ames starts with a connection to ISU.”

Culhane says Ames/Story County is an attractive region for new business and many of its existing  businesses are expanding.

Just some of the companies enjoying success these days include Barilla, Collins Aerospace, Danfoss, Hach, Pella, Syngenta Seeds and Vermeer, and companies currently involved in expansion projects include 3M, automed, Burke Corporation (Hormel), Deere & Company, M.H. Eby and Nebullam.

“Many companies are doing business out of the Iowa State University Research Park, while on the ISU campus itself is Ames Laboratory that is affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy,” Culhane says. “Also in Ames are a USDA National Animal Disease Center and a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.”

Top Economic Sectors

Culhane adds that Ames is already strong in economic sectors such as agriculture, engineering and technology, while growth continues in manufacturing. In fact, a new Prairie View Industrial Center has opened on the east side of Ames, with the hope of attracting larger manufacturing companies.

“Prairie View is ideal for manufacturers that might need 300 acres and rail service as well as an extraordinary amount of natural gas for their production capabilities,” he says.

Culhane is also proud to point out that a current 1.5 percent unemployment rate in the Ames/Story County region is among the lowest in the nation.

“More and more ISU students are deciding to stay in Ames following graduation, in large part due to top employment opportunities and quality- of-life advantages,” he says. “Also, our startup- entrepreneurial community has become so high caliber that this region is able to recruit from other major tech centers in the nation.”

Engine of Entrepreneurial Activity

Three companies that started in Ames have recently gone public, an extraordinary fact for a community this size: Workiva (software), NewLink Genetics (cancer-fighting biopharmaceuticals) and Renewable Energy Group. REG is North America’s largest producer of biomass- based diesel, starting more than two decades ago in Iowa and moving its headquarters to Ames in 2007.

“REG decided on Ames for a number of reasons, especially because of the partnerships built with Iowa State University back in the mid-1990s when doing initial research on biodiesel,” says Julie Haverly, REG manager, strategic planning & analysis. “We believe that many employees remain at REG for a number of years because the area has provided them with all the necessary resources for living in a community. These include a variety of job opportunities for spouses, a great education system and access to entertainment and recreation in Ames and in the Des Moines metro area.”

Immediate Access to ISU’s Talent

Also thriving in Ames/ Story County is Deere & Company, which is headquartered in Moline, Illinois, but also wanted a presence here. In 2017, the company established its John Deere Technology Innovation Center at the Iowa State University Research Park to attract ISU students to work for the company while school is in session.

The Deere Technology Center at ISU Research Park focuses on developing integrated solutions for John Deere’s Agriculture & Turf, Construction & Forestry, Intelligent Solutions Group and John Deere Financial divisions. Meanwhile, Deere is also constructing a new design and innovation lab for agricultural spraying and applications technology, which will open in 2019 in the Research Park.

“The Technology center currently employs more than 50 employees at the Research Park, which includes several student positions,” says Pushpa Manukonda, John Deere Technology Innovation Center director. “We will add even more employees once our lab opens, allowing Deere to further tap into the excellent talent at ISU.”

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