Businesses ready to expand need look no further than the center of America’s heartland. With 22 development-ready locations and nine other sites working toward designation, companies can more easily find the right option for their needs, on an accelerated timeline thanks to the Iowa Certified Site Program.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) rolled out the Iowa Certified Site Program in 2012 to ensure the state has a strong portfolio of project-ready industrial sites. Unlike some states who certify shovel-ready sites by their own criteria (which can vary widely from state to state), Iowa’s certification program uses nationally recognized standards and an independent, third-party site selection firm, Quest Site Solutions.
Quality Over Quantity
The Iowa Certified Site Program is designed to consider a combination of national site location standards as well as Iowa’s natural assets and the needs of key business sectors, including advanced manufacturing, finance and insurance and the biosciences. To become certified, sites go through a rigorous review process, and all resulting issues must be mitigated within the designated timeline depending on site size. The outcome is a “risk-free” site, which accelerates the development schedule for today’s fast-moving business environment.
While the number of certified sites in Iowa is growing, the state emphasizes that having the most certified sites is not the goal. “We’re using the most robust certification program in the country,” said Amy Kuhlers, IEDA’s Certified Site Program manager. “Our focus on quality, not quantity, is driving the program’s success.”
Keeping Pace with Today’s Business Decisions
As the business world evolves at a rapid pace, the ability to scale up quickly can be a game-changer for long-term profitability. Certified sites can offer large square footage options for fast-tracked projects.
“Companies exploring expansions or new operations often do not have the luxury of dedicating substantial amounts of time to the site location process,” said IEDA Director Debi Durham. “That’s why this program makes Iowa a great option — having a site where all the development questions have been asked and answered demonstrates the community is open for business and prepared to welcome new investment.”
Case Study: Norwalk, Iowa
Having a certified site in place proved to be the difference maker for the City of Norwalk in the Greater Des Moines area. Michael Foods announced a large capital project in Norwalk due to the presence of a certified site.
Michael Foods, a $2 billion manufacturer and distributor of foodservice, food ingredient and retail offerings and the nation’s largest processor of value-added eggs, selected Norwalk earlier this year for a new regional manufacturing and distribution facility. The company is in the process of building a 143,000-square-foot plant with a total capital investment to exceed $85 million. The project will create 168 new jobs in the community of 12,000 people.
Woodward Becomes Iowa’s First Green Certified Site
As Iowa looks to adapt its certification program to future industry needs, IEDA introduced an option geared toward sustainability-minded businesses. The green certification program looks to attract office park and company headquarter projects to a location prepared with conservation top-of-mind. “As far as we know, Iowa is currently the only state offering a green certification program like this,” said Kuhlers.
In August of this year, the IEDA announced the first site to receive green certification. The Woodward Eco Business Park is a pilot project and the first of its kind designed to meet the unique needs of companies looking to reduce their environmental impact. The park is approximately 190 acres and is now available for business development.
The Green Business Park category is designed for multiple users and ancillary park activities and must adhere to the following criteria:
- Due diligence requirements similar to Industrial Certification program
- Preserve natural features of the site, such as wetlands
- Required to adopt covenants that recognize the importance of environmentally sensitive design in both office and industrial development
“Adhering to environmentally friendly principles is becoming increasingly important to business and industry,” Director Durham said. “We designed the green certification criteria to meet the needs of companies as we attract new investment and proactively offer infrastructure that promotes sustainability.”
Cherokee Attains Certification
This fall, IEDA announced that a development-ready site located in Cherokee is the 21st industrial site to achieve certification through the Iowa Certified Site Program. The Cherokee certified site joins a Sergeant Bluff location as one of the just two available in Northwest Iowa. The property covers nearly 100 acres, of which about three-quarters are developable. The site has also been certified as a rail-served site, which means supply and value chain transportation needs of businesses at this location could be met by road or rail — important flexibility for today’s companies.
“The certification process is rigorous. We worked toward this designation for about 18 months,” said Bill Anderson, executive director of Cherokee Area Economic Development Corp. “Having the certified site will be helpful in attracting new businesses and residents to Cherokee. We look forward to using this as a tool to grow the economy in the City of Cherokee as well as throughout Cherokee County.”
While Iowa’s Certified Site Program helps set the state apart from the competition, it’s the combination of many factors that make Iowa an ideal option for growing businesses. In fact, earlier this year, Iowa was named the No. 1 state in the country, according to a ranking from U.S. News & World Report that looked at thousands of data points to measure how well states are performing for their citizens.
Low operational costs and a pro-business environment make Iowa the perfect choice to start and expand a business. Iowa has lower rental and construction costs than the national average, lower payroll costs, lower workers’ compensation costs and lower utility costs. It’s why global tech leaders, such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, have invested billions over the last several years to expand in Iowa.
Additionally, Iowa offers companies skilled, smart, efficient workers. The state has ramped up its STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education in public schools and made it easier for businesses to collaborate with students. Iowa also has increased its focus on technical trade skills at its network of community colleges — where curriculum aligns with the needs of business.
Attracting Large Projects
Iowa knows some companies have needs for very large properties. As a result, the state has prioritized certifying a mega site, which is designed for a single user and consists of a minimum of 1,000 acres in one location. IEDA announced its first mega site, which is in the Cedar Rapids-area, on October 24, 2018.
Iowa’s certified sites are located across the state in a variety of locations with unique characteristics defining each one. For a comprehensive list of available sites as well as more information about the program, visit iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/CertifiedSites.
Visit https://www.expansionsolutionsmagazine.com/iowa_ed for local economic development office directory listings.