By Debi Durham, Director, Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority
If you’re not already somewhat familiar with all the state of Iowa has to offer for its business partners, a few things may immediately come to mind – agriculture, ethanol and biodiesel production, farms and things of that nature. And rightfully so – each of those well-known factors have contributed to Iowa’s standing as a major player in the food production, precision agriculture and advanced manufacturing industries. But with all due respect and appreciation to the producers and manufacturers who keep those important industries humming along, that represents only a fraction of Iowa’s story. With this month’s focus on finance and biotechnology, it’s a perfect opportunity to shed light on two of Iowa’s premier industries.
The Iowa Advantage
First, it’s important to understand what foundationally makes the state an ideal destination for finance, insurance and biotech companies. Though there are numerous factors that make the state a best-in-class destination for businesses, a few are particularly noteworthy:
Pro-Business Environment: Businesses in Iowa have benefited from a low cost of doing business, robust infrastructure and continued support from a responsive state government.
Skilled and Stable Workforce: Public and private entities throughout the state have invested in offering apprenticeships, internships and other professional development opportunities to our workforce in an effort to close the skills gap.
Access and Infrastructure: Iowa’s central continent location provides easy access to domestic markets on the east and west coasts. A robust transportation network also grants global market access and supports a wide array of needs in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
For these reasons and more, Iowa has been named the No. 1 state in the nation by U.S. News & World Report (2018) and the No. 1 state for jobs according to Zippia (2019). Iowa takes pride in these honors and is dedicated to exceeding all expectations by taking every opportunity possible to reveal the “Real” Iowa to businesses and entities interested in operating across the state. At all levels across the public and private sectors, the state remains committed to continuing its upward trend, fostering an environment where businesses can succeed and achieve sustained growth.
Wide Open for Discovery
Through a dogged commitment to innovation and collaboration, Iowa has earned a reputation as an epicenter for excellence in bioscience and biotechnology. Extensive work in biobased chemicals, precision agriculture, vaccines and immunotherapeutics have positioned the state as a global leader in the field and have provided a firm foundation not only for future discoveries, but for new companies to thrive. One such company is Coralville, Iowa-based VIDA Diagnostics, a biomedical software company leveraging imaging-based artificial intelligence (AI) to help in evaluate and treat pulmonary diseases with rising mortality rates and limited treatment options.
“Patients with lung disease can be treated with drugs or various breathing devices, or a combination of both,” said Dr. Susan A. Wood, president and CEO, VIDA. “With the amount of data at our fingertips, we can predict how a patient may or may not respond to specific treatments at certain times, which provides invaluable information to the pulmonary clinician to treat patients efficiently and effectively.”
In 2014, to help build its commercialization channels and hire more staff, the company received $500,000 from the Iowa Innovation Acceleration Fund and an additional $1.4 million from Next Level Ventures, a venture capital firm focused only on Iowa startups.
Beyond funding, Iowa’s leaders go the extra mile to advocate for VIDA’s success. This supportive structure helps a startup company quickly leap to the next level and is a primary reason why VIDA has found success in Iowa.
“Iowa provides the access to talent, investment capital and collaborative structure, which is fueling its growth trajectory in the biosciences industry,” said Dr. Wood. “We’ve been embraced as a company, and the state has given us the tools to thrive.”
A Smart Investment
Home to 6,700 finance and insurance companies and boasting GDP growth of 49 percent over the last five years (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018; Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2018), Iowa is the one of the nation’s top hubs for insurance and finance, attracting companies such as Nationwide, Prudential, Principal Financial Group and Transamerica, each of which contribute to the state’s vibrant business sector.
Moreover, Iowa’s higher-than-average concentration of financial examiners, financial managers, loan interviewers and clerks and loan officers provide a solid foundation of talent ready to lend their expertise to companies currently operating in the area or considering expansion to Iowa. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018)
Building upon the state’s extensive experience in the insurance industry, Iowa is the birthplace of numerous advancements in insurance technology (insurtech) and the state is showing early signs of revolutionizing the industry. A number of these advancements can trace their origins back to Iowa’s Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA), the world’s first business accelerator geared toward insurtech.
Founded in 2014, GIA is a mentor-driven program that connects well-established insurance companies with startups driving innovation for the global insurance industry during a 100-day immersive experience. Through this open exchange of ideas, early-stage startups can glean important insights about the industry from executives (to whom they may otherwise not have access), while executives are able to see, firsthand, the new technologies that will advance the field. Since its launch, the GIA has attracted participants from burgeoning companies from across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Serbia, Brazil and Australia.
Beyond Iowa’s operational advantages – including a central geographic location that conveniently serves clients on both coasts – Iowa’s financial industry benefits from advanced technologies that help unleash the creative potential, knowledge and productivity of Iowa’s talented workforce. Currently, more than 94,000 professionals drive Iowa’s insurance and financial services industries, a 17 percent growth within the last 15 years. In fact, Iowa now has the fourth-highest concentration of commercial banking employees and the second-highest concentration of loan interviewers and clerks in the U.S.
“Iowa has been our headquarters since we were founded in 1879. It has remained so, even as we evolved into a global company, because of the access to a talented, highly productive labor pool,” said Dan Houston, chairman, president and CEO, Principal Financial Group. “Iowa is affordable, with great education and a quality of life that appeals to millennials, seniors and everyone in between. The state has also emerged as a hub of innovation, another reason companies should have Iowa at the top of their list as they look to start up or expand a business.”
For a comprehensive list of available sites and more information about doing business in Iowa, visit IowaEDA.com.