ISU Research Park: hiding in plain sight

Eric Wirth

Situated just south of U.S. Highway 30 in Ames sits a cluster of buildings where companies perform cutting-edge research, but the park is relatively unknown to students.

The ISU Research Park, which was founded in 1987, is a private, non-for-profit, endeavor affiliated with Iowa State. The park is home to companies such as Vermeer, NewLink Genetics, and Workiva, which was formerly known as WebFilings.

“The biggest requirement is a relationship with Iowa State,” said Alison Doyle, marketing manager for the ISU Research Park in reference to companies looking to house their operations within the park.

All the companies housed at the research park are in one way or another working with Iowa State, Doyle said. This could mean they are hiring students as part-time staff, pulling interns from ISU’s student base or working with different departments on campus.

The Research Park currently has 1,365 employees Doyle said, however, that number is projected to grow.

“We expect that in 10 years the employment base will expand to 6,000,” said Dr. Michael Crum, vice president for Economic Development and Business Engagement and chairman of the ISU Research Park Corporation.

Due to the expected increase in employment, the park is currently in an expansion phase. Doyle said the park is adding 200 acres of development to its already sizable 200-acre swath of developed land. The park houses about 60 tenants in nine buildings, seven of which are owned by the research park, while the other two are owned by private businesses.

Of the 60 tenants, one of the more widely known is Workiva, which recently underwent a name change, formerly operating under the name WebFilings. Workiva is well known for Wdesk, a platform operating in the cloud that allows companies and other enterprises to manage and analyze business data in real time. 

“Workiva is a workplace of the future,” Doyle said, noting that the company houses an in-house chef, as well as a gymnasium for employees. 

Of Workiva employees, about 50 per year are ISU student interns, according to a Workiva spokesperson.

“Many of these interns go on to become full-time Workiva employees,” the spokesperson said.

Andrew Herrick was one such intern.

“In the fall of 2009 I was taking an accounting information systems class at Iowa State … and Workiva was looking for interns,” Herrick said.

Herrick responded and was working as an intern for Workiva within a month.

Once graduated, Herrick said that the decision to stay with Workiva was an easy one to make.

“I was working with the founders on many projects and saw the company vision,” Herrick said.

Workiva, which Doyle said has committed to employ more than 1,000 people within five years, is just one of many companies in a variety of different fields situated in the research park.

“We have companies in IT security, and major companies like BSAF and Siemens,” Crum said.

One of these varied companies doing groundbreaking work within the research park is Harrisvaccines, which garnered some large attention last year. A leader in animal health, Harrisvaccines produced and received USDA conditional licensing in 2014 for a vaccine for the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, a virus that largely affected the swine population of the United States beginning in 2013, according to MarketWatch Inc.

Because the research park is a non-for-profit that is not owned by the university, companies such as Harrisvaccines are allowed to retain their intellectual property rights, Doyle said.

Regardless of the intellectual property rights, Doyle said many companies come to the research park because they really want access to ISU students.

“There are hundreds of jobs out here,” Doyle said.

Crum shares this sentiment.

“There are great companies out there, great places to work [and] great places for careers,” Crum said.

Crum added that relationships, such as the one between the ISU Research Park and the university, take great leadership to come to fruition. Crum went on to credit ISU President Steven Leath with helping the park thrive in recent years.

“There’s no question that it’s President Leath’s leadership that has stimulated a lot of growth at the park,” Crum said, noting that Leath immediately had the ISU Research Park reporting directly to his office. 

With the growth and the subsequent expansion project, the ISU Research Park will become home to Iowa State’s Economic Development Department. The expansion will also be home to cafés, restaurants and childcare for park employees, Crum said.