Story County is home to a diverse range of industries including advanced manufacturing, biosciences and technology, precision farming, and more. To support these industries, the Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission provides an array of services through its Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) program.
BR&E is an economic development strategy of proactively connecting with existing businesses to understand and respond to their current and future needs. Staying in touch and connecting with our existing business community is key to the retention of existing jobs and growth of new jobs. Studies show over time that up to 70% of all new job creation will come from existing business and industry growth if an aggressive BR&E program is implemented and supported.
In the last three years our Business Development team conducted 114 official visits with Story County companies. These confidential visits are a great way to gain insight into the strengths and challenges of the business and as well as own community. The feedback received as part of these interviews is aggregated, tracked, and reported each year.
In 2019 the following information was identified:
Top Story County Strengths:
Top Story County Challenges
Key to any effective BR&E program is the ability to act on the feedback received as a result of these visits. Because workforce continues to be an area of concern for our business community, the Ames Economic Development Commission has implemented a robust Workforce Solutions program. The following are the key aspects of our workforce solutions programming designed to assist our business and industry in the retention and recruitment of workforce now and into the future:
Our Story County labor force is 58,700 strong and growing. We stand ready to help business and industry flourish through workforce retention/recruitment, project support, and increasing the overall quality of life for all!
One of the major staples of any economic development organization is business recruitment. Often, business recruitment is the most publicly acknowledged component of the organization because of the interest and excitement generated from a new business coming to town. Though the most attention is paid to this portion of an organization, it only accounts for ten percent of job growth within a community. We have been fortunate in Ames to be a magnate for new opportunities, and with the addition of Prairie View Industrial Center, we are poised for more opportunities than ever.
When we think of the impact that business recruitment has on our communities we think of great successes like Barilla or 3M that have become powerhouse manufacturers for our community. Where Ames has seen the most success for recruitment has been at the ISU Research Park. Legacy companies from throughout the State of Iowa and beyond continue to seek out and open locations due to access to research and students for their continued success. As the park has grown, those companies have continued to make investments in new facilities.
More traditional business recruitment has focused on available land or speculative buildings. Such examples include NextEra Energy in Story City, or Priority Envelope in Nevada. With the new addition of Prairie View Industrial Center, the opportunity for Ames and Story County to see major industrial growth is just beginning. Since the onset of COVID-19, we have seen a major shift in our expectations for business recruitment. With the strain placed on global supply chains, we see an increased opportunity for re-shoring of manufacturing to ensure reliable supply chains. Additionally, the opportunity for foreign direct investment by foreign based companies looking to establish significant presence in the United States has never been more opportune.
Story County is incredibly well positioned to recruit new companies that will continue to be industry leaders and innovators. With strong partners and willing stakeholders, we will continue to find success within our business recruitment program.
I enjoy looking out into the future and thinking about what is next! While the pandemic our world is enduring is rightfully creating consternation, I really like to focus on what we will be pursuing when this over, because it will pass. As we celebrate Economic Development Week 2020, I remain bullish on our marketplace going forward.
Do we lean in post pandemic or do we retreat? We must lean in and press on! We must continue to work as thought leaders, and promote them. It’s critical that we keep working with existing businesses and entrepreneurs to find the next great job-creator. Leadership will be paramount and we have a responsibility to cultivate new leaders for all of the organizations with boards and commissions that need civic-minded people with the greater good in mind; and we absolutely must continue to unabashedly plow resources, both public and private, back into amenities to will make every corner of the Story County community thrive.
Will there by challenges ahead? Without question. But here is the real question… Do we lean in and become the community that can find ten ways to get something done? Or do we wilt at how hard things can be and find ten reasons why something in unattainable? In my estimation a community determines its fate in how it answers that question.
As we commemorate Economic Development Week 2020, we salute our numerous partners and we reaffirm the need for thriving communities and businesses whether we are in the throes of pandemic or not. Finally, you have our unrelenting pledge that we will work tirelessly to always be the community that can give you ten reasons why something will work here in Story County. Rest assured; with that attitude our greatest days are ahead of us!
Throughout the years, Ames and Story County have been fortunate to receive numerous accolades for our high quality of life. Whether we are listed as a great place to raise a family, retire, or recreate, these accolades align with what I have often heard from our own residents: “We have a great community.” This is a vague phrase, but we seem to universally understand it as a summing-up of our community’s positive traits. It is also a casual phrase, yet it implies that there is a tremendous ongoing effort, both intentional and organic, to maintain and enhance our positive attributes. This effort is the act of community development.
Although community and economic development are separate concepts, they are generally interdependent and interlocking. They reinforce one another, and a strong presence of both builds resiliency for communities and regions. Story County is replete with examples. In Roland, a group of local mothers banned together to form a pool committee. The existing 50-year-old pool was in state of hastening deterioration, but the committee understood the importance of maintaining the facility for their children and future generations. They volunteered their time to create a campaign to save the pool, and they succeeded with the overwhelming passage of a $3.1 million bond. While the pool will not directly generate revenue for the city, it is an asset that will serve to retain and attract young families to Roland. Those people may purchase homes, shop locally, or work within the laborshed. Some may start businesses. Their children may attend Roland-Story. The committee members themselves developed grantwriting, public relations, and community development skills, and their success provides them with the momentum to apply these skills to the next project.
In a time of crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, past, present, and future community development efforts are especially important. Strong service clubs, booster groups, foundations, religious institutions, and other organizations provide a support structure for residents and businesses. Their very existence creates a culture of mutuality and a sense of obligation among their members to help, and this culture catches fire. For instance, look around, and you will find it difficult to avoid the phrase “We are in this together.” There is no phrase that better captures the spirit of community. It mirrors local pride, commitment, empathy, shared experience, and mutual obligation. It reflects our connectedness. Locally, the #StoryCountyStrong campaign similarly embodies this spirit of community.
It is in this spirit that we uplift the efforts of every individual to make Story County a “great place to live.” Whatever your role, know that it is because of your efforts that we have the pride and connectedness to endure difficult times and emerge stronger than ever, together.
Within economic development the topic of entrepreneurship is one of the toughest growth opportunities to properly understand and support. Here in Story County we are fortunate to have a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem rooted in Iowa State University, but the opportunity to support entrepreneurs extends beyond.
As we look at the landscape of our community, we can point to many businesses that started here as small ventures by local entrepreneurs but have since grown to be major industries and employers within our community. Companies like Burke in Nevada and BASF on North Dayton in Ames are companies that were started as novel ideas and grew to be these major industries. This is exactly why supporting these businesses early is so critical for the growth of our community. In economic development, we recognize that between 10-15% of our employment growth is driven by entrepreneurship.
We continue to fight unique ways to support entrepreneurs broadly throughout our community. Two affiliates at the Ames Chamber of Commerce focus entirely on supporting our entrepreneurs, but in completely different ways. Ames Seed Capital has been around for over 30 years and is the oldest seed capital organization in the State of Iowa. This means that Ames and Story County have been supporting these startup companies with critical venture capital for many years. One great success that can be pointed to is Workiva. A small startup with a novel concept, coupled with venture capital from Ames Seed Capital and others, has led to the growth of an incredible Ames-based publicly traded technology company. Our second affiliate focused on the entrepreneurial ecosystem is Startup Ames. Their event-driven community conversations allow entrepreneurs and those aspiring to start their own companies a place to network with others in the community and build a support network to help them find success.
In addition to the organizations we support as affiliates, we find ways to encourage and support many additional efforts to build this ecosystem. From the ISU Startup Factory, to CyStarters, to the Small Business Development Center, all these organizations provide service and resources for different levels and types of businesses. Each of those organizations are vital to the continued success and growth of our entrepreneurs.
While we know that things are certainly different during these times of a global pandemic. The entrepreneurs that we interact with have always strived to be vigilant in the face of adversity. This time is certainly challenging us all now, remember to find opportunities to support these businesses. Whether it’s a locally owned restaurant or shop, or our entrepreneurs working away at the ISU Research Park, all of these businesses are being built by folks who believe in our community and want to grow locally to continue supporting us.