DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Neat rows of trees line the road cutting through the center of the Iowa State University Research Park. Large lawns and parking lots surround single-story office buildings. Employees come and go in their cars, leaving campus to run errands or grab lunch.
It's the picture-perfect model of the suburban office park — a model that a growing number of research institutions are trying to change, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1L3S3jC ) reported.
To recruit entrepreneurs, investors and highly educated workers who are increasingly drawn to jobs in city centers, suburban research parks like Iowa State's are adding amenities and denser developments in an effort to create a more urban atmosphere.
At the ISU Research Park, construction crews recently started work on a town square-style development that will anchor a 183-acre expansion. Park officials say it will include a cluster of mixed-use buildings with options they hope include coffee shops, day cares and fitness centers.
"It's an arms race for talent," said Brent Willett, executive director of the Cultivation Corridor, a one-year-old branding and business recruitment effort aimed at promoting central Iowa as a bioscience hub. "Strategically, we need amenities for employees that are here and (for) the employees companies are trying to recruit."
According to Bruce Katz, a director of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Planning Program and the author of "The Metropolitan Revolution," suburban office parks were last century's model for business innovation. The new model is built around downtown business incubators and urban research institutions.
For suburban business parks, that means adapting to better recruit companies and workers.
"The firms and the workers are sending signals to the market that we don't want to go to a secluded corporate facility in an isolated part of the suburbs without any vibrancy or life," Katz said. "We want something different. We demand something different."
Still, the ISU Research Park hasn't had trouble growing and launching successful companies.
Livestock pharmaceutical maker Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica is building a $22 million, 52,000-square-foot facility at the park. Tech company Workiva opened a 120,000-square-foot office last year and raised $100 million at its initial public offering. NewLink Genetics made headlines by developing a possible Ebola vaccine and a new cancer treatment drug.
Pella-based construction equipment manufacturer Vermeer Corp. has announced plans to expand its operation at the research park by building a new facility with offices and space to test equipment.
And Iowa State University is building a $12 million economic development facility that will anchor the new town square development.
Construction crews are moving dirt for the expansion, which will more than double the park's size and create space for about 1 million square feet of offices.
Research park director Steve Carter expects the number of employees working there to grow from about 1,500 to as many as 2,500 in the next two to three years.
Construction of the town square development could begin this year. Carter said it's important to push ahead with the project now when the economy is strong and businesses are growing.
"We have a very unique window to make this happen, and sitting and waiting for this to happen isn't going to work," he said.
Employers in the park see urbanization as critical to attracting workers.
"If we don't support this, we're missing the boat," said Michael Dejong, operations manager for Biova, a company that turns egg byproducts into cosmetics and nutritional products. "A potential employee wants to know, 'How close can I get an apartment to my workplace? What's here for me and not only me but what's here for my family?' "
The urbanization trend is one taking root in some of the nation's largest research parks, said Mitch Horowitz, vice president and managing director of the consulting firm Battelle Technology Practice Partnership.
Last year, Research Triangle Park, a tech and bioscience hub in North Carolina, announced plans for a 100-acre urban in-fill development with apartments and shops in the heart of the 7,000-acre research park.
"You can tell there is sea change happening when one of the granddaddies of research parks, Research Triangle Park, is trying to build an urban town square at the center of its park," Horowitz said.
Construction crews are busy moving dirt on the southern end of the Iowa State University Research Park. It's the first step of an expansion that will more than double the size of the science and technology hub.
Several projects are underway, including Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, which is building a $22 million, 52,000-square-foot office expected to open in 2016.
Iowa State University has started construction on a 50,000-square-foot building at the heart of the town square development. The building, the first in the park's new expansion, will house the school's economic development offices.
Vermeer Corp. has announced plans to expand its operation at the research park by building a new facility with offices and space to test equipment.
Earlier this year, the research park requested bids from developers to construct mixed-use buildings on three lots around the town square. The park received the bids last month and should narrow them to a few finalists in the next 60 days.
ISU Research Park director Steve Carter said he couldn't reveal how many bids were submitted or what was proposed, but he was happy with the results.
The research park, run by a nonprofit closely affiliated with the university, is the northern anchor of the Cultivation Corridor, an ag and bioscience hub that stretches from Ames to Des Moines.
"It's deep tech," said Mitch Horowitz, vice president of Battelle Technology Practice Partnership, a consulting firm. "It's not just social media and Web applications. It's the ability to do serious science and bring that to the market."
The Iowa State facility isn't alone. Research parks provided an island of growth during the recession.
According to a Battelle report, 85 research parks surveyed saw job growth of 27 percent between 2007 and 2012. The private sector, meanwhile, saw job losses of 4 percent during that time.
Campustown in Ames should have a much different look when students return in the fall.
Four new developments, including three apartment towers, are in the works and should be open by the fall semester.
Rhode Island-based developer Gilbane Inc. is building a seven-story, mixed-use project called 23 Twenty Lincoln with six floors of apartments and street-level retail space at 2320 Lincoln Way.
The Ames-based Randall Corp. plans to construct a five-story building at 2520 Chamberlain St. that would include street-level retail space and four floors of loft-style apartments, according to documents filed with the city.
Minneapolis-based developer The Opus Group is constructing a six-story, mixed-use building called The Foundry at 2300 Lincoln Way.
Clear Lake-based Kingland Systems is building a three-story, 75,000-square-foot mixed-use building on the southeast corner of Lincoln Way and Welch Avenue. The building will include a CVS on the first floor and offices for Kingland, the Iowa State Daily, the ISU Foundation and University Relations.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com
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