Ankeny Economic Development Corp.'s leader, Joey Beech, surveys progress at PurFoods LLCs new headquarters site.
Ankeny Economic Development Corp.'s leader, Joey Beech, surveys progress at PurFoods LLCs new headquarters site.
The bottom dropped out of the construction industry in 2008, although that might not have been quite as obvious to Ankeny residents.

Contractors continued to build hundreds of homes a year in Ankeny through the recession, and when the apartment boom began a couple of years ago, the northern suburb led in that area too, according to building permit data gathered and analyzed by the Business Record. 

Now the city is coming into its own as an employment generator. It’s difficult to drive in any area of Ankeny without encountering major commercial construction projects, more new homes being built and a host of new shops and amenities. In 2012, only much-larger Des Moines had more commercial development, according to commercial building statistics. 

Ankeny Assistant City Manager John Peterson attributes the prosperity to the city’s long track record of proactively working with businesses to support growth. 

“The City Council has given us a lot of authority to create and customize packages that really fit the particular needs of a prospect or an existing business that might be expanding,” he said. “Part of that is to really target job creation that fits the needs of our community.” 

Ankeny is also seeking to capitalize on its existing strengths to become more of a biotechnology hub along what is being planned as a “life sciences corridor” between Des Moines and Ames. 

“We feel that Ankeny is positioned really well to be able to capture more of the biotechnology industry,” Peterson said. “We have a great core of businesses associated with that industry.” 

Recent events such as a “BioBrew” happy hour and a Biotech Breakfast highlight the efforts Ankeny is making to generate synergy among the city’s numerous biotech companies, said Nanette “Joey” Beech, executive director of the Ankeny Economic Development Corp. “What we’re finding is there’s a great response by companies to say, we need to sit down more often to talk about what we’re doing,” she said. 

A nice bonus ahead for growth: Once Ankeny completes a special census to document that it has more than 50,000 residents – probably sometime next year – it will become eligible for additional federal funding and a bigger share of state road use tax money. Perhaps more important, the city will become more visible to many national companies that don’t consider communities until they’ve passed that threshold. “It’s a big trigger,” Peterson said. 
The city is also taking steps - including a special tax abatement program - to encourage infill development of the oldest area of the city, known as Uptown Ankeny. Gov. Terry Branstad recently presided at a groundbreaking for the Ankeny Market Pavilion, a $1.5 million project that will provide a shelter and amenities for use by the farmers market as well for bicyclists using the High Trestle Trail bicycle path, which originates in Uptown. Beech noted that a number of specialty shops have opened in new plazas in Uptown and there’s a new sense of excitement in that district.

Farther north, the completion of the 36th Street interchange on the city’s fast-growing north side has already spurred Mercy Clinics to begin constructing a new clinic there. Peterson said the interchange could provide an incentive for biotech companies to locate there as well. 

“It’s another opportunity for Ankeny to showcase who we are,” Peterson said of that area. The city is also seeking development of land east of the interstate. “With the interchange opening, that corridor now really has a great opportunity to see energy and growth,” he said. 

At the Corporate Woods Drive interchange, work is under way on a 46,000-square-foot headquarters and fulfillment center building for Purfoods LLC. Last fall the city council approved property tax rebates for the expansion, which the company said will enable it to add 50 more positions; it currently employs about 150 people.

On the west side of Ankeny, Deere & Co. recently completed a new manufacturing building on its campus that turns out agricultural sprayers. The expansion has prompted the city to widen Irvindale Drive, which with the 36th Street interchange, is expected to improve north-south traffic flow and lessen congestion on the two primary commercial thoroughfares, Ankeny Boulevard and Delaware Avenue. 

On Oralabor Road, an east-west thoroughfare on the south side of town, Prairie Pointe Student Living is being built to house 600 Des Moines Area Community College students in three- and four-bedroom units; Hy-Vee Inc. is building a new 92,000-square-foot supermarket, and The Iowa Clinic and UnityPoint Clinics are building new clinics. 

Also on Oralabor, The Shoppes at Tradition, a 26,000-square-foot strip mall, is being built by The Godwin Group LLC. The builder already has four letters of intent from prospective tenants, owner Dean Godwin said.  

“It’s been a great city to live and work in,” said Godwin, who has been active in commercial projects in Ankeny for the past 23 years. It helps that the city’s leaders are pro-development, he said. “They don’t throw up roadblocks; they’ll work with you,” he said. 
Last year, Godwin completed another strip center now leased in part by Caribou Coffee Co.; he had been holding onto the land since 2007 when the economy began to slow. Now, he has a letter of intent from a business that plans to move into the remaining space there, he said. Other strip centers he leases are running at more than 90 percent occupancy rates, he added.

There are other projects on Ankeny’s drawing board as well: 
• Prairie Trail’s business park north of Oralabor Road is getting more interest, and its residential areas are starting to fill in.
• West of the Prairie Trail development, Peterson said, residential construction is “going crazy” where a new elementary school and outdoor aquatics center have generated more interest in both new home and commercial construction. A large day care center and retail plaza have been completed nearby.  
• Work has been underway for the past several years to accommodate the influx of additional school-age children to Ankeny. This fall, Ankeny’s second new high school, Centennial High School, will open. Residents last year approved a bond issue for a 10th elementary school, which is now under construction, and the school board has already begun discussing an 11th elementary school. 

“If you think about 1,900 people a year moving to Ankeny, that’s a lot of families and a lot of young people,” Peterson said.