Many key innovations in this state are coming out of our critical bioscience industry.

Joe Hrdlicka
Consider the contributions of our biofuels industry throughout the state.  We are leaders in this space.  Iowa also leads in the food and ag and plant science areas.  Add the contributions of vaccines through companies like Harrisvaccines or the cancer and Ebola cures offered by NewLink Genetics or the drug innovations of KemPharm make Iowa a human and animal health bioscience center.

All told, this is an industry that supports nearly 25,000 jobs in this state according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Because of Iowa’s rich agricultural resources, bioscience has grown at an exponential rate here.

In fact, the state’s most recent Battelle study released by the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress shows the bioscience industry has shown continued growth since 2004 despite recessionary pressures that forced contraction in other important industries for Iowa. It’s critical we support continued growth in this industry with engagement, strong public policy and investment.

In order to support the workforce needed for this industry to continue to grow, Iowa business leaders need to actively engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in this state.  

All business is well-served by encouraging STEM education in our schools - whether it’s the elementary, secondary or higher levels of education.  The Governor’s STEM Advisory Council is a national model for the support and growth of STEM. The STEM Advisory Council has a variety of opportunities in which Iowa business leaders can engage. You can learn more how to become involved online.

Soon, Iowans will be hearing more about the Future Ready Iowa initiative that will be working to ensure the state is prepared to meet its future workforce needs. This initiative will also require the voice, attention and guidance of Iowa business leaders. No matter what business you are engaged, a quality workforce within your business is dependent upon the success of this endeavor.

When we talk about smart public policy in Iowa, a key policy measure that would help advance growth in the area of our biofuels industry is a renewable biochemical tax credit.   

A U. S. Department of Agriculture report from the consulting firm Nexant last year provides evidence that our early estimate of the job creation potential was conservative. That report found biotechnology applications for renewable chemical production are already commercially competitive with fossil fuels and are entering the marketplace. More than 3,500 U.S. jobs already have been created in the emerging renewable chemicals sector, with the potential for 20,000 by 2025, according to the Nexant report.
 
Iowa is fortunate to be ranked second in the nation with its supply of biomass. As a result, we have established ourselves as international leaders in the production of renewable fuels and chemicals. We are absolutely poised to lead in this space. However, the Iowa General Assembly must act upon a tax credit that will spur construction of these facilities in the next legislative session.  The House passed this legislation twice last year and it passed unanimously in the Senate Economic Growth Committee. Hopefully, we can finish this work next year. 

Many biotech companies are in the “startup” phase of their existence. They are in need of investment capital to carry their innovation forward. Iowa has established some great programs in its support of SBIR grants and tax benefits available for “angel investors”, but more can be done.  

The Iowa Biotechnology Association’s Biotechnology Innovation Showcase as part of its Partnering For Growth event Wednesday, March 30th at the FFA Enrichment Center at the campus of Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny is an event designed to bring innovators in bioscience together with investors and potential partners. Companies and investors can learn more about this opportunity at www.iowabio.org/innovation. 

We are at the cusp of “greatness” in science. Let’s not let this opportunity fall through the cracks in Iowa.

Joe Hrdlicka is executive director of the Iowa Biotechnology Association and a member of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. You can reach him at joe@iowabio.org.