Commitment to R&D is the Key

March 19, 2019 |

By Debi Durham, Director, Iowa Economic Development Authority

Special to The Digest

As the nation’s No. 1 producer of ethanol and biodiesel and with country’s second-lowest cost of doing business, Iowa is recognized as a bioprocessing hub. The state successfully blends ample biomass with a business-friendly regulatory environment designed to stimulate the growth and profitability of the private sector.

Though these well-known factors alone make Iowa an attractive destination for bio-based businesses, our state’s long-standing commitment to investing in research and development is an often-overlooked element of our state’s appeal. In fact, a Biofuels Digest survey revealed that just 17 percent of its readers associate Iowa with cutting edge R&D — a belief that belies the reality.

Iowa’s extensive experience with the full supply chain — from raw ingredients to finished goods — has cemented the state as a place where companies successfully manage their entire process, from ideation to production. But we also understand that fueling this very ideation requires an intentional, thoughtful and data-driven approach. Collaboration with stakeholders in state government, the private sector and institutions of higher learning ensure companies operating in Iowa remain at the forefront of discovery, innovation and efficiency.

Incentivizing Innovation

Without an environment that encourages research and exploration, it’s understandable why some companies may shy away from that freedom to explore, instead looking to what will immediately drive the bottom line. However, that model is not sustainable for companies that seek to be pioneers in biorenewables. Toward that end, Iowa offers incentives such as the Research Activities Tax Credit to alleviate the potential financial risk associated with R&D investments, and ultimately, improve the potential for profitability.

As one of the few states providing this kind of incentive, Iowa offers a 6.5 percent refundable tax credit for qualifying R&D expenditures ranging from employee wages and supplies, to property and land improvements. Though federal research credits often fluctuate due to intermittent expiration dates and reinstatement periods, Iowa is proud of its consistent support of the Research Activities Tax Credit.

Leveraging Our Homegrown Talent

Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa also bring us great pride – not only for their collective achievements on the field and in the classroom – but for their world-renowned research capabilities that have helped sustain the state’s innovation pipeline. Combined, these institutions leverage more than $1 billion annually in external funding – including research grants – toward R&D projects that have yielded or been the catalyst for many important discoveries and process improvements in the biosciences, agriculture, biofuel production and more. Moreover, they constitute a trifecta of young, homegrown talent that helps drive the state economy and new methods of tackling real-world problems with cutting-edge discoveries.

Building for Success

From a point of practicality, our commitment to R&D also has important applications in the world of advanced manufacturing – Iowa’s leading industry. For example, Iowa State University’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) has been tasked with improving the performance of Iowa’s advanced manufacturing industry by providing technical assistance to thousands of manufacturers in engineering, energy, biorenewables and more. CIRAS staff also provide access to a variety of College of Engineering laboratories to broaden the product and process design capabilities across the state. These improvements ultimately pay dividends as they contribute to enhancing efficiency, service, production — which all boost profitability.

Looking to the future, we don’t believe that the next generation cost-efficient fuels, chemicals and polymers will be discovered serendipitously – their discoveries will be the result of a steadfast commitment to and investment in research and development. We are both encouraged and excited by what we’ve been able to uncover so far, and look forward to bringing new innovation-minded partners into the fold as we pioneer new paths in bio-business and beyond.

Debi Durham was appointed to lead the Iowa Economic Development Authority by Governor Terry Branstad in January 2011 and as of 2019, also serves as the director of the Iowa Finance Authority. Previously, she served as president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce and the Siouxland Initiative. Join Debi and other members of the Iowa Economic Development Authority in Des Moines for the BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, July 8-11, 2019. For more information, visit


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Category: Thought Leadership

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