Bioscience: A Cash Crop In Iowa

Iowa has always been an agricultural powerhouse, so it’s no surprise the Hawkeye State is a leader in bioscience with 1,266 firms in the sector, from startups to global leaders in R&D.

By the BF Staff
From the May/June 2019 Issue

Iowa’s agricultural roots have created a location where animal health, bioproducts, crop genetics and human health companies are thriving. Bioscience companies in particular benefit from Iowa’s abundant access to raw materials due to its status as the nation’s leading producer of corn, pork, eggs and soybeans. These commodities are processed in Iowa into hundreds of different products, and researchers at Iowa’s universities are finding even more uses.

Iowa bioscienceToday, Iowa is home to 1,266 bioscience entities. From startups to global leaders in research and development, these companies are discovering the innovations that will spur future economic growth. R&D is just one of the driving forces behind the state’s position as a leader in the biosciences industry.

Whether a company’s specific strategy is planting a stake into emerging markets, expanding its market leadership position or paving technological inroads to gain market share, the success of those efforts is largely dependent on the company’s preceding work in research and development. Iowa recognizes how significant these resulting innovations are to long-term business growth and stability.

Iowa bioscience
Today, Iowa is home to 1,266 bioscience entities—from startups to global leaders in research and development (R&D). Iowa colleges and universities award more than 2,000 bioscience degrees each year. The state also is one of only a handful that offers a 6.5 percent refundable tax credit on qualifying R&D activities. (Photos: Iowa Economic Development Authority)

World-renowned for dynamic research capabilities in plant, animal and human biosciences, here are a few Iowa universities that are tackling the challenges of tomorrow, today:

  • The University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine is comprised of 11 buildings totaling approximately 921,000 net square feet of space devoted to research, education and more. Researchers working in the college’s more than 280 laboratories are served by state-of-the-art core research and research support facilities. The college is ranked 16th among public institutions by U.S. News & World Report.
  • The University of Iowa Pharmaceuticals (UIP) is a Food and Drug Administration-registered pharmaceutical manufacturing facility. UIP provides contract pharmaceutical services including manufacturing, analytical method development and validation, routine quality control analysis and more for clients around the world.
  • Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine develops vaccines to control and eradicate animal diseases and provides a state-of-the-art teaching hospital. The college also offers veterinary services which protect animal and human health by providing effective diagnostic testing to tens of thousands of clients each year. This college is a main reason Iowa is cornerstone of one of the world’s largest concentrations of animal health professionals.

The universities leverage more than $1 billion in external funding on an annual basis and have effective processes in place for technology transfer—allowing innovative technologies to move into commercialization faster.

Iowa understands each research or development decision depends on a delicate balance between the inherent financial risk and the return of profitability, and has passed legislation to help alleviate some of the financial burden of forward-thinking innovation.


Companies operating in Iowa also benefit from a business-friendly regulatory environment designed to stimulate the growth and profitability of the private sector. The state is one of only a handful that offers a 6.5 percent refundable tax credit on qualifying R&D activities.

Beyond legislation, state leaders understand the need for a strong workforce to support this key industry. State-backed employee training programs evolved from a business expansion incentive tool into a comprehensive, targeted human resource tool available to all Iowa businesses. Furthermore, the state’s network of universities and community colleges offers a variety of programs that assist businesses in training workers to effectively tackle the ever-changing business challenges presented by the industries that call Iowa home.

Consider this:

  • Iowa has also ramped up its STEM education—Iowa colleges and universities award more than 2,000 bioscience degrees each year.
  • In 2016, Iowa’s bioscience industry employed 24,540 across 1,282 individual business establishments. (Battelle, 2016)
  • Iowa has the highest concentration of agricultural engineers in the country, with 1103 percent more than the national average. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018)
  • Iowa has the highest concentration of agricultural and food science technicians in the country, with 921 percent more than the national average. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018)

At Iowa’s research-focused universities, the next wave of biomedical engineers and data analysts are ready to compete in the global economy, as advanced technologies are commercialized for the private sector. These advantages all live within the borders of a state supported by a pro-business government. Each of these factors alone make Iowa an attractive option, but combined, they make the state one of the top places in the nation for the bioscience industry. For more information, visit