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Cultivation Corridor Is Iowa's Ag, Bioscience Silicon Valley

Jeff Caldwell 04/21/2014 @ 11:32am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

California has Silicon Valley. Now, Iowa has the Cultivation Corridor.

Referring to the ag- and bioscience-rich area of central Iowa stretching from Des Moines to Ames, home of Iowa State University (ISU), Cultivation Corridor is the culmination of years of research by agriculture, bioscience, and business leadership on how to collectively brand the region as a hub for this trio of legs on the stool that comprises much of the region and state's economy. Much like the San Francisco area is branded as Silicon Valley because of its concentration of computer, Web, and interactive media industry, state leaders hope the Cultivation Corridor will become a moniker for central Iowa's role in the new "natural resource economy."

"The gold standard for branding a region is Silicon Valley. That kind of branding is what we're doing for central Iowa," says Dr. Steve Zumbach, Des Moines-based attorney with Belin McCormick, P.C., and cochair of the Capital Corridor, the body behind the Cultivation Corridor effort. 

Monday's announcement was the culmination of three years of market research. "What we wanted was a brand that captures the roots of our economy and captures what we're best at. If we want to brand memorably, we have to be the very best at what we claim to be, not in Iowa, but in the entire world. It's an audacious task, but today, we're prepared to pound that stake into the ground."

The Cultivation Corridor formalizes a bond among the existing pieces that make up the region's immense ag influence: Iowa's farmers, the Des Moines area's ag and bioscience industry (with companies like DuPont Pioneer and John Deere), and Iowa State University's ag and bioscience research component. Altogether, Zumbach says it comprises a comprehensive marketing strategy for the region that he says will ultimately lead to more investment by the ag sector in the area.

"At Iowa State University, we have a tier-1 university doing some of the best ag research in the world. We have some of the best bioscience companies in the world. It's complemented by the best production agriculture in the world," he says. "It captures the strengths of our region and of our state."

Zumbach was joined by ISU president and Capital Corridor co-chair Dr. Steven Leath, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, DuPont Pioneer President Paul Schickler, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds at an announcement of the new effort at the World Food Prize headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday. Branstad said a recent announcement that Microsoft Corporation will build a $1 billion data center in the area is ample proof that a regional branding effort like Cultivation Corridor can and will pay off big once the area's strengths are enumerated more formally.

"Let's hope this brings more of that kind of development," Branstad said of the Microsoft announcement on Friday, April 18. "We're home to world-class companies and home to a leading research institution in Iowa State University. We're pleased to join in this effort. I believe the Cultivation Corridor will yield great dividends.

"We have an innovative business ecosystem to utilize local talent and maximize opportunity by harnessing the success we've seen already. This will leverage our world-class bioscience industry," he says.

Another major partner in the Cultivation Corridor effort lies in the halls of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Vilsack said Monday his agency has already invested hundreds of millions in small business grants ($300 million to 254 businesses, he said), and things like the new farm bill, a new regional conservation program (funded at $2 billion), and an equity fund program -- the details of which he's announcing later this week -- will provide more funding to help create tangible benefits of the Cultivation Corridor program to the region's ag business sector.

"I see nothing but greatness coming out of this," Vilsack said Monday. "Now that we've got the brand, let's go sell it."

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