When Alfred Nobel’s brother died in 1888, French newspapers confused the two and Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, had the befuddling experience of reading his own obituary. The headline: “The merchant of death is dead.”
Central Iowa economic development and community leaders certainly did not feel they were reading their own economic obituary when news broke in March that DuPont and Dow would locate a Global Business Center of its new agriculture business following a merger of giants, but they could be excused for looking on with bewilderment at the initially subdued tone of local and statewide news coverage of the announcement.
Despite the fact that the DowDuPont announcement represented an enormous economic slam dunk for the region and the state at large- including a commitment to $500 million in new R&D investment, the likely retention of thousands of jobs and a commitment to between 250 and 500 high-quality R&D positions in the Corridor- many local media outlets reported the announcement as a bit of a disappointment, somehow a loss.
The discordance in coverage tone between parts of the Des Moines media and that of Indianapolis -- which was simultaneously announced as the second site for a similar Global Business Center -- was notable. In a larger metro area where the economic impact of such a project is proportionately less, the Indy media struck a decidedly more positive initial tone.
Why? I don’t know; maybe it was the expectations game. The fact that Iowa scrupulously went public first with its incentives package for the project while Indiana has declined to announce theirs publicly meant that a level of anticipation was baked into the announcement in Iowa. Expectations are tremendously difficult to manage ahead of a project announcement which has such wide ranging [and, by the way, hugely positive] impacts on a region, its institutions and its residents. The project itself was unique because it was public knowledge that Dow and DuPont committed to announce the geographic makeup of its to-be-spun-out ag company as soon as it could in a principled nod to its employees and their communities.
I’m not here to litigate the press tone; nobody’s feelings got hurt and after the initial flash of plodding, woe-is-us coverage, local media today is decidedly positive about an enormously positive project announcement for Central Iowa. And for good reason.
Setting aside the fact that Johnston will retain one of the largest and most advanced agricultural R&D campuses in the known universe and the exceptionally high quality jobs that keep it humming, $500 million in new R&D investment is one of the largest single R&D investments announced in state history.
Five hundred million dollars! That’s 3.5 Wells Fargo Arenas [inflation adjusted 2005 dollars], or 2.5 times the cost of proposed $200M Des Moines International Airport terminal, or fully to 7 percent of the value of the entire state of Iowa’s 2015 budget. It’s one of the largest private capital announcements in recent years in Iowa; an enormous commitment from what will emerge as the largest ag company in the world once Dow and DuPont merge and is a clear signal to the rest of the world that the Cultivation Corridor is a global center for investment, talent and research in the agbiosciences.
Central Iowa was not selected to house the headquarters of the ag company, which will be in Wilmington, Delaware, home to DuPont for more than 200 years, but what we were selected for is incredibly consequential to the future growth of our region. The retention of the DuPont Pioneer footprint and the larger business to be spun from the merger represents the achievement of an important objective for economic development and community leaders throughout the Corridor: to retain R&D jobs as a long-term growth center for the company. In addition to the retained R&D jobs, the new Global Business Center will maintain leadership of business lines, sales/marketing, supply chain and business support positions.
We all should be immeasurably proud of the coordinated recruitment work product of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, City of Johnston, IEDA, Gov. Branstad’s office, Sen. Grassley’s office, the Corridor, Polk County and everyone at Pioneer, which ultimately resulted in a highly competitive, aggressive bid for the project. DowDuPont has a strong future in Central Iowa.
This post originally appeared on IowaBiz.com on April 13, 2016.
Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor. Contact him: