As executive director of IowaBio, Jessica Hyland works with the nonprofit trade association’s more than 100 members, representing the state’s strong and unique life sciences sector.
IowaBio began as a purchasing consortium back in 1994, with IowaBio and the Regents Universities coming together with the state to foster and unify the biosciences by providing pooled savings. IowaBio has maintained those important purchasing contracts, and also grown into a full-service association. It is focused on fostering a stronger business and research climate and working with leaders across the state to attract and retain bioscience talent, companies and funding.
IowaBio is also the state affiliate organization of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which is a national organization representing more than 1,000 biotech companies, academic institutions, state biotech centers and related organizations in all 50 U.S. states and 33 other nations. IowaBio is also a member of the Council of State Bioscience Associations.
Hyland grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and earned undergraduate degrees in journalism and political science at Colorado State University. She returned to Lincoln for law school at the University of Nebraska, focusing on water and environmental law.
1. Why did you move to Iowa and why have you stayed?
I moved to Iowa in 2007 for a job opportunity and began lobbying full time for the Iowa League of Cities. My first legislative session was the 2008 session. I remember being so fascinated by my first experience with the Iowa caucuses, and the differences with any other state in how much exposure Iowans get to presidential candidates.
I have stayed because it is a good quality of life, and a great place to raise a family. I love my Des Moines neighborhood and how easy it is to get to work or anywhere else I want to go! I also like the work that I do. I lobbied for 13 years before taking this role at IowaBio. I feel like I’ve grown and learned a great deal in my career, and I feel very fortunate to like what I do and represent the companies that I do.
2. What types of companies and organizations does IowaBio represent, and how does a strong network of companies and organizations provide opportunities for employees and entrepreneurs?
IowaBio represents more than 100 members across the state spanning all life sciences industries including food and agriculture, animal health, human health, biofuels and environmental. The diversity doesn’t stop there. We have everything from small, entrepreneurial startups, to well-known international companies. Our board is a “who’s who” of bioscience companies in the state. We also have close, and extremely important relationships with the Regents Institutions, and community and private colleges, who are represented on our Board. We also have support members like law firms, construction, architecture and more, who provide services to our core member companies.
IowaBio serves as a catalyst or connector for the Iowa bioscience ecosystem. We provide opportunities for these amazing companies to come together, network, share ideas, meet each other and make new connections. Those meetings, whether chance conversations or facilitated introductions, can lead to great new partnerships, which advance and grow the biotech industry. The high-paying, rewarding jobs these companies provide are critical to the state’s economy.
3. Why is Iowa a great place for life science companies of all sizes to be located?
Iowa’s assets and strengths in the biofuels, ag and plant science sectors are truly unique. The most recent TEConomy report released by BIO shows Iowa as extremely specialized and strong in the agricultural feedstock and industrial biosciences subsector. This subsector applies life sciences knowledge, biochemistry, and biotechnologies to the processing and production of agricultural goods as well as organic and agricultural chemicals. It also includes activities around the production of biofuels and feedstocks for biobased polymers. The report also shows that Iowa is one of 11 states to have a specialized concentration of jobs in the pharmaceuticals subsector.
The bioscience ecosystem in Iowa strong, and supportive of innovation across a diversity of industries. A number of groups are working toward the same goal, which is to make Iowa attractive to innovative life science companies. There are a number of groups and agencies rowing in the same direction, including Iowa Economic Development Authority, BioConnect Iowa, universities working on tech transfer, America’s Cultivation Corridor, as well as the state legislature and governor.
In addition, IowaBio is very focused on STEM education as it touches the workforce of our member companies. As an association we have established a Future Biotech Leaders Fund, for which we are raising donations, to continue our legacy of support for student scholarships in STEM. We work closely with the State Science Fair of Iowa, and we also participate on the Governor’s STEM Council, which does phenomenal work.
4. What advice would you give someone considering a move to Iowa?
I would say look beyond the surface and think about what they value most about a place to live. Iowa has so much to offer when it comes to quality of life, ease of living, an abundance of jobs, strong educational institutions, fun things to do, and really nice people.
Also, if they don’t have a warm coat, gloves and boots … I’d say pick those up post haste. All joking aside, I would say learn to embrace the seasons. We get four each year—usually—and they all come with something new to experience and appreciate.
5. Please share recommendations of three places to go or things to do in Iowa.
Visit the Iowa State Capitol and get a tour of the State Law Library of Iowa, which is truly an Iowa gem. And, make sure your tour includes a trip up into the dome, too.
Go to the Des Moines Arts Festival in the summertime and buy some art that speaks to you—This is my favorite downtown festival of the summer, hands down!
Go to the Iowa vs. Nebraska football game. Even after 15 years in Iowa, I remain true to my hometown team and law school alma mater. No matter who you are cheering for, attending a college football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City is a great experience.
Published December 2022.