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From Site Selection magazine, May 2011


New locations in Iowa emerge as safe investment havens for
expanding companies needing to move quickly and efficiently.

The new Aviva USA headquarters in West Des Moines, Iowa, is a $150-million project that meets the stringent criteria for LEED Gold certification.
Photos courtesy of Aviva USA
Industrial Design Fabrication and Installation Inc. recently expanded its manufacturing operation in Sioux City, adding 35 jobs to the work force.
Industrial Design Fabrication and Installation Inc. recently expanded its manufacturing operation in Sioux City, adding 35 jobs to the work force.
Photo courtesy of IDFI

hen the world's sixth-largest insurance company needed a new headquarters for its U.S. operations, the corporate giant did not have to stray too far from home.

The relocation covered 12 miles (19.3 km.), as Aviva USA moved from downtown Des Moines, Iowa, to a greenfield site in suburban West Des Moines.

The result is a US$150-million, 360,000-sq.-ft. (33,444-sq.-m.) headquarters complex that will create 1,350 additional jobs for the Greater Des Moines area by 2014 and rank as the largest LEED Gold-certified building in Iowa.

Following a two-year construction process, the facility opened last summer on its 88-acre (35.6-hectare) site in rapidly growing West Des Moines, across the street from the 4,500-employee campus of Wells Fargo.

"We looked at Topeka and Chicago, but we preferred to stay in Iowa," Aviva USA President and CEO Chris Littlefield tells Site Selection. "The overall strength of this area, the quality of life in West Des Moines, the arts and culture and family amenities, the great educational system and the presence of a strong financial services industry all made this location the best choice for Aviva. It's a city that's big but not too big, and it provides the Midwestern work ethic and values that Aviva USA stands for."

Littlefield is equally pleased with the new building. "This is a world-class, forward-thinking work environment for our employees," he says. "Growth, innovation and collaboration are at the heart of Aviva USA's overall strategic direction. The U.S. operations headquarters project reflects our commitment to all of those. Through world-class design and a focus on economic sustainability, we've united all our Central Iowa employees in one facility, enabling them to work better together to provide the best service possible to our customers."

The CEO points to "a perfect example" of how the building reflects Aviva's corporate values. "Our large training rooms will host more than 2,000 agents in 2011 to teach them about our products and the benefits of our indexed value proposition for consumers," he says.

He adds that Aviva chose West Des Moines for the large expansion project because "we're very bullish on the outlook for the life insurance and annuity business for the long run. … We have the financial strength and experience of being part of Aviva plc, the world's sixth-largest insurance company."

The global giant is more than 300 years old, operates in 28 countries and serves 53 million customers across Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific. Total worldwide sales last year increased 4 percent to $73 billion.

Long Study Leads to Site Choice

Mike Hartschen, director of building and facilities for Aviva USA, tells Site Selection that "the LEED Gold certification is a big deal to us. It was a huge focus of our design and development all through the project. We started down this path three years ago, and we are very proud of this building."

From its high-tech utility infrastructure and interior design to its outdoor amenities, the facility is both unique and best in class for corporate headquarters, says Hartschen.

"We have backyard ponds, streams, fire pit, outdoor amphitheater, trails and many other amenities," he notes. "We relocated a wetland area in the development process. Indoors, we raised the flooring throughout the facility so that all of our air distribution and electrical wiring are done under the floors. We can do individual air flow control at each work station. We have adjustable desks for our employees. We planned every aspect of this facility so that our employees would have a great environment for working."

Hartschen and his team brought the same level of detail to their site selection process. "It was a long study," he says of the search for a site. "We looked at locations outside of Iowa, and we looked at locations throughout the Greater Des Moines metro area. We partnered with the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the City of West Des Moines and Dallas County, and this site became a preferred destination for a number of reasons."

Among the most critical site factors, he says, were as follows:

  • The future population and hiring demographics of fast-growing West Des Moines;
  • Convenient commuting options and drive times for Aviva employees;
  • Community infrastructure that would meet all of Aviva's needs for many years;
  • A transportation network that provided easy access to Interstates 80 and 35 and Highway 235;
  • Ample room for growth, including a site that could accommodate up to 1.2 million sq. ft. (111,480 sq. m.) of office and other space.

So far, the building has passed every test placed upon it, Hartschen adds. "The feedback from our employees has been very positive all along," he says. "They have moved into a new facility with great amenities. They came out of a downtown environment where we had no room for a cafeteria, and now we have a very nice cafeteria managed by the Compass Group. We can seat up to 1,100 people in a meeting. We can bring in our agents from all over the country and host them in three-day training events right here."

Hartschen adds that Aviva also "tried to future-proof our building by building in redundant fiber on the street side of the facility. We converted to voice over IP for the most part. We put in a fiber backbone up and down the building. We are maximizing our data transfer speed, and we have installed wireless access throughout the complex."

In many ways, Aviva USA's workplace strategy epitomizes the goals of new Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. His "Jobs for Iowa" program aims to create 200,000 new jobs in the state, and he plans to do it by making the cost of business lower in Iowa.

He plans to cut Iowa corporate income tax rates in half and bring commercial property taxes to 60 percent of value, down from the current rate of 100 percent. He plans to sunset rules and regulations every four years to determine their effectiveness, and he has already embarked on a plan to revamp the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

Durham Takes Reins of IDED

Leading that effort is Debi Durham, the new director of IDED. "The governor is calling for the creation of 200,000 private-sector jobs over the next five years and seeks to increase family income by 25 percent," she says. "He also wants to re-establish Iowa as a world-class educational system. It is a comprehensive and bold agenda, and he has asked me to reorganize the Department of Economic Development and model it into a stronger public-private partnership."

The model being implemented is called the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress. It will have a corporate board of directors chaired by the governor or lieutenant governor with seven board members. "The sole purpose of this board is to do the strategic planning for the state with regard to growth," says Durham. "They will meet on a quarterly basis."

Two outgrowths of this initiative are the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Iowa Innovation Corporation. The IEDA will administer state incentive programs and will act as a one-stop shop for business development resources. The IIC will leverage national grants to boost innovation throughout the state.

"When people saw the bill that revamped our economic development efforts, they realized for the first time how transformational this new organization truly is," Durham says. "We made sure that the plan is constitutionally sound, and it is clearly defined how all of the entities interact with each other."

In the meantime, notes Durham, "companies are narrowing down their searches and Iowa is faring very well." One Iowa community showing signs of progress is Sioux City, where Global Foods Processing Inc. recently announced plans to use the former John Morrell & Company meatpacking plant.

The project adds a $10-million investment and nearly 200 new jobs to the Yards I-29 Business Park. Global Foods will build a 67,000-sq.-ft (6,224-sq.-m.) plant on a 23-acre (9.3-hectare) site and still have room for growth.

Also in Sioux City, Industrial Design Fabrication and Installation Inc. recently expanded and relocated its manufacturing operation to the former Aalf's Manufacturing building at 2501 Murray Street.

The $2.6-million capital investment expands the IDFI work force from 36 to 71 full-time employees.

"We looked at locations in several different states, but we always knew we wanted to remain an Iowa company," said Todd Jager, president of IDFI. "Our new location will give us the space we need to grow."

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