From Cowboy Computer Boxes to Cloud Kings: The Evolution of Technology in Iowa

Greetings from Iowa! Our Midwestern state is known for rolling hills, cornfields, and down-to-earth hospitality. But technology? Hearing Iowa and tech in the same sentence may surprise outsiders. "Silicon Plateau" doesn‘t quite have the same ring to it. However, we have an impressive yet underappreciated history when it comes to advancements in computers, software, and the Internet. This story traverses early innovators in Des Moines garages to today‘s billion-dollar data centers fueling our digital economy. You‘ll discover how homegrown ingenuity and pragmatic planning has powered the budding Iowan tech sector through the decades. Let‘s explore this unexpectedly rich heritage together!

The Early Days of Computers in Iowa

While historians pinpoint idea lightbulbs and initial tinkerings as early as the 1960s at University of Iowa, our state‘s modern computing industry crystallized in the 1980s and 90s through hardware and software startups. In an almost folksy fever, ambitious entrepreneurs sought to bring these sophisticated newfangled machines to school districts, businesses, and curious households hungry to get ahead.

Most famously in 1985, Michael Hammond and Ted Waitt founded Gateway 2000 out of a Sioux City farmhouse with $10,000 pooled from their savings accounts. Riding the surge of personal computer sales nationwide, the duo targeted average consumers with complete ready-to-use PC packages shipped in their now iconic Holstein cow boxes. Gateway grew meteorically from $2 million in 1987 annual sales to over $8 billion just 12 years later with 30,000 global employees across assembly plants, call centers, and retail showrooms. The company punctuated our capital Des Moines skyline with the 12-floor Gateway Center skyscraper as a monument to Iowan tech success. Gateway 2000 morphed into a Fortune 500 Silicon Prairie poster child before ultimately filing for bankruptcy in 2004 following missteps in supply chain and inventory management relative to newer rivals like Dell.

Around this time, Iowa also birthed lesser known computing pioneers like abc Learning, NETech Corporation, and Engineering Animation – each pushing boundaries in educational software, IT services, and 3D modeling technology respectively. The seeds for future digital growth continued fertilizing across our state.

Building the Foundation: 1990s – 2010

In these key decades, Iowa focused on laying vital infrastructure, passing friendly policies, and generating computer science talent to bolster the region‘s appeal for additional technology investment.

The state approved millions in funding support for promising research programs at the University of Iowa and Iowa State centered on fields with potential commercial appeal like data analytics, encryption, and communications engineering. Enrollment in computer science concentrations surged dramatically during the dot com boom of the late 90s. Iowa‘s public universities proved adept incubators birthing future tech companies.

In tandem, data show steady net migration gains during 2000-2010 of young college-educated residents moving to cities like Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport lured by an affordable cost of living with a growing technology job market. Established companies relocated downtown offices as business incentives around tax abatements took effect. This perfect storm of prepared talent and opportunistic policy primed Iowa‘s position to capture new economy spinoffs.

The Iowan startup ecosystem fertilized through public-private projects like the Technology Association of Iowa, Plains Angels investment fund, and the subtle rebranding of Des Moines as a hip yet humble destination for young professionals. Google trended higher as a search term. Payment processing company Dwolla landed on Forbes‘ disruptor lists. Iowa‘s technology soil conditions improved.

Current State of Technology in Iowa

The 2010s sparked a sharp ascent for Iowa‘s technology sector as next generation innovators and Fortune 500 operations fine-tuned their focus on our state. The flurry of activity has showcased Iowa‘s strengths around cost efficiency, talent availability, infrastructure security and quality of life for technology firms relative to the coasts.

Let‘s break down the major players steering Iowa‘s modern tech industry by category:

Top Homegrown Software/SaaS Companies

CompanyLocationYear FoundedKey Details
WorkivaAmes2008Cloud reporting/compliance platform for over 75% of Fortune 500 ($350M revenue)
DwollaDes Moines2008Fee-free bank transfer network processing $10B+ annually
InvoltaCedar Rapids2007Manages 35+ data centers focused on security and redundancy
CovianceWest Des Moines2015Automates lending workflows for community banks & unions

Analysis: We spotlight software-as-a-service firms like Workiva leading the new class of Iowa tech giants seeing meteoric revenue growth through cutting-edge platforms funded by Silicon Valley. Most focus on fintech, business analytics, or security technology leveraging Iowa‘s stable infrastructure. Their continued scaling props forecasts suggesting our state will contribute nearly $14 billion to the national tech economy by 2026.

Top Tech Companies with Major Iowa Operations

CompanyLocationYear EstablishedInvestment Total
FacebookAltoona2013$1 billion+ data center
MicrosoftWest Des Moines2007$2 billion data center
GoogleCouncil Bluffs2009Primary Midwest data complex

Analysis: Beyond startups, Iowa has become prime real estate for West Coast titans setting up mission critical Midwest headquarters. Our renewable wind energy and骘 array of tax goodies and rebates entice data centers. Facebook and Google can shave cooling and electricity costs dramatically relative to competitors in warmer climates or cities with less subsidies. For Microsoft Azure, Iowa simply serves logistical purposes for providing stable cloud infrastructure contracts to large enterprises in the region. Their billion dollar investments validate forecasts around two-thirds of Iowa businesses adopting cloud computing apps to enable efficiency by 2025. Our state provides the backbone to power many digital transformations nationally.

Snapshot of Key Iowa Technology Industry Facts & Figures

  • 76,000+ technology related jobs across sectors (5.9% of IA workforce)
  • Over 5,800 open computing job listings in IA as of Feb 2023
  • $2.4 billion in annual revenue generated from Collins Aerospace HQ operations
  • 2,000+ new tech related jobs added from 2021-2022

Yes, we may still trail tech epicenters California and New York significantly in sheer numbers, but our expertise scales efficiently. With intensive planning around coding academies, emerging fields like augmented reality, and smart urban growth, our state seems poised to drive above average tech sector job gains over the next decade. Don‘t sleep on Iowa!

Why Technology Companies Choose Iowa

After reviewing the major players steering our state‘s present day tech economy, let‘s quickly touch on why Iowa makes strategic sense as an optimal location to build and grow technology businesses relative to coastal tech hubs. The advantages speak for themselves:

  • Cost Efficiency – Iowa provides extremely affordable operating costs from compensation to real estate allowing companies heightened profit margins over rivals stationed in pricier cities posting comparable productivity and talent. For example, experienced software engineers in Des Moines earn 35% less on average than San Francisco developers according to Glassdoor.

  • Existing Infrastructure – Our state offers turnkey physical and digital infrastructure amenities ready for tenants. Server warehouses boast robust energy grids and internet backbone access. A range of mixed-used developments across Downtown Des Moines suit modern tech team capacities with move-in ready floors.

  • Business Incentives – Companies win financial incentives like tax rebates on capital investments over $1 million tied to job creation thresholds in Iowa. These perks allow for sizable overhead reductions. Since 2012, 71 technology projects have been approved for assistance under Iowa‘s High Quality Jobs program.

  • Renewable Energy – Tech giants operating energy intensive data centers appreciate Iowa‘s emphasis on wind and solar options. Our state ranks 2nd nationally in renewable energy workforce behind only California. Google and Facebook‘s facilities specifically leverage this green power advantage.

  • Talent Pipeline – Iowa‘s network of colleges supplies a consistent funnel of skilled graduates each year. 70% of Iowa residents pursue post-secondary education aligning with tech hiring demands. New coding academies further strengthen the state‘s talent base.

Final Thoughts on the Evolution of Technology in Iowa

And there you have it – the full chronological technology tale of our great Hawkeye State! Who knew that within a half century, Iowa could transform from a humble farming community to a destination for data centers powering the biggest websites worldwide? Though we may still require a bit more brand awareness on the national scene as an emerging Midwest tech player, the future looks bright for Iowa. Our state seems to have found our niche leveraging infrastructure amenities, cost efficiencies, renewable energy access, and Midwestern work ethic to provide a fertile home for technologists and computer scientists.

So while outsiders dwell on stereotypes around corn and cows when Iowa enters conversation, it may serve them well to also associate secure servers, precision agriculture systems, machine learning algorithms, and open-minded optimism! The Silicon Valley big wigs can keep their Teslas and $8 cold brews, we‘ll stick to our drought-resistant soybeans and honest living. Because as Iowans know well – sustainable progress requires patience, purpose and a little plowing ahead when times get tough!

Now…anyone up for tour of the Dwolla headquarters? Maybe we‘ll luck out and they‘ll be serving Iowan-legend Betty Crocker cake to celebrate their latest funding round!

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