by Gigi Wood

CORALVILLE – Integrated DNA Technologies is expanding, again.

With more consumer demand comes more need for inventory and storage. And that’s what the company is anticipating with a $2.4 million expansion of its headquarters at 1710 Commerce Park in Coralville. Once complete, the new space will accommodate a larger shipping and distribution center and additional office space.

“We’ve been growing dramatically for many years, but for the last couple of years, we’ve grown significantly and expanded our global footprint, so we actually need a larger distribution center,” said Stephen Gunstream, IDT’s vice president of marketing and strategy. “It’s a combination of both loading and unloading docks and inventory management, plus a large space for office space for more employees. It’s a pretty large facility that we’re adding on here and it should enable us to expand for quite some time.”

Earlier this month, Coralville city councilors approved a $385,000 forgivable loan to IDT to help finance the project, which has yet to begin and will take about nine months to complete. IDT is the nation’s largest producer of custom short DNA strands, called oligonucleotides. Scientists use “oligos” in diagnostic tests for diseases, in new medication research and in producing agricultural products.

Employees have already been moved around at the Coralville facility to make room for new hires. The research and development team was recently moved to new office space on Crosspark Road as part of that effort.

“We’ve seen our sales pick up significantly (during the past two years) and we just need a greater number of people to help fulfill the orders,” he said. “Over the last year, we’ve been in a pretty big expansion phase.”

IDT opened a 1,200-square-foot fitness center for its employees earlier this month. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and includes a variety of fitness equipment such as exercise bikes, treadmills, weights and more.

“It’s more of a thank you to the employees for all of the work they’ve done over the years,” Mr. Gunstream said. “It’s a really nice add-on to our facility here and it enables the wellness campaign we have going on.”

The company got its start in 1987 in the University of Iowa’s Technology Innovation Center, before moving to its current location, which the company has expanded a handful of times. Its employee total is now 410 in Iowa, another 40 at its San Diego location and 150 at its new facility in Belgium.

“Over the last year we’ve really expanded our employee base by about 15 to 20 percent,” Mr. Gunstream said. “We’ve been hiring significantly, particularly in this area and growing so that’s why we need the space.”

There are two reasons for the growth, he said.

“Our sales are growing significantly in other parts of the world and domestically. This is kind of our headquarters so we manufacture a lot of product that gets shipped out worldwide from here and we do a lot of our supply chain management from here. So there’s a significant increase in overhead needed to support those sales,” Mr. Gunstream said.

New products

IDT is also making new products and has completely changed its online ordering process for its custom oligos.

“We offer new products to researchers that we hadn’t in the past; more of what we call application-specific products focused at new target markets, where we find we have a huge customer base at-ready,” he said. “We’re finding new products to sell to those customers. It requires a higher level of infrastructure and product development here.”

An example of a new product is its new gene expression assays.

“Instead of just selling the parts for customers to do research, we’ve now developed assays that are guaranteed to perform for the customer,” Mr. Gunstream said. “These assays actually measure gene expression changes in different organisms. So we pre-designed a whole library for human, mouse and rat genes, and we validated them and developed them within our own pipeline here. So, instead of the customer going in and designing them on our web site or by hand, they can actually go to our web site now, type the gene that they’re interested in, we already have an app that’s designed for them. It takes a significant step out of the customer’s workflow.”

Global expansion

The Belgium facility was planned to achieve market dominance in Europe. The new operation allowed IDT to manufacture its core products in closer proximity to that customer base and ship to them faster, as well.
Specialized oligos are still produced in Coralville and shipped to Europe.  

It also put more sales representatives on the ground to expand its client base. Apparently, the strategy worked.

“Our facility in Belgium is up and running and it’s growing very, very quickly,” he said. “Whereas we have the dominant market share here in the United States, we had a very small market share there up until the last year or so. A lot of our growth is coming from Europe in general and that is aided by a new manufacturing facility there as well as a number of sales representatives in that area.”

In the biotech industry, the largest markets are the United States, Europe and Asia. IDT has an eye on Asia for its next stage of growth.

“We spent a lot of time in the area doing research and working with various distributors in the market there and I think over the next couple years we anticipate moving into Asia,” Mr. Gunstream said. “That’s kind of how we consider the whole market. The Americas, we’re already in South America; we distribute through some distributors there. Europe and then we call it Asia Pacific; it’s basically, Japan, China, Singapore, Australia, all those are included. We’ve already started some focused sales efforts in Australia and that went really well. We consider that part of Asia. There’s not really any other part of the world to go. We just consider those three regions.”