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By Kay Snyder

Iowa’s electric cooperatives are anchor institutions in communities across rural Iowa. Co-op staff and members – both now and in the future – provide diverse perspectives, new ideas and strong leadership to Iowa’s organizations, businesses, communities and the state. Lifelong leadership development is key to finding and fostering the people who will continue to lead Iowa forward.

There are many opportunities for leadership development across the state of Iowa. Local and regional leadership programs provide a great avenue in identifying and developing the next generation of leaders. The Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) Foundation provides three outstanding programs targeted at high school students, college students and adult professionals. These opportunities might be right for you, a family member, community representative or a friend!

Business Horizons – Exploring career opportunities for students

Business Horizons allows Iowa high school students to explore career opportunities and experience hands-on working environments with their peers. Teams of students work alongside Iowa professionals to navigate exciting challenges and competitions throughout the five-day program. Students create a product, develop a business and marketing strategy, film an infomercial and pitch their idea to a panel of investors at the end of the week.

Leadership Iowa University – Bridging the gap between college and career

Leadership Iowa University is designed to bridge the gap between college and career. This weeklong program seeks to cultivate and develop our state’s future workforce by equipping them with diverse knowledge, skills, and perspectives that will allow them to be engaged leaders and open doors to new ideas and employment opportunities within our state.

Leadership Iowa – Promoting leadership and civic responsibility

Leadership Iowa is an issues-awareness program promoting leadership and civic responsibility in our state. It is in its 36th year and has a statewide alumni network that is more than 1,100 strong.

Through a series of eight two-day monthly sessions, participants encounter a wide range of eye-opening experiences and insights that address the opportunities and challenges facing Iowa. This year’s class session topics included agriculture and renewable energy; economic development; industry/workforce; government; public safety/community preparedness and response; and education.

The impact of the Leadership Iowa experience is different for all. Consistent feedback includes recognition of the strong and meaningful friendships that are forged with this diverse group of professionals in your class. The information and connections gained during the program often inspire new ideas and ambitious goals for participants, along with a renewed sense of motivation to go forth and lead. There are endless examples of collaboration, business deals, business starts, job promotions, board appointments and successful elections to public office that have taken place with Leadership Iowa alumni.  

“I treasure my participation in Leadership Iowa. I was born and raised in Iowa but ventured to Illinois for many years, where I attended college and started my career and family. After 15 years east of the border, I found an employment opportunity at the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives (IAEC), which enabled my family to relocate to Iowa,” says Erin Campbell, IAEC’s director of communications. “Participating in Leadership Iowa gave me a wonderful opportunity to reconnect and fall in love with Iowa all over again. I learned about the challenges and opportunities facing various industries and regions and formed friendships with dozens of diverse Iowans who are also passionate about this great state. My Leadership Iowa experience has helped me greatly in my role to support electric cooperatives across the state.”  

Electric cooperative involvement is strong

Co-op involvement is strong in these statewide programs. Many of the co-ops have team members who have participated in Leadership Iowa. Current involvement includes:

Sarah Heggen, communications/member services relations specialist at Central Iowa Power Cooperative, a member of the 2018-2019 Leadership Iowa class, says this of her experience. “Leadership Iowa has been a welcome challenge for me. I’ve enjoyed connecting with people from different parts of the state that I normally never would have met. We’ve had opportunities to immerse ourselves in the communities we visit while diving into discussions on statewide topics that have very real implications locally. Providing top-notch education, workers for manufacturing jobs, affordable housing, robust economic development and crucial public safety are a common thread running through communities big and small from river to river. These experiences have broadened my view of, and deepened my love for, this state.”

Jim Gossett, manager of Raccoon Valley Electric Cooperative helped plan and served as a local host for the May Leadership Iowa session on economic development that was held in Carroll County.

Ann Thelen, editor of Living with Energy in Iowa, and Rand Fisher, president of Iowa Area Development Group (IADG) are Leadership Iowa alums and serve on the ABI Foundation Board, which is the non-profit entity that oversees Business Horizons, Leadership Iowa University and Leadership Iowa.

Tresa Hussong, vice president of customer/corporate relations for Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative and Kay Snyder serve on the Leadership Iowa Board of Governors.

Leadership Iowa alumni are encouraged to continue learning about Iowa issues and opportunities. Tod Faris, member services/economic development manager for Chariton Valley Electric Cooperative and Kay Snyder recently participated in an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) event at Camp Dodge to gain an understanding of the benefits and obligations of employing members of the National Guard.

Additional information is available at

Kay Snyder is the director of marketing and communications for the Iowa Area Development Group.

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