Leadership insights from Billi Hunt, executive director of America’s Cultivation Corridor
What makes Iowa and America’s Cultivation Corridor® special? It’s a common question, and I know the answer in my heart, but it can be hard to articulate. I firmly believe that when you come here, you can feel the difference. But not everyone can or does – come here that is, so I’m going to try to explain using a recent example.
The Corridor Board meets four times a year, with this year’s summer meeting falling the week after the Fourth of July. One might think it would be hard to get participation during the summer, and especially after a holiday. Not only did all investors attend, but we held an innovation panel at the end where additional experts from within the Corridor investor companies came in to share best practices.
There was great discussion throughout the meeting – no rubber stamping here -- and then board members and guests stayed for about an hour afterward, catching up, setting times to meet separately and asking more about the panel topics. These are leaders from some of the top positions in food, agriculture and energy who took three-plus hours out of their day to talk about trends, ideas and next steps for making the Corridor even stronger.
Fast forward to an even busier summer month, August, and the Corridor is asked to coordinate another panel discussion focused on the opportunities and vulnerabilities of our food system. That’s a big ask – especially during the Iowa State Fair, vacation and back-to-school season – but the beauty of America’s Cultivation Corridor is the extensive network of professionals from every step of the food system.
The panel members included Trish Cook, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association and owner/operator of CBL Farms, Rich Dwyer, senior vice president, corporate affairs and enterprise risk management at KENT Corporation, and Georgia Van Gundy, executive vice president, chief administrative officer and chief customer officer at Hy-Vee. They brought diverse perspectives, all highlighting how policies and regulatory actions can either benefit or disrupt the value chain’s ability to provide safe and affordable food for a state’s residents.
Cook gave firsthand perspective on the impact regulations have on the cost and efficiency of raising animals, while Dryer shared how a predictable regulatory system allows businesses to grow and adjust to market conditions, such as shifting resources to produce antibacterial components for hand sanitizer during COVID pandemic. Van Gundy discussed the important role that both major brands and local food networks have on building a robust supply network for retailers.
Iowa is a unique place where insights from every step of the food chain – farmer, processor and retailer – can come together to learn and grow together. This collaboration happens every day and drives the innovation that is needed to ensure a sustainable food supply now and for generations to come.
So, what makes Iowa Special? In my opinion, it’s examples like this of expertise freely shared. Iowa’s strength starts with a base of industry-leading companies, from start-ups to legacy names, and influential leaders with first-hand expertise who are willing to share their lessons-learned with others. And they don’t share for immediate business gain, but rather because they care about the industry and the Corridor and want to see others be successful.
This is just my perspective as Executive Director of the Corridor though. What do you think makes our industry and this place so special?
Published August 2023.