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Theresa Hildreth, Calhoun County Economic Development’s new Executive DirectorIf your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you’re a leader like Theresa Hildreth. Calhoun County Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC) is pleased to welcome Theresa as our new executive director and would like to help you get to know her better. 

A: What led you to Calhoun County?

Q: I grew up in O’Brien County, Iowa, on a farm outside of Gaza. After graduating from Sutherland High School, I later continued my education as a non-traditional student at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, where I earned an associate’s degree in mass communications. I met my husband of 43 years, Tom Hildreth, at Westmar College in Le Mars, Iowa. Tom is a Calhoun County native. He landed a teaching and coaching job at Rockwell City in 1987. We’ve lived in the Rockwell City area ever since.

Q: How has your career evolved?

A: I started working at age 15 for a local insurance agent in Sutherland, which gave me a tremendous, real-world business education. During the past 46 years, I’ve worked in business marketing, healthcare marketing, county government, state government, coaching, community development and special event execution. I’m also a business owner with my husband and son at Martin Hildreth Company Inc., where I manage the office. In addition, I’ve served as a clerk in the Iowa Senate during the past nine legislative sessions. This fueled my passion for promoting and growing rural Iowa.

Q: What interested you in the Calhoun County Economic Development executive director role? 

A: I’ve been interested in the role for a number of years, but other projects and commitments consumed my time and energy. Now’s the right time for me to help our Calhoun County Economic Development board guide Calhoun County into the future. Calhoun County is my home, and I have a vested interest in my home county and the future of northwest Iowa.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing Calhoun County?
I’ve witnessed the declining population and loss of businesses in rural Iowa through the years. It truly makes me sad, because our quality of life in rural Iowa is the best. I’m especially saddened by the dwindling resources in rural Iowa. When Rockwell City had no grocery store a few years ago, I feared for the future of this community and Calhoun County. I’m thankful every day for companies like Fareway that realize the value of locating businesses in Calhoun County.

Being a resident of rural Iowa requires a keen awareness of the importance of supporting our local businesses. They are essential to help our communities thrive, so we can continue to enjoy our rural way of life.

During the legislative session the past nine years, I’ve lived in the Des Moines area January through April. I’ve enjoyed the shopping, activities, restaurants and ease of finding fun things to do. But each week when Thursday came along, I was more than ready to come back home. The city has a place in Iowa, but I have my place in rural Iowa. It’s where I’m happiest.

Q: What are some of the biggest opportunities you see in Calhoun County?  

A: The people, including friends, families and neighbors. We are very like-minded when it comes to supporting good schools, giving back to our communities and churches, and enjoying the beauty of the rural Iowa landscape. I appreciate that multiple generations have chosen to live here in Calhoun County. The company my husband, son and I operate is a third-generation business that has spanned 68 years. I anticipate we’ll have a four-generation business in the future. Many of our rural friends are still farming the family farm, many of which are Century Farms (meaning they same family has owned that land for 100 or more years). I smile each time a young person comes back home to Calhoun County to live, work and raise a family. 

Q: What does it take for Calhoun County to succeed in economic development? 

A: Today’s market is challenging, due to all the changes in the wider world. Keeping up with technology is critical. Retaining good teachers in our schools and skilled healthcare providers in our hospital and clinics is vital. We also need to help people work together to maintain the businesses, families and opportunities that will help maintain and grow economic development in our region. That includes tourism and historic preservation. While tourism is in the eye of the beholder, I see opportunities here. I love the idea of “stay-cations.” There are great places to see and fun things to do here in Calhoun County and across Iowa. Our local tourism efforts can support this.

Q: What’s a favorite quote that guides your life?

A: My personal quote is “Dance like no one is watching.” This encourages you to take smart risks. Don’t worry about what it looks like to think outside the box, do something new, dream big and reach out to make dreams a reality. I’ve also learned not to judge people or situations too quickly. Have the conversations to make an informed decision or to take a risk worth taking.

Q: What do you enjoy about living, working and volunteering in Calhoun County?
My parents showed me, by example, the importance of getting involved in the community. It takes everyone working together to be happy and successful. As a small, rural, Iowa community member, I take my role seriously when it comes to making our Calhoun County a better place. I measure success by the positive difference I can make in others’ lives.

I enjoy living, working and volunteering in Calhoun County, because of the wonderful people I cross paths with every day. We’re so fortunate to have people around the area who care about Calhoun County and want to make it a place that people are proud to call home.

Q: What is one of your career highlights so far?

A: My most memorable work accomplishment, which became a unique success story, was the first “Cuisine in the Corn” event. This elegant dinner party in an Iowa corn field supports Rockwell City’s annual Sweet Corn Daze celebration in early August.

My daughter-in-law, Sandra Hildreth, brought up the idea when I was the Rockwell City Chamber Administrative Director in 2018. Along with a group of “think outside the box, like-minded people,” we hosted our first Cuisine in the Corn in 2018. Through a collaboration of friends and passionate Chamber members, we sold the idea to 100 paying guests and a handful of sponsors that first year. The event raised funds that continue to support Rockwell City’s Sweet Corn Daze year after year.

We came up with a big idea, took a risk, collaborated with people willing to try something different, and turned this into a prime event. Cuisine in the Corn continues, and I’m so proud to have worked with a great group of Calhoun County friends to make this an event residents anticipate each year.

Q: What’s important to you when it comes to contributing to economic development?

A: Economic development is like many other things in life. If something gets done, it’s because someone knew someone who knows someone to make stuff happen. It’s important to work with a network of friends, political leaders and business acquaintances to help innovative ideas and events succeed. I’m here to help others, and I hope others are willing to support projects I support. I’m here to get things done.

Q: What’s important to you when it comes to giving back to the community?
Collaboration is key. It’s all about the TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More. It’s also vital to have multiple people and organizations involved in the community. Building a network of people is building a community.

Editor’s note: Theresa and her Tom are the proud parents of four children. “They are the most important job we’ve ever undertaken, although we will never be done with this job!” Theresa said. The Hildreths also have 12 grandchildren. “This has opened up a whole new reason to support our local communities, our rural way of life and economic development in Calhoun County,” Theresa said. “While not all our children and grandchildren live nearby, I can proudly say Calhoun County will always be ‘home’ for them.”

The Hildreths enjoy spending time together, attending grandchildren’s activities, going on motorcycle rides and spending time with good friends. They recently moved to South Twin Lake and love living the country life.


written by Darcy Maulsby

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