Classy Career Girl x Mary Beth Hart, Director of Community and Diversity Relations at Hy-Vee
Careers are all about phases – whether that means starting a new job, relocating to the coast or returning to your hometown – and Mary Beth Hart, a native Iowan, knows all about the different phases a career can take you in your life.
Hart serves as Hy-Vee’s director of community and diversity relations in Des Moines after almost a decade living in Washington, D.C. She recently sat down with Anna Runyan of Classy Career Girl to talk about picking the best location with career goals in mind and about her decision when she was considering Iowa and D.C.
While D.C. presented Hart with great career opportunities, Iowa’s strong sense of community, low cost of living and upward mobility in a new role made the move back home a no-brainer.
Continue reading for Hart’s full interview.
This interview is sponsored by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and has been edited for clarity.
CCG: Let’s start with your career journey. Where’d you start and what do you do today?
MBH: I am originally from Iowa. I grew up in Ankeny, just north of Des Moines. I went to Ankeny High School, graduated and headed north to the College of Saint Benedict up in Minnesota. I spent four years there, loved it and had lots of opportunities to travel and see the world.
[I] came back home after I graduated and then started a job in government relations for Pioneer Hybrid, which is now Corteva Agriscience. They, at the time, were owned by DuPont. That job was in government relations; I loved that job, and it was a great first job out of college. [I was] really lucky and privileged to land it.
DuPont moved me to Washington, D.C. so I spent another few years, I think four years with DuPont doing government relations, state policy, dabbling a little bit in federal policy, working in advocacy and doing a lot with our grassroots. I had what I call my quarter-life crisis when I decided that I wanted to pursue a different career.
I went and got my master’s degree in education and worked at American University for a while and at Marymount University before I rediscovered my interest in government relations. I went back and started working in advocacy for an organization called BIPAC, [and I built a network with various] state chambers of commerce or the state business associations, and that is really what got me back to Iowa – the conversations with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (Iowa ABI). BIPAC was working closely with them, and I discovered that I was ready to come home in my conversations with Iowa ABI and found an opportunity in Des Moines that brought me home about five years ago.
My career has been great because I’ve been able to take advantage of opportunities, identify next steps and act on them and have had the real privilege of working in lots of different environments and organizations of all types and sizes.
CCG: I would love to know more about the difference between working in D.C. and working in Iowa, what were the factors that drove you to move back?
MBH: The biggest factor that drove me back to Iowa was an opportunity that was just too good to turn down here with Hy-Vee. The other thing that was also in my ear is [that] I was ready to come home. There were things I wanted in my life that I knew that where I was at in D.C., I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve in the timeframe that I had hoped for.
I had wanted to be a homeowner, I wanted a yard, I wanted a dog, I wanted things that I just knew in D.C., that while I was being paid really well, it just was out of my reach because of the cost of living there. And then, to be close to my family [was another factor], my family and friends were still in Iowa.
CCG: What was your career and networking like in D.C. versus in Iowa?
MBH: Networking and what’s going on here is very similar, [but] I would say that there is a more familial connection here in Iowa. Here in Des Moines, the networking that I’ve seen is very similar to D.C., but there’s a little bit more opportunity to bring your family around and bring your friends along. It’s a little bit more Midwestern is probably the best way to put it.
CCG: Before we started recording, you mentioned some professional organizations and how you used them to expand your network. With the pandemic, I feel like that something we’ve grown away from. What have you found that’s been of value from using professional organizations?
MBH: Being away for almost 10 years meant that the world kept on spinning here. There were a few people here that I felt confident enough to reach out to and reconnect with when I moved back, but really it was as if [I was] coming to a place that I hadn’t been before. I needed to re-establish.
For me, I looked at my passion areas and what I was interested in – and that’s community involvement, giving back and leadership development. I found a real connection here in Des Moines with opportunities from organizations like the Greater Des Moines Partnership. They have a plethora of [resources for] professional development, committees and opportunities that they offer to entrepreneurs and jobseekers, professionals here in town.
The other one that I was lucky enough to get connected with very early on was Iowa ABI. That group of professionals was very helpful with the work that I was doing and my day-to-day job tasks, so I could rely on them a lot to help steer me to who I should know.
The third one I’ll mention is the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. They have as a part of their programming, a leadership program for professionals to get to know Des Moines and get to know Des Moines in a way beyond just looking at the map or talking to your next-door neighbor. It provided me an opportunity to learn more about Des Moines’ natural resources, the city’s overall economic development plan, where and what were we doing around transportation and infrastructure.
CCG: Is there a difference in community involvement in D.C. versus Iowa?
MBH: For me, absolutely. In D.C., I had always intended to get involved in the community, but at the end of the day with my work/life balance and the demands of what I needed to do, that kind of held me back. I’ll be honest, there were a couple opportunities where I volunteered in D.C., but I just didn’t feel that connection that I feel here now that I’m home in the Des Moines area.
I’m serving on a board of a local nonprofit, which has just been very fulfilling for me and my family to be able to know that I can give back in that way – and I have the time to do it and my employer encourages it. There’s a definite difference between community involvement and giving back for me in D.C. than in Des Moines.
CCG: If someone were looking at moving to Iowa, what would your advice be for them to explore that route?
MBH: There’s a lot of opportunity here in Iowa – I think like anywhere you go, it is a matter of who you know and the skills and the resources that you bring. I would say that there is an increased effort in Iowa employers to try and bring in outside voices, people who have experience with different places or industries, so I think it’s very encouraging for those who are considering moving here from somewhere else.
The cost of living is a huge draw, and it can make your goals and what you want to accomplish in your job seem more attainable because you’ll be able to give more time or have more resources available to go out and network and meet people. I think it’s promising.
CCG: Has there been anything in Iowa that has contributed to more financial stability or more career success?
MBH: The housing market is much more reasonable. The example I can give is my last apartment in D.C. was a studio apartment in a great area, it was a really nice place. It was $1,800 [per month] for a studio. Now that I’m back home, that is about equivalent to what a mortgage can be for a single-family home.
It is finding the balance in what I wanted in my life, what phase I was at, and then I decided to make the leap and come home and be able to afford a nice house and to get the goals, the things that I wanted that just seemed out of reach in D.C. became attainable here in Des Moines.