Jennifer Daly

Executive Director, Morton Chamber/EDC
Photography by Kira Kwon

I grew up in Hawaii, California, Tennessee and Iowa, so I had a great deal of practice making new friends and learning new regional cultures. I spent my first year of college at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls when I thought I wanted to become a teacher, and then transferred to the University of Iowa in Iowa City when I changed my major to child psychology.

Shortly after graduating, I decided to pursue my dream of starting a children’s museum. Six years later, the Iowa Children’s Museum opened in Coralville and continues to serve over 100,000 visitors each year. It is certainly my proudest professional achievement to date.

That same year I met my future husband, and in 2001, we got married and moved to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, for my new position as executive director for its Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission, a role I served for over seven years. I especially enjoyed leading the development of Mount Pleasant’s Main Street Downtown Development organization and working with local businesses on a wide variety of challenges. The Iowa Department of Economic Development, University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute and the Mid-America Economic Development Council all provided the information, training and economic development network that helped me to excel in this field.

My moments of greatest joy and greatest sadness also occurred during my stay in Mount Pleasant. My son Aidan and daughter Nora were born in 2004 and 2007, respectively. Their appearance in my life brought me happiness beyond words. But in the midst of my newfound parenthood, my mother was diagnosed with bladder cancer. She died six months after diagnosis, leaving my father and sister and me in a deep state of grief.

In 2008, with four-year-old Aidan and nine-month-old Nora in tow, Tim and I moved to Morton. As the first CEO for the newly-formed Morton Economic Development Council, I was excited to have the opportunity to build a new organization to support the economic well-being of the community. Six months later, I was invited to serve as the executive director of the Morton Chamber of Commerce. Over the past five years, it has been an honor and privilege to lead both of these strong organizations.

Please reflect upon your major accomplishments of 2012.
Development of our Downtown Plaza. I had the opportunity this year to work with the Village of Morton and Farnsworth Group on the development of a new plaza for our downtown district. The current design includes a veterans memorial, interactive water feature, playground, and a stage and seating area for performances. Fundraising for the project will likely begin next year, and we hope to begin construction in the spring of 2014. I am really proud of the design that was created for this new downtown centerpiece. The final result will make a huge impact on the quality of life of our Morton residents and the economic vitality of our downtown district.

Establishing strong relationships in China. In October, I had the opportunity to lead a delegation of 32 from Morton to China for a trip that included sightseeing, relationship-building with Morton’s new sister city, Tiantai, and meetings with 10 businesses who have an interest in making an investment in our community. The experience was life-changing for me. With its enormous population, sophisticated growth and expanding businesses, China could really be another engine for our local economy. I can’t wait to return!

Another record-breaking Pumpkin Festival. This list could never be complete without mention of the famous Morton Pumpkin Festival. This year, for the first time, the festival was sponsored by Libby’s Pumpkin. Their corporate marketing team was invaluable in helping us promote the festival at a national level in ways that we could never have achieved on our own. The addition of an online store for merchandise sales and several new events made this one of our best years ever.

What is your secret to maintaining a balance between your work and personal life?
I’m not sure I have any secrets to share, but one thing I do that helps is to leave my iPhone in the mudroom on the charger when I get home. My close friends, family and staff members know to call me if they really need me during evenings and weekends. Leaving my work at the door allows me to pay attention to my family when I’m at home.

I also have a spouse who gives 200 percent on the home front. Tim is a case manager at Tazewell County Resource Center, so he also works full-time, but his hours are much more stable than mine. He picks the kids up and takes them to their activities, helps them with homework, and makes most of our weeknight dinners. I would never have the quality time I do with our family if I didn’t have such a supportive partner.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Shortly after beginning work on the development of the Iowa Children’s Museum—imagine me at 23 with no experience and no money writing a business plan on a Mac in my childhood bedroom—I was offered a full fellowship for a graduate program at the University of Texas in Austin. I walked away from the offer, sure that I had already found my passion.

My parents, as you might imagine, thought I was making a huge mistake. However, my mother said that while the museum might never happen, the journey alone would be an unparalleled training ground. She was absolutely right. And while the museum did succeed, the education I received through the vast struggles developing, designing and building a 23,000-square-foot facility was my real reward. Her words continue to remind me that often the journey—regardless of success or failure—is what is most valuable for us. When you care more about what you will learn along the way, it is much easier to take risks and support risk-taking in others.

What advice would you give to a young, up-and-coming female professional?
Don’t expect to go from the classroom to the boardroom in one year. It takes time to build a career, and those steps in between are really important. When making a difficult decision, always do the right thing. You will face many ethical dilemmas, and how you handle them reflects on your character. Be nice to other people even if they aren’t nice to you—taking the high road always leads you to a better place. At some point, you might have to choose between attending a board meeting and a preschool program. Go to the preschool program. Have faith in your team members. If you work hard to help them succeed, you will find that you are also a success.

What is one goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
I’d really like to be able to pay for both of my children to go to college. My parents were able to do that for me so I had no debt when I graduated. It was such a wonderful gift.

How do you unwind after a long day of work?
Unwind? Are you kidding? My five-year-old and eight-year-old don’t tend to allow any unwinding. Once in a while, I escape for an evening walk in the beautiful neighborhoods of Morton with a friend.

What is your greatest fear?
Heights! I almost had a heart attack while riding in a cable car to the top of the Great Wall of China. iBi

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