CEO’s Report: Steady rates for 2020

We recently traveled to three different customer communities to host our budget meetings, where we announced steady rates for 2020.

It’s been three years since we formally adopted a strategic plan outlining goals for Heartland’s future. Stabilizing rates was arguably our most important goal and as you have heard us say many times over the past year, our goals were largely accomplished with the sale of our share of the Missouri Basin Power Project, namely our 51 MW ownership of Laramie River Station.

The sale of LRS decreased the amount of excess generation in our portfolio and minimized our exposure to the market. It also allowed us to maintain our strong financial metrics.

Divesting of LRS certainly provided the biggest chunk of rate stability for our customers for the next several years. But that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped looking for other ways to reduce costs and increase load.

Coinciding efforts lead to stability

Heartland continually pursues new load, whether it be internal growth in our customer communities or the acquisition of additional customer contracts.

  • Heartland welcomed Valentine, Nebraska as our newest customer in 2019. Heartland currently supplies supplemental power to the city until their contract with NPPD expires at the end of 2021, at which time Heartland will become Valentine’s full-requirements supplier.
  • Our Energy ONE incentive continued to draw in new load in 2019 as we saw the addition of Prairie AquaTech in Volga, SD, Quality Custom Meats in Howard, SD and additional load at LG Everist in Akron, IA.
  • In an effort to reduce costs, Heartland issued $35 million in taxable debt at the end of 2018 for the buyout of a transmission service agreement with Nebraska Public Power District. The agreement was no longer needed after Heartland’s integration into SPP and the buyout allowed for stabilization of otherwise escalating transmission costs, resulting in cash flow savings.
  • Additional savings will come in the form of a re-powering at the Wessington Springs Wind Energy Center, scheduled to be completed late this year. Heartland purchases the entire output of the wind farm from NextEra Energy Resources. They are upgrading the performance of the wind farm which will result in an estimated 14% increase in efficiency. By extending our contract with NextEra, Heartland and our customers will benefit from a price reduction resulting in significant cost savings in 2020 and beyond.
  • Additionally, Heartland will be terminating our SPP Drive Out transmission service which allows us to serve load in the MISO footprint. As we continue to gain knowledge of the markets, we found it would be more cost-effective to procure energy directly in MISO rather than paying for the drive-out service. Heartland will be purchasing a 35 MW block from NextEra Energy to serve MISO customers, beginning in 2020.

Due to these factors and more, Heartland’s rates will remain unchanged in 2020. We continue looking toward a strong future for Heartland and our customers and will continue working to ensure the ongoing success of our customers.

Guest speakers highlight budget meetings

Our budget meetings also included a few guest speakers this year. At the two meetings in South Dakota, we were fortunate to welcome Jodi Endres from Western Area Power Administration.

Endres share WAPA’s objectives of participating in the energy imbalance market including ensuring reliable delivery of hydropower while adjusting to a changing energy mix. She also described some of the innovative ways WAPA is seeking cost savings including unmanned aerial vehicles to inspect equipment and helicopters to replace dampers.

At our budget meeting in New Ulm, Steve Watson of ISG discussed capital improvement planning and why it is essential to municipal systems. Heartland has worked with ISG to procure special pricing for Heartland customers interested in this service.

Looking ahead

As we head into the last two months of 2019, we look forward to finishing the year strong and setting new goals for 2020 and beyond.

We are grateful for our customers and your support in getting to this point. We value our relationships and will continue working every day to fulfill our vision of being a trusted leader and partner of choice while adding value to the communities we serve

CEO’s Report: Steady rates for 2019

Every year we spend a few days traveling to various customer communities to discuss Heartland’s budget for the upcoming year. This year was no different as we held meetings in Madelia, MN as well as Langford and Madison, SD.

Having meetings in multiple locations allows for smaller groups and a more relaxed and informal atmosphere. I look forward to these meetings each year because of the interaction they afford.

Heartland Chief Financial Officer Mike Malone reviewed the 2019 budget at Madison’s meeting.

I especially look forward to them when we have good news to share.

Heartland is once again planning for steady rates in 2019.

When we adopted our strategic plan in 2016, one of our three long-term goals was to stabilize rates.

The sale of one of our longest-held assets, our share of the Missouri Basin Power Project, namely our 51 MW ownership share of Laramie River Station, plays the biggest role in providing long-term rate stability.

Additionally, we are seeing unprecedented growth within our customer communities, thanks, in part, to help from our economic development incentives.

We have provided over $50,000 in grant funding in 2018 alone to our customer communities to assist with updating infrastructure, facilitate housing developments and residential construction, aid in community marketing efforts and perform economic development studies.

Our Energy ONE incentive gained significant traction in 2018, earning media attention along the way and further increasing its reach. Both small and large customers alike were able to take advantage of the special pricing designed to entice large loads.

In Akron, IA, the city’s largest customer, L.G. Everist, will be utilizing the rate for their electric dredge expansion. In Howard, SD, Quality Custom Meats remodeled a previously closed facility, created over 20 jobs and will be utilizing the Energy ONE rate for their meat processing operation.

Kraft Heinz in New Ulm, MN completed a $100 million expansion which added 50 new jobs and 4 new production lines. The incentive will help keep costs down, allowing them to provide greater value to their customers. A multi million-dollar facility broke ground in Volga, SD in May of this year. Prairie AquaTech will add 35 employees to their new plant where they will make a protein-rich ingredient used in fish feed.

Smaller group meetings in Madelia, pictured, and Langford allow for a more informal atmosphere and one-on-one discussion.

While we may have checked many boxes with the sale of LRS, it does not mean we will be sitting back. We will continue seeking new opportunities to reduce costs and will pursue additional load. We will continue working with our customers to help them grow and look for new opportunities. We will keep working hard to ensure a bright future for Heartland and our customers.

I am genuinely excited about what the future holds for Heartland and for our customers. We appreciate your support in getting to this point and value our relationships. We look forward to fulfilling our vision of being a trusted leader and partner of choice while adding value to the communities we serve.

We will also continue to operate by our motto, the power of forward thinking – strategically planning and making decisions today for a sound and stable future while serving as a reliable partner.

We look forward to another successful year.

Valentine creates vision for Main Street

State-led highway reconstruction evolves into Main Street redesign

A thriving business community exists in the heart of the Heart City in Nebraska.

Roughly 50 businesses make up Main Street, Valentine, offering everything from western wear to beauty products to furniture.

Already a source of community pride, downtown Valentine is slated to get a face lift thanks to an upcoming project by the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT). After years of consideration, redesign and reconstruction of the city’s existing stretch of road will begin in August 2020.

While NDOT will focus on the area’s infrastructure, some citizens are using this project as an opportunity to improve the overall appearance, safety, cohesiveness and appeal of Main Street.

 

Beyond a concrete project

First poured in 1934, the city’s main street is part of state Highway 83 and the second oldest concrete pavement in the state.

NDOT will replace the existing road with new concrete and curb and update or construct storm sewer, pedestrian facilities, as well as lighting and traffic signals as needed. The city promises to replace water and sewer mains during this time as well.

The improvement project expanded into something much larger when the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Office and the Rural Futures Institute asked city leaders to participate in a rural communities initiative.

“UNL students conducted a service-learning project to develop a strategic plan in support of economic development and demographic renewal in Valentine,” said City Manager Shane Siewert. “After conducting research, analysis and community engagement, the students came up with a Placemaking Framework Plan that included recommendations for Main Street.”

Building on that early work and momentum, the project got another boost from the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD), an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts.

In April, CIRD announced Valentine as one of four communities picked to host rural design workshops for the 2018 program year.

According to CIRD, the workshops bring together local leaders, non-profits, community organizations and citizens to join rural planning and create placemaking professionals to craft solutions to their communities’ design challenges.

Additionally, each awardee receives a $10,000 stipend to support the workshop and follow-up planning sessions as well as in-kind design expertise and technical assistance valued at $35,000.

 

Downtown fire adds unfortunate twist

Throughout the project’s evolution, timing has proved important.

Aerial shot of the damage resulting from a downtown business fire June 2. Photo courtesy KELO TV.

That never felt more true than a few short weeks after CIRD’s announcement. A fire broke out in a downtown business in the early hours of June 2, completely destroying the building and displacing two businesses.

Assisted by departments from nearby communities, Valentine firefighters were able to contain the fire to the single building. One affected business owner hopes to re-open in a new location while the other already had plans to close but in a much different fashion.

The fire adds an unfortunate twist to the Main Street redesign project.

The L-shaped facility was quite large with storefronts on two adjoining streets. Now, its absence reverberates throughout the entire business district, leaving a giant hole in a busy intersection.

Transforming Main Street

CIRD aims to transform Main Street Valentine “from a state highway and thruway into a well-designed street that encourages passersby to linger and attracts residents to support local businesses.”

Similarly, local leaders want the downtown district to enrich the entire tourist experience of Valentine and serve as a community anchor and destination for residents and visitors alike.

If successful, some believe the project may ultimately become a model for other communities to follow.

“A successful and vibrant Main Street is the crux of any community,” said Heartland Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree. “Many rural communities are looking to transform their main thoroughfares into bustling hubs of activity.”

As the city’s new wholesale electric power provider beginning in 2019, Heartland provided funding assistance for Valentine’s Main Street project through its economic development grant program.

“Valentine is poised for growth. We believe the Main Street redesign will help stimulate long-term development and draw new residents and visitors to the area,” added Crabtree.

 

Heartland Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree, left, presents an economic development grant to Valentine City Manager Shane Siewert and City Council Chairperson Kyle Arganbright.

Heartland divests of excess resource

Sale will provide long-term stability for customers

 

Heartland’s vision for the future is to be a trusted leader and partner of choice in the delivery of competitively priced electricity.

However, the prospect of fulfilling that vision was uncertain as a future loomed where excess generation would inhibit the ability to provide low-cost power.

But Heartland also operates by a mission that includes making sound decisions today for a brighter tomorrow.

With that in mind, Heartland recently sold one their longest-held assets, and is now looking toward a more stable future.

Heartland sold its share of the Missouri Basin Power Project, namely its 51 MW ownership of Laramie River Station.

According to Heartland CEO Russell Olson, the sale provides numerous benefits, including rate stability for customers.

“Divesting of LRS achieves many of the long-terms goals we set forth in our strategic plan. Most importantly, it gives customers steady rates and more certainty about the future.”

Goals outlined in Heartland’s strategic plan included stabilizing rates, enhancing customer relations and maintaining sound financial health. A resource divestiture was identified early on as the best way to achieve Heartland’s goals.

“Our strategic plan was adopted after soliciting feedback from our customers, ensuring it was in line with their needs,” said Olson. “We worked with outside consultants to determine the best way to accomplish our goals and a divestiture was kind of our silver bullet.”

Heartland was previously looking at excess capacity of 30% after the year 2020, which would have to be sold in the market, presumably at a loss.

“This sale brings us into balance, with our load more equally matching our generation and reducing our reliance on the market.”

It also decreases the company’s coal exposure, providing a more balanced mix of resources and reducing risk of future regulation costs and will help the company’s continual operation with sound financial metrics.

“At Heartland, our motto is the power of forward thinking. We couldn’t sit back knowing we would have to substantially increase rates. We also weren’t willing to sacrifice our financial health. We turned over every stone possible looking for savings. Divestiture was always the goal, and everyone here worked tirelessly to make that a reality.”

Laramie River Station in Wheatland, WY was constructed as part of the Missouri Basin Power Project, which also includes Grayrocks Dam and Reservoir and nearly 650 miles of high voltage transmission line.

Heartland Board President Mark Joffer, front left, and CEO Russell Olson, front right, recently finalized the paperwork for the divestiture of Heartland’s share of the Missouri Basin Power Project. Also pictured are, from left to right, Board Vice President Lisa Rave, Treasurer Dave Westbrock and Secretary Jeff Heinemeyer.

Heartland had a 3% undivided ownership share of MBPP, including 51 MW from LRS. LRS was the first resource in Heartland’s generating portfolio and began supplying electrical power to their customers in 1980.

“LRS has been reliable and low-cost for the past 40 years,” said Olson. “It’s also a marketable resource for those same reasons. It simply no longer fit in our portfolio.”

Heartland is selling its interest in MBPP to Tri-State Generation & Transmission, a cooperative based in Colorado. Tri-State previously held a 24% ownership share in LRS.

The unit sale will consist of Heartland’s ownership share in MBPP, retroactive to July 1, 2018, including capacity and energy from Heartland’s MBPP entitlement of LRS, transmission and substation facilities, associated land, property and inventory.

Heartland’s baseload resource now consists of 80 MW from Whelan Energy Center Unit 2, which became operational in 2011. Heartland has a 36% entitlement share in the 220 MW plant located near Hastings, Nebraska. It meets or exceeds all current pollution control standards and is well-positioned to meet any future proposed rules.

A purchased power agreement with NextEra Energy provides 51 MW of wind energy from the Wessington Springs Wind Energy Center. Heartland also utilizes contracts with customers and other utilities to acquire low-cost capacity resources.

Olson is excited about what the future holds for Heartland and their customers.

“We look forward to a strong future for our company and for our customers. Now that we’ve accomplished one of our most important goals, we can focus on providing excellent customer service and low-cost power and fulfilling our vision of being a trusted partner to our customers.”

New brand for the American Public Power Association

From Sue Kelly, President & CEO

American Public Power Association

In 2015, the American Public Power Association adopted a new three-year strategic plan. One important element is “Raising Awareness of Public Power.”

We are taking a two-pronged approach to that initiative. First, we are working with our utility members to provide them with tools that they can use to raise their profiles in the communities they serve — this will be a key initiative in 2017. This is important because research we did at the beginning of 2016 shows that only 1 in 5 customers served by public power utilities knows what public power is. If you don’t even know you are served by a public power utility, it is hard to appreciate the value of that utility.

The second way we are raising awareness of public power is by elevating the profile of the Association itself. We reviewed our brand in 2016, with the help of outside experts and focus groups both inside and outside the Washington, DC region. We’re pleased to share the results with you.

As we explain in this short video, our new logo emphasizes PUBLIC POWER and deemphasizes our initials, APPA, raising us above the acronym overload in our industry and the association world generally. (Among the other “APPAs” we discovered during this process were the American Probation and Parole Association, and the American Paintball Players Association!) The spanning power lines in our new logo connect the POWER to PUBLIC, evoking communities and the vital role our utility members play in them.

APPA member logo

Our new tagline, “Powering Strong Communities,” reinforces this theme and speaks to what you do as public power utilities — powering and supporting communities. It also speaks to what we do as your national Association — empowering member utilities by helping you work together on common issues and challenges, and building communities among public power utility employees, policy makers, and those who support them.

We believe this refreshed brand will position us to better tell the public power story. We look forward to using it to raise the profile of public power utilities among policymakers, media, and utility customers in Washington, D.C. and across the country. And stay tuned for tools and resources you can use in 2017 in your own efforts to raise awareness of public power in your own communities! Together, we can make 2017 a banner year for public power. I encourage you to show your pride in public power by using the new member logo (at right) on your website and marketing materials.

Sincerely,


Sue Kelly
President & CEO

CEO’s Report: Planning for the Future

Strategic Plan Finalized

Over a year ago, Heartland set out to write a strategic plan, a document that would guide our path forward. It would be something we could refer to often to ensure we were making the right decisions for the future of our company.

The process turned out to be more difficult than we imagined but after retaining an outside expert to aid  the process, we were able to garner input from everyone who will be affected by the plan, including our customers, board of directors and staff.

We presented a draft outline of our plan in July at our Summer Conference and the Heartland board officially approved the final plan at our October board meeting. Most notably, the plan updated our mission and vision statements, outlines three major goals we plan to achieve in the next three to five years and outlines how we plan to achieve those goals.

To many, vision and mission statements may seem inconsequential. But, if used correctly, these statements can have a profound impact on a company. They can and should be seen as words to live by.

A company mission statement represents who and what a company is and how we do our work. With that in mind, Heartland’s new mission is:

Heartland is dedicated to providing reliable, affordable power to our customers while ensuring open communication, excellent customer service and sound decision making for a brighter tomorrow.

A vision statement is your optimal desired future state. This represents where you want to be twenty years down the road. It is important because it should be a guiding principle for your company. Decisions should be made with your vision in mind. It’s the ultimate long-term goal.

Heartland decided on the following as our new vision:

To be a trusted leader and partner of choice in the delivery of competitively priced electricity while adding value to the communities we serve.

We thought long and hard before deciding on these new statements. Specifically, we looked at the information we gathered from customers and picked out key words on how our customers see us and how they want to see us.

The strategic plan also outlines the core values that will be at the center of our business including honesty, reliability and leadership. It also better defines our motto of “the power of forward thinking” – strategically planning and making decisions today for a sound and stable future while serving as a reliable partner to customers.

We outlined three major goals in our plan that we plan to achieve in the short-term. Those include stabilizing rates, enhancing customer relations and maintaining sound financial health. Each goal has several objectives and strategies to ensure we achieve those goals. Each goal has also been assigned a team who will be responsible for keeping us on track. We will make regular updates to the board and customers on the progress of each goal.

Communication is key in any organization. While Heartland has always been planning for our future, having a strategic plan in place will help bring all of our stakeholders in on that plan. It formalizes what we may have already known, but may have failed to communicate to our key stakeholders: our customers. We look forward to implementing our plan and working with all of our stakeholders to ensure we remain on the right track.

Summer Conference recap: Entrepreneurs and collaboration are pathways to prosperity

How is your city welcoming new residents and entrepreneurs? Will your welcome encourage them to stay?

Don Macke, co-founder and co-director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, posed these questions and more to guests at Heartland’s eleventh annual Summer Conference held in July. In addition to Macke, the event’s lineup included a Q&A with Paula Jensen of Dakota Resources, highlighting one community’s rural development success story and an update on Heartland’s strategic plan from Communications Manager Ann Hyland and strategic plan facilitator Brian Bonde.

After lunch, guests were treated to a round of golf or scenic boat tour of Lake Madison and wrapped up with awards and pin prizes. Attendance surpassed 100 as individuals from more than a dozen customer communities participated, joined by members of Heartland’s board of directors and staff and field representatives for the offices of South Dakota’s U.S. legislators. Several state legislators and officials from various state offices and entities were also present.

Energizing Entrepreneurs: The Pathway to Prosperity

Courtesy Don Macke, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship
Courtesy Don Macke, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship

According to Macke, there are three essentials for community success: 1) demographic renewal, 2) economic opportunity, and 3) quality of life. Every community must demographically renew itself to achieve prosperity. In order to do that, the community must create economic opportunities through job creation and business retention and expansion. In today’s environment where human talent is key, quality of life is essential. Better conditions for families, investments in education and civic and social improvements are strategies that can work long-term.

Also key: entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is a necessary component in any economic development strategy because entrepreneurs are innovative and open to change, pursue opportunities and make things happen, and build visions and teams. According to Macke, creating a supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurship requires a collaborative, regional approach. Success of your community depends on local commitment and a willingness to genuinely collaborate, not compete, with your region.

With over 40 years experience in the field, Macke is an expert on entrepreneur-based economic development systems for rural cities. As leader of the Center’s Entrepreneurial Communities solution area, he works throughout the United States and Canada supporting research, outreach, professional development and policy work related to rural entrepreneurship. For more information, visit energizingentrepreneurs.org.

To view Macke’s presentation from the Summer Conference, click the link below.

Energizing Entrepreneurs: The Pathway to Prosperity (PDF)

Spotlight on Rural Development: One Community’s Success Story

After learning the tools and resources to help a community achieve economic prosperity, guests were treated to a real-life example of small-town success. Heartland Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree facilitated a question and answer session with Paula Jensen, resources and community development director for Dakota Resources and one of the founders of The Front Porch in her hometown of Langford, SD.

Jensen discussed how a group of residents in Langford, population 316, came together to create a new business and gathering space that has revived the community and its downtown district. Sharing behind the scenes details of the restaurant’s formation, construction, management and operations, Jensen painted a picture of a collaborative effort from local residents who had pride in their community and wanted to see it succeed. Her city’s story proves prosperity is possible, even in rural communities.

Jensen’s message of collaboration echoed Macke’s assertion that local and regional commitment are critical to community development.

Paula is the vice president of advancement with Dakota Resources, based in Renner, SD. Dakota Resources is a 501c3 Community Development Financial Institution with the purpose of stimulating financial and human investment in rural communities that are invested in themselves. Her role includes resource development, community coaching and implementation of programs throughout rural South Dakota.

Heartland Strategic Plan Update

Wrapping up the educational portion of the Summer Conference, Brian Bonde and Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland provided an update on Heartland’s strategic plan. Heartland began working on our strategic plan in mid-2015, gathering employee and board input and putting together a general outline. Earlier this year, we retained the services of Bonde, president of Advanced Certified Fundraising, LLC to assist in developing the strategic plan and facilitate the process.

Most recently, we’ve been collecting input from our customers through round table discussions at our Annual Meeting and telephone interviews with members of the Customer Connections Committee. All of the data is being formatted into an executable strategic plan that includes goals, objectives and implementation strategies.

Each goal will be assigned to a team of Heartland staff to track progress and work on completion. Progress reports will be made to the board and customers and each year, a thorough evaluation will be done to monitor progress and ensure we’re on the right track. Goals, objectives and strategies will be revised as needed.

Brian Bonde is an Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive and nationally recognized expert in not-for-profit management and fundraising. He is a noted consultant and trainer to non-profits and has been in senior leadership positions at Sanford Health, Children’s Care Foundation and Augustana College.


To view images from our 2016 Summer Conference, visit our online gallery.

CEO’s Report: June 2016

We began working on Heartland’s strategic plan nearly one year ago, gathering employee and board input and putting together a general outline of the plan. After working on the plan for several months, we realized it wouldn’t be complete without customer feedback and input. The month of May was spent generating that input.

We began collecting customers’ thoughts at our Annual Meeting, with roundtable discussions about the future of Heartland, customer needs and industry challenges. Next we held a planning session with our board of directors with Brian Bonde of Advanced Certified Fundraising facilitating. Brian also spent time conducting phone interviews with members of our Customer Connections Committee to get candid, anonymous feedback on our programs, services and direction.

The planning session started off with Brian providing an overview of the board’s role in planning and the importance of board vision in governance. We performed a couple exercises visioning for the future where we considered what we want Heartland to look like in 20 years. Overall it was a very productive day with a lot of great discussion and opinions shared on the direction of Heartland. Our next steps include formatting all the data gathered thus far into a workable plan that we hope to roll out at our Summer Conference July 12.

While planning is paramount in any organization, in our industry, there are a lot of unknowns that can make it more difficult to effectively chart out a perfect course. While things may come up along the way causing us to change direction, we want to remain on track to a shared end goal, and that is the purpose of our strategic plan. Environmental regulations top the list of unknowns and right now the Clean Power Plan, currently on stay, is our biggest hurdle to overcome.

On May 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit pushed back oral arguments in a proceeding related to the Clean Power Plan from June until late September and expanded oral argument in the case to include all of the judges on the D.C. Circuit.

The granting of a review by all of the judges on the D.C. Circuit instead of a three-judge panel is very rare, and the fact that the court did so proactively underscores the importance of the case.

In addition to major threats to affordable electricity such as the Clean Power Plan, Heartland continues to monitor other developments that could impact our customers. Heartland provides incentives to both customers and end-use customers to make energy efficiency upgrades. One incentive is for installing geothermal heat pumps. In addition, installing geothermal becomes more affordable with the geothermal tax credit, which expires at the end of the year. I would encourage you to contact your members of Congress today and urge them to extend the tax credit. Geothermal can provide significant energy savings and the tax credit makes the upfront cost more reasonable.

Finally, if you weren’t able to attend our Annual Meeting, three new members were elected to our Customer Connections Committee. We would like to welcome Jerry Jongeling, Sioux Falls, SD; Brad Lawrence, Madison, SD; and Ashley Rentsch, Volga, SD. Jason Niemann of Arlington, SD was re-elected to his position on the committee. Other members include Chair Bill Lewellen, Miller, SD; Vice Chair Anita Lowary, Groton, SD; Kris Manderfeld, New Ulm, MN; Vern Hill, Plankinton, SD; and Michele Farris, State of South Dakota.

CEO’s Report – May 2016

Every strong organization has a plan, a vision of where they want to be five, ten or even twenty years in the future. A strategic plan outlines that vision, the company’s future objectives, as well as how we plan to meet those objectives. It provides everyone – staff, board members and customers – with a clear direction.

The importance of planning is evidenced by our recent rating upgrade by Moody’s. We had a goal of increasing our financial strength, and although it wasn’t always easy, we stayed the course and were rewarded with a positive outcome. This also reaffirmed the need for a formal plan, something that addresses each aspect of Heartland and a clear path for achieving our goals on every front.

Several months ago, Heartland started our strategic planning process. Staff and board members worked together to assess our current situation and lay out our goals. We identified our strengths, weaknesses, and key performance indicators, performed an industry analysis and laid out a financial model to assess potential results of opportunities pursued.

After working on individual sections of our plan, we decided to bring in an outside perspective to help us tie it all together into one comprehensive strategy. We retained the services of Brian Bonde, who over the next three months will be facilitating a board strategic planning session, interviewing customers, and helping us to roll out the final plan.

As we discussed the necessary elements of the plan, we realized it was vital to get customer input. At our upcoming Annual Meeting May 9, we will be holding roundtable discussions to do just that. All customers in attendance will be able to share their thoughts and ideas on the direction of Heartland. Brian will be working with staff in advance of the meeting to prepare an activity that will provide meaningful feedback.

In addition, Brian will be conducting interviews with a select group of customers, most likely members of the Customer Connections Committee, to address the strengths and perceptions of Heartland. While the conversations will be reported back to us, it will be done in a way as to keep the identity of the specific interviewees confidential. We feel this will be important to ensure honest feedback.

It is our hope to roll out our strategic plan at our Summer Conference in July. While it will take time to analyze and summarize all of the information gathered at our board planning session, annual meeting and in customer interviews, as well as complete the final plan, having this plan in place is a priority, and we want to complete it in a timely manner.

The intent of all this is to have a guiding document, something we can look at when making a decision and say, “Does this fit with our strategic plan?” This is not something that will get put aside once complete and left to collect dust. A good strategic plan is a working document, something that is re-visited often and revised as needed. We will use this as our roadmap as we move this company forward.