A native of St. Louis, Joe Hrdlicka first moved to Iowa in 1992 to work for former U.S. Rep. Jim Lightfoot. It wasn’t long before he put down roots in the state and began a marketing and public relations career that has spanned nearly 20 years. Prior to coming to work for the Iowa Biotechnology Association on April 1, Hrdlicka was vice president of public affairs for the Iowa Communications Alliance, a position he held for four years. He earlier was vice president of marketing for the Iowa Lottery, and had also worked for Strategic America as director of public relations. He succeeds Rachel Hurley, who took a position with Monsanto Co. 

Did you initially plan a career in politics? 
At that time, I really enjoyed politics, and certainly had the thought – as many young professionals in politics do – that I would someday run for office. But as you evolve toward having a family, you quickly find out, particularly in today’s political climate, that it’s a 24/7 career. When the opportunity came to work for Strategic America, that seemed like a real natural fit at that time. And working for the Iowa Communications Alliance really offered me the chance to continue to be involved in politics, but not to a level that’s overwhelming to me or my family.

What have you learned about the Iowa Biotechnology Association so far? 
It’s been a whirlwind because there’s a lot happening in the industry. We educate and advocate to promote the vitality of the biotechnology industry, whether it’s educating our members or the public about issues in which our members are engaging or helping policymakers to better understand the work we do. 

Another big part of what we do is what we refer to as business development – helping to grow the industry. ... For example, we recently spent the better part of a week in Philadelphia with the Iowa Economic Development Authority at a conference promoting the state to prospects about partnership opportunities in the state.  

Do you expect to see a lot of growth for the association in the next few years? 
I do, and that’s one of the things that attracted me to this position. We have about 85 member companies currently. Our membership is diverse, from small startup companies all the way up to Fortune 300-type companies like DuPont, Cargill and Monsanto. Most of the companies are in one of three arenas: industrial/bioscience, health care and the agriscience area.

There is tremendous growth potential for this industry in Iowa; I think our membership can grow exponentially over the next five years. ... I think it’s exciting to see the passion that our members have for supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. They view that as their succession plan. So many people in Iowa talk about how we can retain our young talent, and I think this industry represents a way that we can do that because there are so many quality jobs. And there will be more as the industry evolves. 

What’s the biggest marketing challenge you’ve ever faced? 
I think the challenge I faced in the telecommunications industry is very similar to the challenge I face in this industry. For example, people take for granted the accessibility to broadband, and that’s a very necessary utility. But it’s a complex issue, and the challenge is working to help the public understand the nuances attached to it and why it’s so important. People take for granted that right now as we speak, there are very many people working to create a sustainable food supply, people working on solutions that are very prominent health care issues and people working toward the production of renewable industrial products. This is important work, but it’s complicated. So the challenge is getting the public to understand it and to recognize the importance of it. 

What do you like to do in your off time? 
I do a lot of endurance events; I’ve done triathlons. I just participated in the Market to Market Relay, which I had never done before. I’ve done the Des Moines Marathon, the Des Moines Half Marathon and Dam to Dam. I’m to the point now where I try to pick and choose events that I’ve never done; that makes training a little bit more interesting.