Sarah Iglehart knows a thing or two about economic development, and she attributes part of her success to style as well as technical expertise. But we’re not talking just a crisp blazer and a killer set of heels — Sarah understands how to find out what prospects are looking for and how to position Indianapolis as the only choice that comes to mind.
As Indy Chamber’s Vice President of Regional Economic Development, Sarah Iglehart has a lot on her plate. For starters, Sarah and her team are responsible for attracting industry to Indianapolis, making opportunities for major investments and high-quality, good-paying jobs a reality for Central Indiana. However, pitching Indy’s central location, easy-to-navigate roadways, great amenities, and relatively low cost of living isn’t always enough to place Indy on the top of a site developer’s list.
Fortunately for Indy, Sarah has fine-tuned her relationship-building style that’s garnered the attention of site consultants and companies, making the region’s prospects for new investments, and the great jobs that come with them, better than ever.
Carving Out a Space for Herself
Sarah’s career foundation was laid in the consulting world, where she got to see firsthand how rigorous, and rewarding, the economic development space could be.
“My early career in consulting was incredibly formative to me as a leader and a person. I worked with incredibly talented people, many of whom I still consider friends today, and learned so much about not only local government, but also how to show up in a professional setting and to command a space,” says Sarah. “There was no shortage of mentors to me in this stage of my career, and I am fortunate that I have experienced the same with each position I’ve held since. I’ve learned so much from each woman I’ve worked for and will be forever grateful to them.”
The theme of relationships has followed Sarah throughout her career journey, manifesting itself through not only mentorship opportunities but those that make or break a region-defining deal. Without her roots in the consulting space, it’s likely Sarah wouldn’t have the perspective or patience she has today.
“The biggest surprise when making the shift from consulting to practitioner was that consulting and developing the plan is often the easy part — implementation is the hard part. As a consultant, it’s impossible to fully understand the dynamics a client will face in implementation, whether political or relational. Managing those dynamics with elected officials, key stakeholders, and constituents is critically important, but also takes time and patience.”
Learning to Lead, and When to Sign Off, While Still Getting the Job Done
Navigating the responsibility of leading a team focused on a major region’s retention and resurgence of business investment is not for the faint of heart. And it’s a challenge made more complicated by adding the title of “mother” to one’s resume. While with the Chamber, Sarah became a mother, not once but twice — and the second time as a VP.
“My leadership style has certainly evolved,” says Sarah. “Early in my career I was still learning who I was and just didn’t have the experience or self-awareness to know what works for me. I had this idea of what leadership needed to be and struggled to emulate that because it just wasn’t me. A huge turning point for me was becoming a mother. By no means does a woman need to be a mother to be a good leader, but for me, it forced some boundaries and priorities that I don’t think I would have otherwise discovered. It allowed me to lean in toward the things that I value, and I carry that into all my interactions with my team.”
As a native Hoosier but Indy transplant, the opportunity and potential of impacting the region was a challenge Sarah met head-on.
“It was easy for me to see the momentum our region had had and the strength of assets from an economic development perspective. Two of my key short-term goals when taking the position were to focus on our business development efforts to drive activity to Indy and to fully staff up a couple of positions that had been vacant. Those were my goals in January 2020. By March, we were on a hiring freeze and all business development activity had been canceled,” reflects Sarah.
The onset of the pandemic and its impact on economic development in Indianapolis and beyond were more than Sarah, or the Chamber, had initially expected. But the organization pivoted both strategy and methodology to meet the needs of its members and forward-looking initiatives.
“For most of 2020, my team refocused to support our communities and the small businesses throughout the region while maintaining what portions of our traditional portfolio of business development and projects remained. Now, almost two and a half years later, it feels like we’re finally making the progress towards the bigger goals that I had wanted. We have a newly developed strategy, Accelerate Indy, to guide our work for the next four years and have key team members in place to drive our long-term goals of net new jobs, net migration, and Indy region perceptions.”
Honing a Style All Her Own
Landing a VP role at 31 is no small feat, but Sarah accomplished just that.
“I never predicted the trajectory or speed with which my career path would progress. Fortunately, I’ve had great examples of leaders, I’ve served in various volunteer leadership roles, and I care a great deal about this work,” shares Sarah. “Earning this role wasn’t just a testament to the many individuals who built into me, but it was a turning point where I started to acknowledge the expertise I’ve built in the economic development space while also working to cultivate a team of future economic development leaders underneath me. There’s a great responsibility that comes with both of those realizations, and I’m not sure age changes that much!”
Conveying the value of a region can be a tough nut to crack, especially considering that you’re competing against the rest of the nation for future investments. But Sarah’s lent her perspective and approach to the Chamber’s efforts, shifting their development pursuits from wide-reaching campaigns to human-centric, relationship-focused initiatives. In thinking of how best to position the Indianapolis region to potential industries, Sarah has this insight to share:
Authenticity is number one. “Our priority is to build relationships with the site consultants and companies that are interested in our region. Part of that is a personal relationship and the other is advocating for the authentic assets of Indy to sell our region – we can’t sell ourselves as something we’re not.”
A personalized approach is essential to connecting with future opportunities. “Historically, mailers, sales trips/conferences, and email communication have been the bulk of our efforts. We are shifting to adding a more personalized approach with one-on-one meetings and tracking promotions. In a world where we are constantly inundated with information, I think personalization helps to cut through the noise. We have already seen this approach pay off with a few new projects.”
Proactive outreach with valuable information builds a narrative and rapport that opens doors. “While it may not pay off immediately, this approach keeps us top of mind when something does come. A great example is our monthly economic indicators produced by the Director of Research. This includes data on the economy that we proactively send to our list of site consultants. The valuable information means they look at that campaign mail. They also continuously see our logo and the Indy Region, keeping us top of mind.”
Refining Her Work Style as Life’s Demands Change
While the idea of adding tiny humans to the list of responsibilities can be panic-inducing for even the most calm and collected individual, Sarah says that motherhood impacted her for the better both personally and professionally.
“Adding ‘mother’ to the resume was a huge shift for me. With it came a whole new set of challenges and emotions, but motherhood also brought almost a sense of clarity. I had a better grasp on my priorities and values,” Sarah shares, adding, “I now set some clear boundaries for myself that I never did earlier in my career. For example, I turn off email notifications, and if I do need to work in the evenings, I make sure that it’s after my kids go to bed. I am also a firm believer in self-care in all forms: physical, mental, and creative.”
Her two boys, ages three and 15 months, may not understand the importance of Sarah’s role or what exactly she does while at work, but they nonetheless are sources of inspiration and encouragement for her career.
“My three-year-old is my biggest cheerleader anytime he sees me in anything. Everyone should have a hype man like my three-year-old,” Sarah says.
At the end of the day, it’s not the accolades that drive her; it’s the opportunity to make an impact — not just for her benefit, but for that of the future of her children and the community that surrounds them. Economic development is a long game, requiring patience, rigor, and persistence. Sarah’s strategic vision and well-rounded personal perspective has her poised to take on whatever the future brings.
“When someone hears ‘Sarah Iglehart,’ I hope they see an authentic professional that leads with empathy, values collaboration, and is making our region a better place,” says Sarah. “Great style is icing on the cake.”
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