Returning to her roots
Williams working to keep Laurens’ economy strong
Editor’s note: This feature first ran in a special publication called Hometown Pride, published June 30, 2020, featuring people and organziations from Fort Dodge and the surrounding area who are making a difference in their communities.
LAURENS — Even though Emily Williams loved her experience growing up on a farm in small town Iowa, she never thought she would return to that lifestyle when she left to attend college at Iowa State University.
“I was a farm kid,” Williams said. “I came from several generations of farming and grew up on an acreage just outside of Laurens.”
After graduating from Laurens-Marathon High School in 2007, Williams said she was ready to explore places beyond northwest Iowa.
“I couldn’t wait to graduate and see the world,” Williams said. “I attended Iowa State University and started out studying animal science pre-vet. It took me about a year to realize, although I love animals, I would rather work with people.”
So Williams graduated from ISU with a major in communications and a minor in advertising.
Her first job after graduating was working for the Iowa State University Foundation in the College of Engineering. There, she raised money to support programs for the university.
Between attending Iowa State and working for the foundation, she spent six years in Ames.
“Something crazy happened after that,” Williams said. “I was always eager to leave home and experience the world on my own. I swore I would never move back or live on a farm again, but after being away for those six years, I found myself really missing my family and missing the small-town feel where everyone knows your name.”
So in 2013, she found a position at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake as an assistant to the president and board of trustees.
“That was close enough for me and allowed me to continue promoting higher education,” Williams said.
She would work for BVU for the next seven years.
While there, she married a farmer from Pocahontas County who lived just a few miles from where she grew up.
Williams and her husband are now raising their two children on that farm.
“It really has come full circle,” Williams said.
In 2019, Williams discovered another opportunity that has moved her even closer to home.
In December 2019, Williams was hired as a workforce marketing coordinator for Pocahontas County Economic Development and Iowa Central Community College.
“It has been a perfect match for me,” Williams said. “I could not be more happy working to improve and to grow Laurens and the rest of Pocahontas County.”
A key part of Williams’ role is to promote the Iowa Central career academy in Laurens, which opened in January.
“My goal is to help improve the workforce in Pocahontas County through that academy,” Williams said, “to solve some of the workforce issues we are seeing.”
Through the academy, students can take classes like welding and industrial machining.
“Laurens has a number of large manufacturing facilities,” Williams said. “The businesses have told us many times they are needing skilled employees in those areas.”
She added, “In order to solve the workforce issue, Iowa Central launched the career academy to focus on manufacturing areas, but also to expand that to any other areas our local businesses are needing. For example, we plan to potentially offer things like QuickBooks training, a CDL course, things like that. That’s one of my main goals is to promote the career academy and promote our local businesses.”
Some of the larger companies in Laurens include: Positech Corporation, which sells things like hydraulic cylinders; Pengo, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of augers; Fisher Hydraulics, a hydraulic equipment supplier; and Bobalee, a hydraulic repair service.
One particular program Williams is passionate about is an apprenticeship program through the career academy that will allow students to find work immediately following high school graduation.
“It will allow them to enter the workforce right after high school,” Williams said. “They will complete a registered apprenticeship program.”
Williams has been busy since arriving back in the county she loves. And the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated that.
“We have been extremely busy and we wear a lot of different hats with this pandemic,” Williams said. “Some businesses were completely closed down, while others were allowed to stay open. We have been communicating with our businesses by snail mail letters, letting them know of resources such as the Paycheck Protection Program, grant opportunities we came across through SBA (Small Business Administration).
“We also interacted on social media, because by the time we sent a letter out, something else changed. We also created a web page on our website devoted to COVID-19 resources for our businesses to help them apply for a loan or different grants. It was so fast-paced through the thick of it. We were on the phones almost all day long for support and trying to point businesses in the right direction for what their needs were. We are still reaching out to our businesses and getting a feel for the landscape as businesses are starting to open back up.”
Williams has an office in Laurens and Pocahontas.
She’s thrilled to be able to help her hometown thrive at a time when many rural communities are shrinking.
“I knew I always wanted to make a difference in whatever career choice I ended up with,” Williams said. “Shortly after I graduated in Laurens, that high school ended up closing its doors. So right then and there I knew I wanted to make a difference in Laurens and Pocahontas County.
She’s enjoyed meeting new people and seeing faces she remembers growing up.
“It’s surprising how many people come up and remember me from playing softball in high school or you did this or that,” Williams said. “That is so typical of small towns. Everyone knows and remembers your name. It’s very heartwarming, and that’s what I missed about small towns. They know your background. It’s been fun to get back in touch with the people I grew up with.”