This month we welcome and profile business and economic development professional Julie Emslie of Viroqua who recently joined the VEDA Board of Directors. Community and economic development have been and continue to be an integral part of her life.
She has a master’s in Rural Development as part of the Peace Corps Masters International through the University of Alaska Fairbanks, through which she spent two years as a community development specialist in rural Jamaica. She also worked for four years as a project manager for the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation (a similar entity to VEDA) in Fairbanks, Alaska.
“Some of the main projects I oversaw during my tenure there,” said Julie, “were the Agriculture project, Rural Outreach/Regional Hub project and Business Retention and Expansion program.” In addition, she chaired the Fairbanks Young Professionals Council, chaired the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce’s Urban and Rural Affairs Committee, and served on the advisory council for the Fairbanks First, Think Local program.
Julie is an accredited small business consultant and has certification as a cooperative business development practitioner. “Most of my professional and academic experience regarding economic and community development centered in rural settings where economic development sought to occur in conjunction with preserving the lifestyle and culture of the communities I worked for and lived in,” she explained.
Currently, she works as the Southwest Rural Small Business Consultant and Outreach Specialist for the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC). “WWBIC is a leading statewide economic development organization which provides resources to small business owners and entrepreneurs,” she said. “Although WWBIC’s resources are available to all, it primarily focuses on women, people of color, and low income individuals providing direct lending, education, and one-on-one technical assistance.”
As WWBIC’s Southwest Wisconsin regional representative, Julie sees her job as “furthering the organization’s presence in this part of the state through developing the work/relationships/reputation we have here, while also helping WWBIC to adapt its approach and practices to better serve this region and rural communities in general.” Among other things, she works on strengthening partnerships in the region, identifying gaps in the small business development ecosystem, spearheading WWBIC’s southwest outreach activities, providing consulting services to loan clients, and working on strategic planning for the region and for WWBIC’s rural work.
Julie is especially impressed with the Food Enterprise Center, the former NCR manufacturing plant at 1201 N. Main St. in Viroqua that VEDA owns and operates, which has 22 successful business tenants. “The Food Enterprise Center is a really amazing resource facility to have in our county, and I believe is a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of rural communities and culture,” she said. “VEDA’s commitment to the vision and development of the Food Enterprise Center is quite an accomplishment,” she went on. “Being involved in rural economic development in other parts of the country, I repeatedly heard national leaders in the field identify the Food Enterprise Center as a great example of the creative ways successful rural economies are adapting to changing times.”
As a new board member, Julie wants to help support further expansion of VEDA’s reach within the county and to other industries. She also feels that community and economic development are something we all can take part in.
As she explains, “When I worked at Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation, our president and CEO would always tell all borough residents that Fairbanks was ‘our community, our economy, our responsibility’, meaning that we all should be engaged in ensuring that the place we lived and worked remained vibrant. I agree with this sentiment. If you want things to change, or even stay the same, in your community, then get involved and contribute. I think we should all be asking ourselves what we’re doing to benefit the communities, networks, or causes we care about and are directly, or indirectly, a part of.”
If you’d like to support VEDA’s mission of creating economic wealth and prosperity while preserving our rural Vernon County lifestyle, consider becoming a member. We are a nonprofit, 501© 3 organization, not funded by county or state dollars, and contributions are tax deductible. Donations can be submitted by downloading the membership form on our website at www.veda-wi.org and sending to VEDA at the Food Enterprise Center, 1201 N. Main St., Suite 6, Viroqua, WI 54665. We look forward to your partnership!