Transcript: “Space for Leaders in Richland County – like Jason Guilliams” – S2 E4
There is space for leaders in Richland County. Jason Guilliams started his career here as an entrepreneur and quickly found opportunity to make a difference. By being a part of several leadership boards, Guilliams brings his talents to the table for his community on a regular basis – and you can too. Hear Jason’s story about finding his career path here in Richland County Ohio.
CLINT: Welcome to season two of the Workforce Pulse. My name is Clint Knight, Director of Workforce Development here at the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development. Here in season 2, we’re going to hear stories from individuals who live, work, and play here in Richland County, and we’re excited to share those stories with you. The message here is that there is space for everyone here in Richland County. We’re going to hear the stories of how they’ve found their space, how they’ve created their space, and how they’ve discovered space for the things that they love to do, the things that they wanted to do, and the families and opportunities that they wanted to create. Make sure that you subscribe and follow Workforce Pulse as you can hear each of these stories as they come out here over the coming months.
So, we are here on the Workforce Pulse Podcast for this episode. I have Jason Guilliams with me. Jason lives in Bellville, OH, and Jason, you’re pretty involved here in Richland County. You are on the Mansfield Christian School Board.
CLINT: You are on the board at the Buckeye Imagination Museum also, in transition, known as Little Buckeye Children Museum, and you are on the Village Council in Bellville, and you were a business owner here. So, you were a State Farm agent formerly, but you’ve moved on in State Farm, still with State Farm, just a little bit of a different capacity. You’ve come to Richland County and dove in headfirst.
JASON: We did, yes, absolutely.
CLINT: So, I’m excited to talk about all of that stuff. We’re going to get to that level of involvement and how you can get involved here, and what your life has been like since you’ve been here a little over a decade at this point, I guess.
JASON: Yes, yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
CLINT: But I want to talk about where you came from. You were originally from Ohio and just kind of landed here, right?
JASON: Absolutely yeah. Born in Coshocton and then spent the early years in Mount Vernon from kindergarten through fourth grade, and then my parents relocated to the Mansfield area when I was starting fifth grade. We lived in Lexington and went fifth through 12th grade and graduated from Lexington just a few years ago.
CLINT: Did your family move here because of work, or did you have family ties in Richland County to begin with?
JASON: It was actually for work. So, my dad recently retired from State Farm after 36 years and so he relocated from the Central Ohio area to the North Central Ohio area to be a claims adjuster for State Farm here in Mansfield.
CLINT: Seems State Farm is a family business. I’ve noticed that over the years, so it’s interesting that that work has followed you all the way through.
JASON: Absolutely yes. My mom works for State Farm currently. My brother and sister-in-law work for State Farm. My wife did it for 11 years before we moved back up here to open my agency. So, we joke that it must be a little bit of a cult.
CLINT: That’s an inside State Farm joke?
JASON: Yes, yes, right.
CLINT: So, work brought your family to Richland County. You graduated high school here and then you went to college, right?
JASON: Yes, so I went to Mount Vernon Nazarene University, met my wife Tricia, who’s from the Butler area at MVNU, and after we graduated, we kind of planted in the Columbus area and started our careers at that point. I was in pharmaceutical sales for a time being and was just really looking for something more with greater purpose and that led us back to the Richland County area to open my State Farm agency.
CLINT: There is a lot in there that I want to pick all that apart shortly. So, let’s talk about the idea of graduating college and moving to Columbus, right? Or I mean, if you’re talking nationwide someone who grows up in a smaller town or grows up in a suburb and sees the big city lights, right? They go to college, so a lot of people like myself want to go to a bigger college. You went to a smaller but very notable university at Mount Vernon and then went to the big city. What were you looking for? What was the mindset when you left Mount Vernon and went further away from Richland County?
JASON: So, our thought was to be able to experience different things, events, cultures that we didn’t believe that we had in Richland County and just the newness of something bigger, that bigger meant greater. And so that’s what kind of led us to the Columbus area to say, OK, we don’t want to go back home and do what our parents did. So, let’s try something new.
CLINT: But you did end up coming home.
JASON: We did, we did.
CLINT: It’s a familiar story, right? Yeah, I do workforce development all day everyday and one of our I say that one of our biggest assets is in the industry the term is the boomerang population, the group that they go out, they look for that adventure, the big city lights, they look for those other cultures and those experiences, but in the end they end up coming back. We spend a lot of time in workforce development and talent attraction trying to figure out how to make sure they come back, and how do we give them the softest landing possible when they do come back. Because they don’t realize when they leave that they’re gonna want those things. They’re gonna want those things that are familiar. They’re gonna want that space that’s familiar, even though they don’t know it at 21, 22, 23, their minds are going to change, right? Is that fair to say that’s kind of what happened with you guys or.
JASON: Absolutely, we were actively involved with our church, our community, had lots of friends, really felt like we had connected in all the ways that we were looking for. No shortage of activities to do each evening or places to eat, but yet we just found ourselves, especially as we started planning for a family, searching for more, like we wanted deeper roots. That was really a challenge to identify just in the magnitude of a big city like Columbus, and so that’s when we started looking, not only for a career change, but also a location change. And so that’s what led us back up to Richland County was pursuing a State Farm agency opportunity to be a small business owner and really be able to get involved with the community in a deeper fashion and begin a family and start raising, raising our family here.
CLINT: So first, let’s talk about that idea of being a small business owner. Did you start working with State Farm before you came back to the Lexington area, or I guess, tell us the story about how that happened.
JASON: Yes, so I started at State Farm, working as a life insurance underwriter for a couple years and that was more of in a traditional cubical office environment, processing life insurance applications, which I appreciate all the folks that do that and for me I was like, OK if this is too routine. And so then moved into working for a State Farm agent in Mount Vernon as I transitioned into or prepared to open my own agency up in the Mansfield area on Lexington Ave, where the Old Bag of Nails is.
CLINT: OK, alright, so you’ve opened there so you chose the Mansfield area to open your first small business, right?
JASON: Yes, absolutely.
CLINT: As a small business owner.
JASON: There was a State Farm agent that was retiring, and so I had the opportunity to take over his book of business and grow it, and with all of that came looking for a new office space and building out an employee base, all the fun that comes from opening a new small business.
CLINT: So, you mentioned to me earlier that it was easy for you to identify resources to become a small business owner in Richland County. What types of things did you locate or resources did you use to get your help or make those connections?
JASON: Absolutely. So, some of the resources we used were obviously other State Farm agents that were established in the area. The Richland Area Chamber was a great resource to get connected for realtors and commercial brokers, because I had to find some space. Then even from an employee base, some of the local job boards, some of the early beginnings of social media helped from a local perspective of building my employee base, as well.
CLINT: Richland County is pretty tight knit when it comes to business, right? You’re able to find partners and help you get things rolling. Did you feel welcome when you came into the community?
JASON: I did. I felt welcomed by everyone in, and even folks that you would perceive as competitors, so other State Farm agents, even independent agents would stop in once I opened my agency and welcome me to the community, take me out to lunch when I would go to some of the Chamber After Hours. Just the excitement of having a new business in town. Folks would welcome and encourage me and lift me up, so all the way around felt very welcome when we moved back.
CLINT: That’s been one of the things when I get to go the ribbon cuttings for new businesses working at the Chamber, it’s pretty exciting to see who shows up, you know, not just people who are necessarily just interested in that product specifically, but they’re just there to celebrate new business, so that support in the community is exciting.
JASON: Absolutely, and a decade later, I still am amazed at, to your point, the different segments of the population that are represented at the ribbon cutting just to celebrate.
CLINT: It’s good stuff. So, you came back, started a new business, got that up and rolling, and then you found yourself involved in a number of other things that we talked about earlier. I know you and I crossed paths first through village council in Belleville, being active there and participating in that body. Tell me about how you got, you relocated, you physically moved to Belleville first, right?
JASON: Yes, yes.
CLINT: And then you ended up in on village council there.
JASON: Yes, so I had the opportunity that this was during the transition when Commissioner Banks was running for the Commissioner position and one of the council women, Mayor Brenkus now, was appointed to be the mayor and so that left an open seat. And what’s funny is the person who kind of said, hey, I want you to go down and talk to the mayor about this was a babysitter of mine when I was not even in school and knew we had moved back to the area and she lives just outside the village limits in Belleville and said, hey, I’ve talked to the mayor, go down and talk to her and see if there’s an opportunity and so that’s kind of how it started. I talked with the mayor and then came and met with the Councilman. And I was appointed from that point and then have gone through 2 election cycles since then.
CLINT: We’re talking about moving, relocating to a community, right? And then being a part of it, being actively involved. There are a lot of people who may not look at being on village council or City Council or being on one of those boards. They may not want to go to that level of involvement, right? But you just mentioned through like a third-party connection you had direct access to get on the phone with the mayor and talk about something, is that something that’s kind of unique to the villages and townships and cities in Richland County? Do you think?
JASON: I would say absolutely. When I think about living in the Columbus area and the suburbs that we lived in over the course of that decade, I would have never envisioned a way to be able to get plugged in locally to the community in the fashion that we have up here. And so, it’s been really neat to see the good work that’s happening, specifically in the Village of Belleville and then be a part of that and continue to shape that in the future, while still being really committed to protecting the heritage that’s made Belleville so great over the years.
CLINT: So, you said, being able to get plugged in, you were in town probably less than two years as resident of Belleville before you got plugged in on that level.
JASON: Yes, it was. It was over the year mark because you have to be a year to serve on council. However, it was less than that two-year mark, and I think it represents how, again, that welcoming perspective of how others look out for other folks and recognize strengths and gifts that each other have and we know we’re all better when we’re leveraging those, and so to invite that. I would have never thought of serving in the capacity of Village Council without a little bit of that nudge and someone else saying, I think you’ll be great at this, and so that was exciting to see how that unfolded and continues to unfold.
CLINT: And I see a lot of stories not just in Belleville, but in Shelby and in Lexington and in Mansfield, all of this collection of communities that makes up Richland County, the rallying points where people in the Community say, hey, we want to make a difference. We want to make this better, whether it be creating an event that hasn’t happened in over 20 something years, like of fireworks and the 4th of July celebration in Belleville, which is top of mind because it recently happened. To making sure that bicycle days in Shelby continues post pandemic, and the downtown revitalization that’s going on in Shelby and downtown Mansfield. All of these efforts, there’s a community rally that just surrounds them, stands them up, and makes them happen because they’re better for the community.
Specifically, one I want to talk about, you’ve found yourself on another board, as we mentioned, the Buckeye Imagination Museum, which is going through a growing experience right now, and that’s happening in the new Imagination District in Mansfield, which is something you guys have played a major role in.
JASON: Yes, so I was probably about a year into my agency and the founding executive director had approached me with shopping next door to my agency and had approached me about. Hey, would you consider serving on the board? At the time, our oldest Jackson was just starting to walk and so we had been into the museum a couple times and just recognized what a gem it was for our community. And so, the museum was going through a little bit of a transition at that period of time, and so I joined the board, as the founding executive director was moving out of her role and so that just created an opportunity to really connect with folks of various backgrounds in the community that were serving on the board and then be able to work through seeing the vision as more and more people were attracted to the museum and we were just outgrowing it, see the vision of what could a new location and bigger and better be, and that’s right around the corner. So that’s exciting.
CLINT: That’s another opportunity that you’ve been afforded, and I can’t skip over the fact that of your leadership abilities, right? Obviously, you’ve invested a lot of time and your talents in that and made that happen, but being in a county and a community of this size. You live in Belleville, but you’ve got crossover in Mansfield, and that just happens to be downtown Mansfield, and you’re able to do work in that space, as well.
JASON: Absolutely, connecting with different business owners and donors to be able to support the ongoing work. So, I see both the private sector and the public sector and how it can come together and actually work together. And I never cease to be amazed at just the overall generosity of donors throughout our community. When something good is there, it’s like, OK, how can we contribute and make it better? So, a lot of this progress would not happen without the generosity of others.
CLINT: So, another thing that you’re a part of, you’re on a school board also in Richland County, correct?
JASON: Yes, yes.
CLINT: So, on another episode we talked about with Jessica Heiser about the Spanish Immersion school and the variety of school districts and styles that exist here in Richland County. And you are on the board at Mansfield Christian Schools, which is another incredible educational option here in Richland County.
JASON: Yes, I serve as president of the Mansfield Christian School Board. I have been serving there for four years, and one of the things when we moved back to the area that we were so impressed with were just, to your point, the educational options available to families as they find what’s best suited for their children. So for us, our children are enrolled at Mansfield Christian and it’s just been a great opportunity to be able to serve through another organization that’s committed to driving excellence into the community and raises everyone up through the work that it does.
CLINT: So, you’re a busy person.
CLINT: You’re extremely connected, which is one of the things that we’ve talked about here. You know, living here, having a family here, having your business here, doing work here, volunteering here. However, you want to be involved in this county. It’s possible. Would you agree with that?
JASON: I would absolutely agree and would encourage it. The way to help make a community stronger and better is to be involved and to give back and serve and that’s something that Trisha and I have been committed to since we became, you know, since we got married, and certainly as our children grow up. If we’re going to be involved in areas, why not be a part of making a difference and giving back and serving.
CLINT: Individuals want to be involved at different levels, right? You may not be someone who’s looking to be president of a school board, or you might not want to be in a political position, but another opportunity that is offered here is the accessibility. We mentioned your accessibility to be able to get in touch with the Mayor of Belleville, right? You mentioned the county commissioners earlier. The fact that you can see them on the sidewalk. I was walking down the sidewalk last week and was at the crosswalk with one of our county commissioners and we accidentally ended up sitting down and having a sandwich together for lunch, and that’s a reality. You may not want to run a political campaign and get voted into office, right? You may not want to have that level of influence, but the ability to have a conversation with those people who hold those roles can easily be done here.
JASON: Absolutely, I can’t count the number of times that I’ve walked into a restaurant and one of our judges is in the area or one of our elected officials from any number of the communities around us, school officials and leaders, and that ability to just be able to connect and say hi and know that they’re part of our community. They’re not sitting in some ivory tower somewhere. They’re actually connected and serving and living, and that gives all of us opportunities to be able to have the confidence that we can influence and impact on how we live and how our communities operate.
CLINT: That’s an amazing story. To be able to have that in a community.
CLINT: Jason, I appreciate you sharing your story. I think it’s important for anyone who might be considering coming back from being a boomerang, as we mentioned or coming here and starting a small business, as you absolutely mentioned. There’s definitely space for entrepreneurship, there’s space for creating new opportunity, and space for participation here in Richland County. And your proof of that. I appreciate you telling your story here on the Workforce Pulse Podcast. I appreciate your time.
JASON: I appreciate the opportunity.
CLINT: Thanks for listening to the Workforce Pulse Podcast. Make sure you subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so that you can be aware when the next episode is.