— A lawyer from Ecuador has found a new calling as a coach, mentor and friend to her employees at Ag Jobs.
Solange Cooley started Ag Jobs in 2019, providing her clients with a diverse workforce and her employees jobs that include transportation as well as room and board. She also provides human resources support to her clients.
Ag Jobs’ office is located in downtown Willmar at 300 Litchfield Ave. SW, and all of their employees are also from Willmar or surrounding areas.
One of its most recent clients is the Brunswick Corporation, which makes Lund Boats. Cooley negotiated with Brunswick for five months before signing a contract that worked for both parties, he said.
The original plan was to provide employees for the New York Mills manufacturing plant, but housing was a major challenge in that area. Lund Boats then suggested moving part of its manufacturing operations to Willmar.
“Oh my gosh, we’re definitely going to move this to Willmar,” Cooley agreed. “This is going to be great for Willmar. Our community will have something different. We don’t have a lot of manufacturing here.”
Following a groundbreaking ceremony in October for the new light manufacturing plant in Willmar,
Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission
Sarah Swedburg’s business development manager commented on how Ag Jobs “really taps into that workforce that we have here” and is “a great example of some unique things and innovations happening.”
“Sol not only provides jobs for the Latino community, but makes sure that the companies that employ them foster the community and help those people integrate into American society. They are doing a really important job,” added Kelsey Olson, specialist in communications and marketing from EDC. , noting that all Cooley employees had the same shoes at the opening ceremony. “Ag Jobs provides everyone with shoes, with good support shoes so they can do their job. Just little things like that.”
In Ecuador, Cooley worked primarily on labor issues, such as benefits and employee rights. Managing a workforce and helping clients staff their companies was a natural transition for her skill set.
“I always wanted to go back to work in that profession; unfortunately, I couldn’t,” Cooley said, noting that the laws in Ecuador are completely different than in the US and that not being fluent in English at the time was also a problem. barrier.
After following her family to Minnesota from Ecuador, Cooley worked at the Jennie-O Turkey Store as a computer operator and “put her English to work,” she said. She considers Jennie-O a great school to get to where she is today.
At Jennie-O, she met people from diverse backgrounds, including the diversity found within the Latino community. Although they may be similar, Hispanic cultures are also very different, she explained, noting that when talking to someone who is Mexican, the same word means something different to them than it does to her.
Eventually, Cooley was working for another staffing services company and realized that he had the skills and ability to start his own company doing something similar, but in a way that he felt was more beneficial to his employees and clients.
His company has grown from five to 100 employees since 2019, and is now diversifying more into manufacturing clients rather than just agricultural clients.
Part of Cooley’s goal and mission is to show people that Latinos don’t just come to the US to work in the fields or with animals. They have “wonderful abilities” that are impressive, she said.
She used herself as an example, explaining that although she was a lawyer in her home country, she “came back to zero” working on the Jennie-O line, where she wondered, “What am I doing here? What’s going on?” in?”
Now she sees it as something positive and that it helped her rebuild herself, learning more about the various cultures and learning more skills. “I thought my prior knowledge was rubbish, because I didn’t study here, but it’s not. I was wrong,” she said.
Cooley makes sure to ask his employees what they did in their country before coming to the US They tell him what they did, but explain that they can’t get jobs in those career fields here because of their lack of English skills.
He currently has 10 clients for whom he provides part of the necessary labor. Some of his clients include
KLN family brand
Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative
US 212 Meat Corporation
Hanson Silo Company
“Ag Jobs and the services it provides have really been a great extension of our team in meeting some of the employment demands we’ve experienced,” said Joyce Anderson of Shoremaster in Little Falls, which makes waterfront equipment like boat lifts. , docks and other marine accessories. “Those employees came in with a great attitude, work ethic and a desire to grow and be a part of our team.”
Cooley explained that its reputation and the best publicity come from its employees, with customers often commenting, “I don’t know what you do, but they love you, they love the company.”
With her employees, Cooley has an open-door policy, and they see her as a friend and coach, as well as someone who has gone through a similar experience coming to the US and finding meaningful employment. “I think in my community and our culture, that’s very important,” she said.
“Sol has been very professional and responsive in the two years we’ve worked with her,” said Kristi Froemming of TFC Poultry, an Ashby-based company that debones turkey thighs. “Her care for her by every employee is obvious and appreciated. Happy workers are important and this is a high priority for Sol.”
Part of their service is to prevent them from calling or showing up. Your company provides transportation, as well as room and board, for your employees.
“Ag Jobs has provided a very stable workforce for more than two years,” Froemming said. “Ag Jobs has been very reliable with our workflow. It provides quality employees who are trained, on time, and have what we need to be successful in our business.”
Cooley’s husband works in agriculture and they have three children, Ava, 14, Eon, 11 and Jackson, 4.