Laurie Folk is the City of Milbank’s new utilities clerk. Need help with your water bill? Want to make a payment? Laurie is on the job and ready to serve you Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Laurie says, “When Unity was absorbed by the City of Milbank, it created more work, and officials decided an additional position was necessary. She started on August 15. “My background is in finance, so it’s a natural fit. It’s good to be back to working with deposits and numbers, and there’s still a customer service aspect to it.”
In her former position at the Milbank Area Chamber, she was initially hired part-time to handle the finances and develop memberships. Shortly after her arrival in 2018, things changed, and so did Laurie’s job. “My duties grew from taking care of the finances and membership to managing all the events and tourism, too.” It was a steep learning curve. And, although it’s not a phrase most people in finance want to hear, “Just roll with it” became her new mantra.
She shifted her improvisational skills into high gear to manage the unpredictability factor and ended up creating interesting twists on traditional Chamber events. She recalls, “The COVID period, which for most people was less work, was more work for us. The community was struggling – for many businesses it was a sink or swim moment – and we had to rally together. That’s when we decided to do the Chamber’s gift card campaign. It generated over $52,000 in gift cards, and Grant County Economic Development kicked in another $43,000.” The money all ended up in the tills of Milbank businesses and bridged the gap long enough for most merchants to keep their heads above water. ”During COVID,” she says, “we also switched from holding the holiday Ol’ Mill Bucks drawings in stores each Saturday to playing Bingo on the radio for the entire month of December.”
“Treat Street usually spanned the entire length of Main Street on Halloween. However, during COVID we had to adapt it,” she says. “We collected treats, made Halloween bags, and delivered them to the classrooms at school. Although those were difficult times, they also helped to alter people’s perception of the Chamber. It let them know we really were there to work together and to help them. I think more people started to see the Chamber in a positive light.”
At times though, no matter how well you plan or think you’ve got everything figured out, something unexpected pops up. “Is it going to rain? Is it going to snow? Is it too windy? The weather affected many of our promotions – indoors and out,” Laurie says. “We had to cancel the Farm and Home Show last January because of a blizzard. I remember another year we had to cancel the first Christmas drawing and the Parade of Lights because of extreme weather.”
But she learned to focus on the things she could control. We worked hand-in-hand with everyone. We got the community involved and got the word out so everyone knew what was happening. As a Chamber, we were always trying and sometimes trying new things. The Farmers’ Market is one example. It brings people into town to find fresh produce and homemade items, but at the same time, they do errands and shop at local businesses.
“Also, during my time at the Chamber, I worked diligently to persuade vendors to come to Farley Fest. That was a project! I visited other communities to convince their vendors to come to our town. Last year – I mean in 2021 – we saw 68 vendors attend. That was the most Farley Fest has had since it started.” she says.” It was really great!”
“I think Farley Fest is still growing, and I’m really proud of that,” she adds. “This year, we brought back Q-Fest. A solid group of guys took it over and turned it back into a success. It was awesome! But it shows how events depend on volunteers. Volunteers are a key component and hard to find these days. A lot of people are already involved, but there’s always room for more.”
“Although, I have to say, the community support throughout my years at the Chamber was a blessing. As I’ve visited other communities, I realized we have it pretty good here. It’s a clean community. It’s very business oriented, and I think everyone tries to help everyone else out. In a lot of towns it isn’t like that.”
Laurie also got a preview of what was happening across the state every January. “I attended the South Dakota Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Pierre. We celebrated travel in South Dakota, encouraged each other, and got motivated for the upcoming year.”
“I also went to the MACE or the Mid-America Chamber Executives conference. It is hands-down the best thing the next Chamber director could do. The event is held in Sioux Falls, but attendees come from six states. I learned a lot about how other chambers function and the sharing of ideas got me all psyched up to get back to Milbank and start working on our next promotion.”
So why leave such an important and dynamic position?
“My kiddos are getting older,” Laurie explains, “My two youngest are in football and baseball, and it’s time for Mom to be a cheerleader. Owen is 17 and a senior this year. Oliver is in fourth grade, and Oscar is in second. My husband, Ronnie, works at Kibble. We have 4-H goats this year. So I’m hoping to get more involved with the animals on our family farm.’
“I also love quilting,” she says. “I have a couple of bags and quilts going and I hope to get back to them now. She laughs and says, “Maybe someday I’ll be a vendor at Farley and sell bags and quilts.”
And because her imagination is running wild, the conversation turns to: What if the world suddenly changed and her dream job materialized right in front of her? What if she magically had the skills, the training, and everything else just fell into place? What would that job be? “You know what” she says. “I’d probably be a radio DJ. I really got excited doing radio interviews for Chamber events. Playing music would be fun, too.” Her rock and “roll with it” attitude from her Chamber days is here to stay.