The first week of January, Christina Dawson’s downtown Bowling Green office remained a glittering silver and white Christmas wonderland. Everything was showroom pristine, yet warm and inviting despite the frosted decor.
The thoughtfully decorated house is the command station for a service that changes lives and is growing into something that also aims to build and promote regional community.
Dawson is the founder and COO of SOKY Jobs. As is frequently the case, hindsight has revealed what she would call divine intention in her unlikely path. Fifteen years can propel a person light years beyond where they imagined they would be.
At 17 years old, Dawson was attending a private school, but her family was going through a rough financial patch, and school was expensive.
“I felt bad, so I came up with this plan about how I was going to figure out how to finish high school online on my own … but then I kind of decided I was going to ‘take a little break’ and I got a job without having a diploma, because nobody actually asked me to produce it.”
During her interview for a sales position at Nextel Wireless, Dawson said she had recently graduated.
“… really I wasn’t trying to be deceptive, I was just embarrassed. And he thought I meant college, but I was only 18 years old, had no high school diploma, yet I was making more money than most of my friends who had graduated from college. So here I am with no debt making $40,000 a year selling cellphones. I thought I was hot stuff.”
It was short-lived, however. The secret was weighing on her, and after quitting the job at Nextel, Dawson realized finding another job without even a GED diploma was tougher than she anticipated.
“I ended up kinding of breaking down and realizing that I had to face the music. I was given the opportunity to enroll at Lighthouse Academy. I was 19 at the time. If I could get my diploma, I was going to get it.”
With only a semester of Algebra II standing between Dawson and her high school diploma, she buckled down and did the work from home.
“The one thing that I always clinged to, and I think it’s what’s really gotten me as far as I have, is that I’ve failed time and time again, but I never give up. I pushed through it and barely eeked my way to a grade so that I could actually graduate. Back then I didn’t see it, but now I know that God had a plan for me in all of that because it gave me this really strong passion.”
Dawson spent a few years working different jobs before deciding she needed to get serious about her future. She knew her strength was in sales, so she searched online and applied for a position with Ashley HomeStore. The job was a leap in the right direction.
“I thought, ‘This is a great networking opportunity. Somebody is going to find me here.’ Well, that’s exactly what happened. A man walks in—I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life—(it) changed everything. I was back in the breakroom eating my lunch … somebody (over the headset) said, ‘Christina, you gotta get out here and help me.’ Had I said ‘No, I’m on my break,’ I would’ve missed the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The man who visited the furniture store that day was Bob Collier, president of Davert, a Canadian-based manufacturing company that in 2012 selected Bowling Green as its first U.S. location. Collier was shopping for everything he needed to set up short-term housing during times when he was in town on business. Dawson went as far as finding the floor plan for his apartment and selecting the best furniture for the layout. She pointed out that all the work would be easier for him with a personal assistant. He shrugged off the suggestion, but two weeks later Dawson opened an email that contained a job offer.
“I couldn’t believe it. I knew this is what I needed to do. It was not glamorous. Nothing about this job was glamorous. I was not a girl who ever would’ve thought I’d be working in a manufacturing company. But little did I know that God had a plan. And it would transform my life. I would go from being a living, breathing, walking misconception of the industry to becoming the biggest cheerleader in Southern Kentucky for manufacturing careers.”
Over two and half years, Dawson progressed from executive assistant to director of sales to director of sales and marketing and finally to corporate marketing/public relations for the whole company.
“Everything I did every day was for the first time. Every day I had to psych myself up—here I am in this male-dominated industry, no women hardly at all. There were days that I would go hide in my office and cry. But I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. It developed my character; I had to rely on God a lot. It was stressful. But in a good way. These were all things I needed to experience.”
Then, in February 2014, Dawson read a newspaper article about a grant from the City of Bowling Green and Warren County to the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce to hire a workforce coordinator.
“I literally thought to myself, ‘Did they create this job for me and forget to tell me?’ ”
Dawson took action, calling the Chamber president and setting up a meeting to sell herself for the position before it was even posted. Over the course of a few weeks, the job was posted and interviews conducted, but her lobbying paid off. Dawson was offered the position.
“I couldn’t believe it, and it was a pay cut for me, but I knew it was the right thing. I knew it’s what God wanted for me. I took it. It would turn out to be the most transformative two years of my life. My path is so divinely orchestrated that nobody could make up what I’ve been through in the past five years to set me up for where I am today.”
There had been a disconnect between companies with available positions and skilled employees finding them. In her two years as workforce coordinator with the Chamber, Dawson tackled that disconnect and saw the local unemployment rate drop significantly. However, the position would not be funded longer than two years, and Dawson had some tough decisions to make.
“I was given the opportunity to really understand what workforce development means, to see what it looks like day-to-day from all different aspects. I’d love to say that I was smart enough to have been planning all of this since day one—I wasn’t—but what I was doing was market research to develop a product and a service, a solution for all of these needs, for all of these problems. I’m a problem solver. That’s who I am, that’s what I do. Do not give me problem you don’t want fixed, because I will not be able to help myself. So when I was told that the program I had worked so hard to build wasn’t going to continue, I had no other option. There were several companies that wanted to hire me directly, but that wasn’t enough … my passion was to help the person, the individual, find what was right for them.”
Out of this drive to help as many people as possible, SOKY Jobs was born.
“My last day as the workforce coordinator was the last day of the month—it was March 31, which happened to be a Thursday. And I remember everybody saying, ‘Well you’re going to take the day off tomorrow.’ But I didn’t. I started my company on April 1 of 2016, April Fool’s Day on a Friday, and I held a hiring event. I helped four people get a job that day.”
SOKYJobs.com posts open positions for regional employers, but Dawson touts the major difference between her service and the myriad national job sites that exist.
“Companies who invest in those sites, you are 100 percent relying on the jobseeker. That means you are going to wait for people who are going to go look for a job to go and look for it. SOKY Jobs—totally different ballgame. … We post ads on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter; we drive unsuspecting candidates to the website to apply. If you’re not in the market for a job, you’re not going to pick up on the fact that such and such is hiring, so that’s why we just plop it right in their newsfeed. We market jobs like any other marketing company that advertises any kind of consumer-based product. We sell jobs just like somebody sells ink pens. Our reach right now averages around 170,000 people a month.”
Dawson won’t stop there, however. She has a bigger picture in mind. SOKY Jobs is evolving into something more than just a job marketing service; it will promote the entire region. The company now has contracts with Butler, Allen and Simpson counties which allows companies in those counties to post their jobs for free.
“The contracts that we’ve signed with Butler, Allen and Simpson, we are doing marketing for their community. … People move across the country for a job every day. Why would they not move to Franklin? Not move to Scottsville? Why would they not move to Butler County? There are so many opportunities. … We are doing community profiles. We’re going to be attracting people based on the job. But what about the housing? What is it like to live there? SOKY Jobs will have a portal for each of our communities, and they can find all that information right there at their fingertips. It makes so much more sense to do it as a region because we have so much to offer as a region. … I’ve got this whole new passion for growing communities.”
In just two years, SOKY Jobs has gone from a one-person run website to a five-employee operation. Dawson dreams big. She hopes to expand the video production the company has begun; personally, she wants to delve deeper into her passion for music as a singer-songwriter; she also sees the possibility of replicating SOKY Jobs in other regions; but in all this she admits it’s only partly in her control.
“I believe God has a plan for all of us and instills in us a passion and a purpose for what we’re supposed to do, and if you can link together that passion with your purpose, the sky’s the limit for what He can accomplish in your life. I am so blessed to have been able to find both of those things.”