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For This New Manager, It’s All In The Family!

Laura Giebler is the new executive director of Phelps County Industrial Solutions in Rolla. Although one of Missouri’s youngest workshop managers, she grew up in workshops, working with her father, Eric Giebler, CEO of the Empac Group in Sullivan and Washington.
Laura Giebler brings an unusual perspective to her efforts as executive director for Phelps County Industrial Solutions in Rolla and Area VI director for MASWM.

Laura literally grew up around Missouri workshops.

Laura is the daughter of Eric Giebler, CEO of the Empac Group which operates shops in Sullivan and Washington, Mo. Workshops have been part of Laura’s life for as long as she can remember.

“Dad has been at Empac for 27 years, and I‘m almost 30,” she explained with a smile. “We’ve been involved with workshops as long as I can remember.” Her brother, Jacob, also works at Empac.

Laura worked at the former Merrimac Valley workshop even before it merged with another to form Empac. She held several jobs during the summer and breaks in high school, then later while home from college.

Change of Plans

But a career in the field was not part of her original plan. Laura attended Johnson University in Knoxville and earned a degree in history to pursue another dream: becoming a presidential historian. She still enjoys history but decided that as a career it really wasn’t what she wanted. After returning from college, she was open to “temporarily filling in” when the workshop needed a substitute assistant while a staff member underwent surgery.

“I thought, ‘I’d be happy to come in,’” she recalled. “Then I heard they were expanding the competitive employment program, and that was something I was really interested in.”

Not long after, the Merrimac and Washington workshops merged to form Empac, and suddenly a number of new initiatives were under way. A big need involved quality management, teaching individuals with disabilities to perform quality inspections of customer products. Laura answered the call.

New Horizons

She also realized she needed to go beyond Empac, where she was the boss’s daughter. “It had been my home all my life, but I felt that I needed to move on,” she explained. “Sheltered workshops are something I feel like I can continue to do, and more.” Last year, the opening was announced in Rolla, and after multiple interviews, she got the job.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “As much as I had been involved in workshops, I’ve found this to be dramatic. There is so much going on that you’re always challenged.”

A big factor is the “double duty” faced by all workshop staff members. One part human services agency and one part business, workshops deal with multiple layers of government regulation, efforts to bring new business contracts that generate income and more.

“You have to juggle so much,” she explained. “We have a mission to provide employment for individuals with disabilities. But to fulfill that, we also have to provide quality and services. If we can’t do that, we can’t take care of our people.”

In Rolla, Laura communicated these challenges to community groups, the city council and others. “Although we’re nonprofit, we don’t want people to look at us a charity,” she said. “We want to deliver value-added work. We have the capability to provide valuable work, and that’s what we should be doing.”

Big Picture

That might make it surprising that Laura agreed to serve as a MASWM Area Director when C.J. Welch announced his retirement from the volunteer position. Laura acknowledged the meetings take time, but she also believes workshops statewide need the networking and information shared by the group. “The smaller shops especially benefit by the information we offer,” she said. “And I learn a lot, too.”

She cited this year’s January meeting in Jefferson City. “You learn so much while you’re there,” she said. “I came back and said I need all of this information – the process changes, the new regulations – all of it. I try to bring back as much knowledge as possible. It’s info. this shop wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

As if all of this isn’t enough, Laura is engaged to be married the same week MASWM will hold its Branson meeting in October. Her fiancé, Chris Taylor, owns a concrete contracting company near St. Louis. She still plans to be at the Branson meeting.

“It’s important,” she laughed. “I need to be there!”

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MASWM The Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers
If you have questions, please contact:
Executive Director Katie Jones, – (314) 369-5244 or
President Aaron Martin – (816) 796-7070 or;
or Legislative Chair Brian Hogan – (816) 483-1620 or