Jess King is a working mom, small business champion, and a leader in local economic development. She never planned on running for office. But after a career fighting for working families in Pennsylvania, she joined the race for the 16th District because too many of us are working hard for too little while a greedy few rig the game in Washington.
Jess was born and raised on the edge of farm fields in Leola, Pennsylvania. She attended Conestoga Valley School District, Lancaster Mennonite High School and Eastern Mennonite University. She later earned an MBA from Bard College. Like many Mennonites, her family made a commitment to unpaid voluntary service for the common good.
After graduating from college, she moved to Pittsburgh’s East End for a year of service and spent the next decade of her life fighting for affordable housing and community development. She fell in love with the work of organizing across differences to build an economy that works for all of us. She served as the founding Executive Director of the Union Project, an effort that restored an abandoned church into an arts and social enterprise incubator. The project became an essential component of community life in Pittsburgh’s East End – helping to knit together diverse neighborhoods and create greater access to jobs, creative expression, diverse relationships and new opportunity. Fifteen years later, the Union Project is still thriving in Pittsburgh.
In 2007, after Jess’ husband accepted a position as a Mennonite pastor, she moved home to Lancaster with her two-year old daughter and began working with Pennsylvanians hoping to start their own business. In 2010, she became Executive Director of ASSETS and built it into one of Lancaster’s most impactful organizations.
Driven by her vision of a Lancaster that rewards hard work with dignity and a living wage, Jess and her team expanded ASSETS from serving 150 business leaders a year in 2010 to 1,500 last year, quadrupling the number of businesses started and grown from 22 to 93 per year, and supporting entrepreneurs in creating or retaining over 350 jobs in the last fiscal year. She co-founded ASSETS programs that support all businesses who want to give back to the common good, including supporting business owners to hire individuals with barriers to employment, pay family-sustaining wages, and increase employee ownership.
Her leadership has been recognized with “Jessica King Day in the City of Pittsburgh,” Pittsburgh’s 40 under 40, Lancaster’s Ethics in Business Award, the Red Rose Award, and the Friend of Workforce Award and Baldwin Fellowship. She is a current Local Economy Fellow with the national Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. She served as a Commissioner on Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray’s Commission to Combat Poverty, and spearheads the Coalition to Combat Poverty’s Private Sector Working Group.
Jess has spent her life in the trenches of our economy, rolling up her sleeves alongside Mennonites, refugees, and lifelong Pennsylvanians to build stronger communities and small businesses that provide a living wage and serve people and planet as much as profit. She knows that no matter our differences, most Americans want pretty similar things. We want to make a better life for our families and be free to pursue our dreams in a fair economy. And she’s seen firsthand that Wall Street and the big corporate monopolies rigging the game in Washington are some of the biggest barriers to ordinary folks getting a shot at the American dream.
Jess is running because her values are our neighbors’ values, and together we can transform this country so that all of us can make ends meet, protect our clean air and water, and get the health care we need.
She lives in southeast Lancaster City with her two daughters and her husband Chad Martin.