CEDAR FALLS — Josh Wilson was born and raised in Waterloo. He’s a Cedar Valley boy and has never forgotten it, displayed by his recent move back home from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Wilson is one of The Courier’s 20 Under 40 honorees for 2022. He is a senior publicist for Florida-based Otter Public Relations, working remotely from his home in Cedar Falls.
“I made the decision I wanted to relocate back home to Iowa,” Wilson said. “I can’t be more ecstatic to get back home. I’m in love with Main Street development.”
He was raised by his mother, Shelly Brown, a well-known school teacher in the Waterloo Community Schools for 18 years. She was a stand-out softball player for West High School and played adult slow pitch softball. Wilson’s grandfather, Errol Brown, and great-uncles Gaylen and Gary Tann were well-known for coaching West softball for 30-some years.
People are also reading…
Wilson’s mother passed away from breast cancer when he was 19. Her uniform number was retired and the jersey hangs at the ball diamonds. The family provides a scholarship in her name each year.
Wilson’s professional career has been focused on politics. He ran for the Waterloo Board of Education at 19 in 2007 “because of my family’s history with the Waterloo Schools and having just graduated from Waterloo West. I’ve always been an advocate for younger voices in politics and still am. I’m 34. There’s a lot of people who have been around (in politics) for a long time, and they run out of ideas.”
He knocked on doors for candidates during high school and college, was always involved in the Iowa caucuses and volunteered with the local Republican Party. He’s also endorsed and worked for a number of Democrats locally.
A University of Northern Iowa graduate, he originally was a theater major. He makes the joke “that politics isn’t a whole lot different from acting.” He also was interested in working in media.
“Politics so engrosses every aspect of our lives these days. A number of my professors made the suggestion that I should study political communications, which was a new major at UNI. I was one of maybe 11 or 12 who graduated with that new degree.
“Once I started this path, I really appreciated and enjoyed the role that political communicators play, not in policy, but someone like press secretary who can let the general public know what their elected officials are up to,” said Wilson. “Take everything crazy going on in the political world and put it in terms that everyday people could understand. Looking back, the transition wasn’t that crazy.”
He was active in both media and politics during college. He interned with Gov. Terry Branstad and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, and worked in UNI’s Office of University Relations, combining politics and media.
When Wilson graduated from UNI, Branstad extended an offer to join his staff as public liaison, where he worked for nearly two years. Prior to the 2014 elections, he transitioned out of government office work back to the Iowa campaign trail. He was hired by Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlitt-Packard, to work with her PAC, which was focused on electing more women to office. This effort helped elect Joni Ernst to her first term in Congress.
He also worked for the Iowa House Majority Fund where he oversaw several Northeast Iowa Republican legislative races. In 2019, he moved to D.C. to work briefly at the Leadership Institute, where he led training across the country for candidates, elected officials and activists on how to be more successful in the public policy sector. His next move was to Capitol Hill as a communications director for the first time.
Wilson cited several reasons why he transitioned to working for a public relations firm.
“A reason why I made the move was because of the horribly sharp divide we find ourselves in (politically). When I was working on Capitol Hill, it became frowned upon if I was going to step out for lunch with a colleague who worked in a Democratic office. That is unsafe for our country,” he said.
“I made the choice for the move back home during COVID and during the unrest with George Floyd; 2020 was a horrible year.”
He came across a standard advertisement for Otter while searching for what he would do next. He hasn’t completely exited from the political arena. Otter was hired by Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola when she was running to serve out the remainder of the late Rep. Don young’s term through January 2023. Wilson currently is serving as her interim communications director, and does return to D.C. on occasion.
Candy Nardini was among several people who nominated Wilson for 20 Under 40.
In her nomination form, Nardini said she could almost hear the affirmation of his mother, quoting a Dr. Seuss book. “So be sure when you step, Step with care, and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! Kid, you’ll move mountains.”
Nardini noted, “Having a passion for people, an ‘Iowa Nice’ mindset, (he’s) a great listener and (is) a positive difference maker in our community.”
Wilson financially supports the American Cancer Society, he’s a board director for Cedar Valley Hospice, and he volunteers with Cedar Falls Downtown Mainstreet. He’s very passionate about “bettering and improving mental health care” as he has suffered from anxiety his entire adult life.
Tara Thomas-Gettman said in her nomination form that Wilson “has never been afraid to speak out and stand up for what he believes in, especially when it comes to singing the praises of the Cedar Valley and all this community has to offer.”
Courier 20 Under 40 Class of 2022