by Kathy Ruff
“…a rising tide lifts all boats.” – John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
The ideology behind this 1960 comment by then-Senator Kennedy rings true nearly six decades later.
A grassroots initiative designed to strengthen young professionals through peer networking, education and fun works to raise that tide.
“There is not a strong young professional presence in Monroe County, at least with the chamber,” said Valerie Case, interim CEO of the Greater Pocono Chamber of Commerce (GPCC), Stroudsburg. “Many of the meetings I have attended all seem to be established professionals. We felt it would be important to get our younger generation involved, mirroring what’s been done in Carbon County and in the (Lehigh) valley. It’s important that our young professionals know that outside of what they are doing in their given jobs there are other opportunities for them to be involved within the community inside and outside of business.”
The GPCC recently held its first networking mixer at a winery in downtown Stroudsburg to expose young professionals between the ages of 20 and 40 to those opportunities.
“They are going to have an opportunity to meet others like them in the community, other young professionals, young business owners, young entrepreneurs,” said George Roberts, GPCC’s chairman of the board of directors. “We plan to run events geared toward the young professionals, things that may be important to them, learning different things about businesses, etc., and then also learning from our older entrepreneurs. They will have an opportunity to meet with people that maybe have been through what they are trying to do and give them some guidance, (to) have the ability to meet at other types of events that the chamber holds where they will have a chance to meet other types of businesses or demographics and help them along their journey.”
The chamber believes this interaction creates a win-win environment that will help not only the young professionals but also the more seasoned business owner and professional, the organization and the community.
“For the chamber, we’re bringing in new, fresh faces, young people to continue this chamber,” said Roberts. “They also bring a different look at trends in businesses. Since they are young, they have a better idea of what young people look for when it comes to business, whether it’s retail or services, just a business climate. Our older, more seasoned business people may learn from that, be able to talk to them and find out what younger people are interested in. These are the kinds of things that will benefit the chamber by having younger people there and giving us insight into younger opinions and new technology and how all this can work for the benefit of the chamber in the long run.”
Roberts also believes these interactions add energy to the organization and the community as members of the network follow their passions to make a difference.
“Eventually, we’re going to form a more structured committee or council that will then work within the chamber guidelines to do activities, events, raise money for charities in the areas that will impact the community, a way for them to give back through this council and through the chamber,” he said. “From that council, as they learn about the chamber and we have openings on our board of directors, we will be looking for some of those younger people to step up and become board members down the road.”
The Future Leaders of Carbon County have shown the success possible with a young professional’s network.
“We are hosting mixers, educational programs and seminars at businesses throughout Carbon County to highlight what we have to offer,” said Alice Wanamaker, assistant vice president, northern region of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and Carbon Chamber & Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC). “Those in attendance are gaining knowledge from those around them, learning the who’s who in Carbon County and ways to manage their businesses on the track to success.”
Over the past two years, organizations including the Carbon County Environmental Educational Center, the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and Special Olympics of Carbon County benefitted financially from the group’s involvement.
“Many of the young professionals involved in the Future Leaders of Carbon County are entrepreneurs looking to connect with other like-minded individuals,” Wanamaker said. “Some are there for mentor opportunities and others are there to learn about possible employment opportunities. For everyone, including the chamber, involvement in the council is helping us achieve our mission of making Carbon County a better place to work, live and play. As we all collectively do better, it’s going to be better for Carbon County and the entire region.”
The group’s next mixer, “Succeeding in Business” scheduled for Wednesday, May 16 in Lehighton, will offer insights from Dave Stephens, an author, transformational trainer and business coach.
Michael Harleman, CCEDC’s president and executive vice president of First Northern Bank, Palmerton offered insights on the value of young professional networking.
“A lot of millennials don’t know what the opportunities are,” he said. “(Networking) is going to show them what opportunities are out there in business and leadership positions in all kinds of businesses. It shows them who the current leaders are, what businesses they are in and that can help them find their path to what careers they want to choose. That in turn helps the county. It’s all a win-win for everybody.”
The Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce also sees a win-win in its involvement with a young professional group.
“For us it’s important because we’re in a location where we are around so many colleges and universities and we really want to retain these students,” said Lindsay Bezick, vice president. “We want to make sure they are aware of all the opportunities, whether it’s a volunteer position, internship or job positions, whether they are coming out of the school or in the workforce. We want to get them to work here, live here and stay here.”
Bezick explained the mutual benefits.
“For economic development, it’s giving them access to those resources that are difficult to find on your own,” she said. “It’s kind of a school network that we’re building to essentially retain our local talent and get the millennials engaged with us.”