Save the Date
What: Rocky Mountain Young Professionals Summit
When: Oct. 24-26, Colorado Springs
Why: breakout sessions, trade show and networking
Want to help plan? Email Sandy Wenger at email@example.com
The sleek, modern downtown offices of fuseSPORT are headed up by one of the city’s youngest CEOs — Australian native Chris Clark, who chose the Springs after considering Silicon Valley and cities in Florida.
Colorado Springs has struggled for decades against the growing exodus of young professionals to more inviting cultures — Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Denver. Local business and political leaders were so excited about the 34-year-old’s move to the Springs that they rolled out the red carpet for a press conference announcing the new company.
His demographic is so sought-after that Mayor Steve Bach made an appeal at the press conference: “We need more young people like you,” Bach said to Clark and the audience, “to be engaged, to be involved in the city.”
Every city wants young professionals like Clark. Miami even hired a consulting firm to find out how to court the younger set and get them to move to the Florida metropolis. West Virginia has a focus on the “wild” side of the state to entice young families back to its hill country. Milwaukee focuses on its “cool” events and night life in Wisconsin’s largest city.
Around the nation, cities have created young professional networking and mentoring groups in an attempt to attract young talent.
There are meet-ups and tweet-ups, co-working spaces and consulting firms that specialize in exactly how to attract and retain young professionals.
Why all the fuss?
“Well, because we need them to pay our Social Security,” said Tom Duening, El Pomar chairman of Business and Entrepreneurship and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at UCCS. “The Baby Boomers are retiring — and they’ve certainly had their share of attention. And this group is a large group, so we’re going to need them to step up and fill our shoes.”
At 70 million strong, Generation Y is the second largest workforce in U.S. history. They’re the most highly educated workforce and the most tech-savvy.
But Duening thinks there’s a reason for all the networking groups, all the professional organizations, all the tips on how to get young professionals connected both at work and in the community.
“They grew up playing video games, with the Internet, with information at their fingertips,” he said. “And because they’ve had things at their fingertips, they seem — as a group — to be unaware of the value of hard work. They don’t seem to realize that talent isn’t enough. They have to combine their talents with a work ethic.”
Clark acknowledges he needed help in the early days of the business. He stayed with his parents and took on a second job to generate revenue to put back into the business. And he asked a lot of questions.
“Never assume you know everything,” says Clark, who’s lived in the Springs since February. “Never assume you know anything at all. But listen, meet people, go to coffee and see what ideas they have. Sometimes one or two, small, simple things turn out to be the ones that make thousands — or millions.”
And while he hasn’t yet joined any young professional organizations, there is no shortage of the groups in town. The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance’s Rising Professionals group has about 200 members, while the Colorado Springs Young Professionals says it has 2,000 and is part of a network of other young professional groups around Colorado.
Those groups say it isn’t that they need more help than previous generations — it’s that they value social relationships and embrace social media more.
“We are the future,” said Carly Bennett, the Business Alliance’s director of membership and volunteer fulfillment, who also oversees the Rising Professionals at the Business Alliance. “The city’s been in this 10-, 15-year struggle to maintain young professionals. If young professionals leave, then the jobs will leave with them.”
Bennett says the Rising Professionals’ focus is to keep younger people here and engaged.
“We want them to be excited to be here, to be part of the economy, to lead the direction the city is going,” she said. “Our goal is to help young professionals succeed in careers or as entrepreneurs, working together to get to the next level.”
The Rising Professionals have five focus committees: professional development, civic engagement, mentorship, membership and recreation. The mentorship program pairs a young professional with a seasoned worker from the same industry.
“We focus on success stories,” she said. “If there are young people who want to start their own business, we find someone who can help them succeed in that business.”
The Business Alliance’s Rising Professionals Group isn’t the only game in town. Other organizations have their own groups to aid the younger generation.
The El Paso County Bar Association has a Young Lawyers Division that is focused on attorneys who have been practicing for less than five years or are younger than 37 years old. Its goal is to promote professional values, to provide a connection and to get young attorneys involved in the Bar Association.
Likewise, the U.S. Olympic Committee has also joined the young professional bandwagon. Led by Adam Andrasko, the USOC’s community outreach coordinator, the group is comprised of young professionals at the 24 national governing bodies located in the Springs as well as from the USOC’s local staff.
“We’re a national organization, and our people come from all over the country,” said Andrasko, who is younger than 30. “They don’t know Colorado Springs — they don’t know what’s great about the city, how to get involved. That’s where this group got started.”
Andrasko says that young professionals are different now than they once were.
“It used to be people got in a job and just climbed the corporate ladder,” he said. “This is more of a progressive idea on young professionals’ part. It’s a way to move the city forward, using young professionals’ perspectives.”
Andrasko started the group based on his involvement with Leadership Pikes Peak’s Leadership Now! program for young professionals.
“I also got involved with Rising Professionals,” he said. “Those groups are more just what you make of them. Leadership Now! has real meat on its bones — it throws the young professional into a leadership role.”
All the groups — regardless of profession or reach — are fulfilling Bach’s original plea to young professionals: Get involved and stay in the city. It’s something the mayor has pushed since taking office two years ago.
“A dynamic and involved group of young professionals is an essential component to a growing and prospering community,” Bach said in a statement. “Colorado Springs, with its athletic lifestyle, strong business climate and world-class educational facilities, is a natural magnet for innovative young entrepreneurs who wish to make a difference, grow a business and start a family.”
And Clark, married with two small children, plans to do exactly that. He hopes to get more involved as his company grows in the Springs.
“We were welcomed here with open arms,” he said. “And I know there’s been criticism about some things — like downtown. I like the downtown. It has the same vibe as certain areas in London. Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, downtown — they have soul — and they’re some of the reasons we’re going to be here for a long time.”
LNOW! Trains young professionals in leadership skills and civic-mindedness, and plugs them into the life and leadership of the Pikes Peak region.
Colorado Springs Young Professionals
This group connects young professionals throughout the state, and seeks to advance the quality of life for young professionals in the Springs.
Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyers Division
This group serves young lawyers and law students of Colorado; promotes professional values and involvement in the Bar Association; and provides opportunities for its members to form connections with fellow attorneys, to engage in professional development, and to serve the legal community and the community at large.
Colorado Springs Rising Professionals
This group offers opportunities for young, career-minded individuals to network, work with a mentor, hone their business skills, volunteer their time and meet other professionals in the Colorado Springs community.