Young professionals start network in DeKalb County
By Gwen Clayton | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
A new group is starting in DeKalb County that will focus on professional development and networking among millennials and early Generation Xers, although all ages are invited to participate.
The Young Professionals of DeKalb County will launch its program during a morning mixer 7:30-8:30 a.m. May 15 at Jeremiah’s Brewed Awakenings, 101 E. 9th St., Auburn.
“It is a networking group to bring together young professionals, not necessarily just in DeKalb County but in the area,” said Emily Adkins, YPDC coordinator. Adkins is a board member of the DeKalb Chamber Partnership, the parent organization of the group. She also works as the marketing manager for Paul Davis of Northeast Indiana.
“There are so many people who might live in DeKalb County but they work in a different county or vice versa — they work in DeKalb County but live in a different county or provide services in DeKalb County,” she said. “So (YPDC is) really something to be inclusive to any young professional in the area who is wanting to get to know peers throughout the community, build their clientele base, make connections, things like that.”
The chamber has talked about organizing a group like this for years, inspired by the success of Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana, based in Fort Wayne, and the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce’s Young Adult Professionals. Adkins is active with both groups, so the chamber tasked her with inaugurating the program.
“We’re very grateful that she took the initiative and the leadership to take this program on,” said Teresa Harmeyer, executive director for the DeKalb Chamber Partnership. “Having someone like Emily who is a young leader in the community as well as a board member is just a perfect fit.”
Nine out of 15 members of the DeKalb Chamber Partnership board of directors are young professionals.
“There is something that comes from peer leading, so that’s one of the things that we’re looking forward to here at the chamber,” Harmeyer said.
“If we are really working to grow the youth in DeKalb County and maintain and attract that talent in the county, there should be something like this to help foster that network,” Adkins said. “That young professionals feel connected to each other so that they don’t feel like they need to travel too far to achieve that.”
The first meeting will be a casual ice breaker.
“We just want to see who all is interested,” Adkins said. “When I reached out to people who I know who are already in my network, there was a huge interest, and so we’re really excited to get together.”
There is no fee to attend, but participants are encouraged to bring a sufficient amount of business cards.
Adkins said she’s received interest from young professionals from Whitley and Steuben counties as well.
“It’s not exclusive to DeKalb County professionals,” she said. “We want this to be inclusive. Anybody who wants to come make connections is absolutely welcome.”
Guests can leave their contact information with Adkins and she will include them in future correspondence.
“Hopefully this is a stepping stone to continue to build the network in the future,” she said. “And I definitely want to put together a couple events in the summertime because we have a lot of teachers who are young professionals.”
She hopes that teachers and others who work during the school year will have more time in the summer to attend events. She’s also interested in organizing some lunch meetings and after-hours get-togethers. While the social aspect is important, the chamber wants to make sure the focus of the young professionals group is still on professionalism.
“We want to be careful that as young professionals that we aren’t perceived as a drinking club or just something people go to for social aspects,” she said. “This is a professional network and it’s meant to make those connections to build those business prospects.”
The definition of “young” professional is not a hard-and-fast rule.
“Even though we say ‘young professionals,’ we’re thinking around the age of 40 or under,” Adkins said. “But we’ve had a couple individuals reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, I’m 43. Is it OK if I come?’ Absolutely.
“If you’re comfortable enough to come to a group where it’s filled with young professionals, we feel that you have something valuable that you can provide to this group and the group has something valuable they can provide to you, then we’re not checking IDs. We’re not asking people for their birthdates. If you’re comfortable enough to show up, you’re welcome to attend.”
The DeKalb Chamber Partnership serves all 10 communities in the county: Altona, Ashley, Auburn, Butler, Corunna, Garrett, Hamilton, Spencerville, St. Joe and Waterloo.
“Our mission is to connect community, businesses and education,” Harmeyer said. “Those individuals who have chosen not to join the chamber or are not chamber members yet, we want to get them engaged and see how important commerce in the community is. And we want to listen to their needs. One of the needs that they’ve stated is that they want to have a young leaders group.”
She estimates about 50 percent of the people she’s spoken to about a prospective young-leaders group are not chamber members.
“We are hoping that they will give us their input so we can find out what is important to them and they will find the value in that,” she said. “So far, the response has been phenomenal. We’ve had a lot of folks who are really excited about this.”
That excitement extends to the regional community as well.
“Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana is thrilled with the creation of Young Professionals of DeKalb County,” said Savannah Robinson, president of YLNI. “We hope to work with YPDC in the future and together help attract, develop and retain emerging leaders in our thriving region.”