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York County's Economic Alliance searches for next generation

Written by Brett Sholtis/York Daily Record | Jan 17, 2016 12:19 PM
York_county-economic_alliance.jpg

From left Anna Murray of Carroll Township, Lisa Barshinger of Red Lion, and Chris Wagman of West Manchester Township mingle during a "business after hours" event at the First Capital Federal Credit Union in West Manchester Township. York County Economic Alliance has penned a strategic agreement with York Young Professionals in an attempt to connect aspiring business people with seasoned mentors and develop the next generation of business leaders.(Photo: Kate Penn, York Daily Record)

(York) -- York County Economic Alliance and York Young Professionals have penned a strategic partnership, pairing the business community group with the business-minded meetup group.

Members of the Young Professionals will now have regular access to some of the county's most seasoned business leaders, said Wilda Alessi, YCEA spokeswoman. The two groups kicked off the partnership Thursday with "Business After Hours" at First Capital Federal Credit Union.

YCEA member Marie Cartwright-Byers, 33, said these events should help younger working professionals learn "soft skills" such as confidence, networking without being too pushy and making a good sales pitch. Those were skills she said she learned at her first job out of college when her employer, an IT company, had her attend chamber of commerce meetings.

"Even though I was new in my career, I was still needing to talk to decision makers. So in my case that was huge that, while yes, I was a young professional, I was getting in front of executives."

The Economic Alliance is happy to help those young professionals, but it also hopes to find the next generation of leaders around York, Alessi said.

"Every organization needs to keep up with the times and make itself available and relevant," said Jack Kay, a YCEA board member and the president and CEO of Susquehanna Real Estate. "Young Professionals represents that. It's their future."

Two groups

Young Professionals formed in 1999 to create interaction in the community, said Karin Swartz, YYP president. The group has about 100 members, who each pay $60 a year to attend monthly dinner-and-drinks meetings, paid for with their dues.

York County Economic Alliance is the result of a merger between York County Development Corporation and York County Chamber of Commerce. The group has about 1,100 member businesses ranging from banks and hospitals to restaurants. About 47 percent of the alliance's funding comes from memberships, with about 35 percent more coming from the county and another 17 percent from other sources, Alessi said.

With the new pairing, Swartz hopes to give her members new opportunities.

"YCEA is an alliance of businesses," Swartz said. "York Young Professionals is an alliance of individuals. We work with them to give our members options they might not otherwise have."

Looking for motivated people

However, it's a constant challenge to find and cultivate new members of the business community, Swartz said. People in their 20s and 30s are often in flux, changing jobs and moving, and keeping members committed can be tough.

Kristen Evans, Downtown Inc's events and marketing coordinator, said that's precisely what happened to her. The 24-year-old York College graduate said she's an "inactive member" of the club, who struggled to make the meetings because of an onslaught of other commitments and projects. However, she said the group helped her to get where she is now.

"I think it's a great venue for someone new to the scene," Evans said. "It was great when I first moved back and wanted to figure out what was going on."

Alessi said the YCEA experiences the same struggle in finding younger members for its board.

"I don't think it's a new problem, and I don't think it's unique to York," she said.

Alessi said that's why it's important to foster a thriving business community in York, so that more recent college graduates will want to work and live in the area, and grow into business leaders there who will give back to the community.

"Our goal is to get them here and keep them here," Alessi said.

Not alone

York Young Professionals isn't the only youth-oriented group in town, nor the only one that's struggled to keep members. Uptown York Rotary Club formed with the help of the the 300-member, 100-year-old Rotary Club of York, said Chad Myers, Uptown York Rotary Club president. The idea was that younger professionals, who might not be able to meet during the day, or pay the $1,200 annual dues, would join a dinner-and-drinks club with a $200 membership.

That said, the average age of his 30 members is about 47 years.

Myers, 35, said now that he's a father, he sees the challenge in making a weekly commitment, even if it is a casual affair over drinks.

However, he's also seen how the group, which shares a friendly relationship with Rotary Club of York, can launch businesses and kick-start careers.

"The makeup of our club is absolutely phenomenal," Myers said. "I've seen people establish relationships and advance their business through being members of the club."

Connecting generations

YCEA board member J.J. Sheffer said she's seen the struggle to connect the older and younger generations from a couple different perspectives.

Sheffer, 36, said she's been involved in community planning since her mid-20s, when she served on Planned Parenthood Central Pa.'s nonprofit board. Sheffer has been involved in innumerable projects since then. She served two years as York Young Professionals' president, and she's currently one of the youngest members of YCEA's board of directors. She said she's already seen huge shifts in attitudes and approaches. Business veterans should adapt as well, she said.

"There's going to have to be a shift it we're going to engage younger people," Sheffer said. "We're so much more connected in ways that didn't exist before."

 


This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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