The term “young professional” has a tendency to be both ubiquitous and misunderstood. Traditionally defined as a 20- or 30-something professional in a white-collar occupation, in today’s business world, the category has evolved to encompass young (even young-at-heart) professionals looking to expand their networking capabilities and engage within their community, blue-collar, white-collar, or no collar.
For young professionals, networking is especially important in growing communities like Manhattan, where young professionals find themselves stuck between the post-college crowd and mentor-level professionals. In response, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce recently revamped its young professionals program, rebranding it as hype, to better facilitate connections between future-focused individuals.
As one of the youngest cities in Kansas, Manhattan has had a strong young professionals program for many years, focused primarily on connecting through social-based networking events. The new hype program—Helping Young Professionals Emerge—will seek to further those goals and update them for future needs.
Blade Mages, a chamber board member and the principal and founder of 502—a strategic marketing agency, said that the success of his business relies on a thriving young professional community in Manhattan. In fact, 100% of his 14-person staff is comprised of young professionals.
“Today, people choose where they want to live before choosing where they want to work,” says Mages. “I’m passionate about creating a Manhattan that young professionals want to live in—my business and many others depend on it.”
502—a strategic marketing agency worked alongside the chamber’s dedicated young professionals to develop the branding, logo, messaging, website and other promotional materials to kickstart bringing the hype program to fruition. Wayne Sloan, former chamber chairperson, says ensuring young professionals are engaged in the Manhattan community is key to its success, as is developing a program that gives these individuals a platform.
“It’s their futures—and their families’ futures—that are being shaped in every decision we make,” says Sloan. “Their input is vital in planning our community’s future. We’re responsible for helping young professionals become well-informed leaders for tomorrow with a program that fits their needs. We’re giving them connections to both seasoned professionals and peers in the community.”
Mages acknowledges that Manhattan’s demographics can make it difficult for young professionals to meet, interact and break through existing career circles. While developing hype, their committee considered five pillars for the program’s mission, each developed by a team responsible for creating programing within that purview:
- Engage: Keeping the door open for Kansas State University students, transitioning military, new-to-town professionals and others to gain community understanding and employer engagement.
- Connect: Helping young professionals make new connections through networking, particularly for those interested in creating opportunities explicitly for networking and relationship building.
- Develop: Accelerating young professionals’ personal and professional development through ongoing educational opportunities.
- Play: Creating fun, social opportunities for young professionals to unplug and get to know peers through casual, network- and relationship-building opportunities.
- #LoveMHK: Building deep, meaningful connections between young professionals and Manhattan through community, civic and nonprofit engagement.
Mages adds that this categorical approach to events and programming means there are opportunities available for young professionals from all industries and aspirations, as well as what each individual is seeking.
“If grabbing a beer with other young professionals in the community is your thing, there will be events for that,” says Mages. “If you’re looking to level up professionally, hype will have a team dedicated to professional development and programming to help you achieve your goals.”
The hype program also benefited from the leadership of Jason Smith, incoming chamber president and CEO. Smith worked in both Abilene, Texas, and Lincoln, Nebraska, to develop new young professional programs in those communities, both with impressive success. Particularly in Lincoln, Smith helped grow the program to include 1,500 members.
“This has been a priority of Wayne’s and the chamber’s,” says Smith. “Everyone loved Manhattan’s existing young professional’s program, but we really wanted to take it to the next level. People were looking for new opportunities to get engaged. There was a strong social aspect, but we wanted to develop more opportunities for initiatives and getting involved in the community while maintaining a welcoming, inclusive environment.”
Smith adds that the hype program was developed for young professionals by young professionals, allowing for flexibility in designing the program as they saw fit for their own needs. Summer Dierks, attorney and partner at Seaton, Seaton & Dierks and a chamber executive committee member, played a key role in assisting the committee to acquire the tools needed to begin forming the new hype program. Additionally, she helped define and implement the program’s goals.
“A revamped young professionals program is essential to growing not only our community, but the region,” says Dierks. “We’re attracting and retaining young professionals as well as encouraging them to grow professionally and personally. We hope that businesses in the Manhattan area feel the positive effects of the hype program and want to get involved, which would ensure future economic prosperity for all.”
Dierks says she is thrilled to have so many new community members involved with the hype initiative, highlighting Manhattan’s desire to allow young professionals to invest in the community’s future. She adds that hype will present a plethora of opportunities for leadership and development of individuals within the Manhattan community.
“We’re particularly excited about hype’s dedicated areas of focus, particularly in sectors of diverse engagement,” says Dierks. “However ‘young’ these young professionals feel within their careers, they will have a program or event to attend that suits their needs and interests.”
The hype program officially rolled out at the chamber’s annual meeting on Feb. 21. Smith says the chamber and its committee, which operates on its own budget through the chamber, are focused on establishing the program’s continued success.
“If it’s for young professionals, it should be created by young professionals,” he says. “We’re very engaged and interested in attracting and retaining great talent in Manhattan. The only way that works is if we’re able to create an organization that allows those individuals to integrate more quickly within the community. I’ve seen it work in other places—it can work here, too.”
Megan Saunders is a freelance writer in the Manhattan, Kansas, area. She is a lifelong Kansan and has been in a long-term relationship with the Little Apple for 15-plus years.