Young professionals pursue growth opportunities
By Jennie Doyen
Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce launched the Young Professionals Network (YPN) in 2009 in response to demand from the community. Today, YPN has grown to nearly 1,000 members who have opportunities to participate in a variety of events, ranging from social to developmental.
The goal from the outset was to engage the next generation of leaders and to help young professionals develop the skills they need to succeed in their chosen profession or occupation. YPN seeks to introduce members to the region's resources and possibilities, create business opportunities, support civic involvement and promote an overall investment in the future of the community.
YPN serves members from a variety of backgrounds and professions. With members ranging in age from 21 to 39, some individuals are just getting started in their careers while others have already assumed leadership roles within their company. There is no uniform process for developing these young leaders, so YPN offers a variety of professional development programming, ranging from peer mentoring, to group workshops, to the biennial Crossroads Summit conference.
Consistent opportunities for growth
The responsibility for creating ongoing development programming falls to the YPN Personal & Professional Development (P&PD) Action Team. The team meets every other month for planning sessions, and is led by co-chairs Brittany Kelley Elsasser, MetaBank, and Christopher Filsinger, CorTrust Bank.
"Our focus is to provide opportunities to members that help further their career aspirations, develop and strengthen their professional relationships, and inform them about the issues and unique aspects to this great community that we live in," said Filsinger.
"I want to make sure that our members get value out of their experience and that they are able to take what they have learned and tie it to their own development," Elsasser stated. "We want our members to come out of our events feeling inspired and be able to apply what they learned in their personal and professional lives."
Filsinger said that every development event provides something different and unique to further an individual's professional development. One of the most popular events is A Seat at the Table, in which an established community leader shares the story of their professional journey with a small group of members. Attendees have the opportunity to ask questions and learn from the leader's experiences.
Several YPN members refer to A Seat at the Table as a not-to-be-missed event. Alexis Konstant, Lloyd Companies, said she appreciates the comfortable atmosphere of the events and the willingness of the leaders to speak openly about the challenges and opportunities they faced in their careers.
"The discussions at these events have been frank, insightful, and from my perspective, very rewarding," said Chris Daugaard, Ernst Capital Group.
Focus Workshops are another valuable development tool for many young professionals. "Many workshop topics have been relevant to current opportunities and challenges for our company," said Daugaard. "I have to hand it to the Chamber for offering so many sessions that seek to answer the questions that we're asking in our business on a day-to-day basis."
Dr. Terran Elliott Bergdale leads YPN members on a Community Connections tour of her family's company, A-Ox Welding Supply Co., Inc. Community Connections tours are popular events that provide a behind-the-scenes look at businesses in Sioux Falls.
Other regular P&PD team programming includes Community Connections tours and Our Sioux Falls events. Both of these offer attendees a chance to learn more about a piece of Sioux Falls they might not otherwise have been exposed to. Building awareness of the various industries, non-profits, projects and events in the area allows young professionals to gain a greater appreciation for the diverse fabric of our community as a whole.
A recent Our Sioux Falls event featured Joe Millar of the Sioux Falls Sports Authority discussing everything that goes into securing and hosting the NCAA basketball tournament in Sioux Falls. Millar detailed the bid process and the number of people and organizations that work together to make the tournament successful. He also explained the economic impact that hosting these events has on our local economy and why supporting future bids can have a long-term impact on our region.
Many YPN members say that while they might personally benefit from learning about the business practices or activities of another company, the most valuable part of these events is that they shine a light on the bigger picture for Sioux Falls. Becoming a more educated and informed citizen is key to creating future leaders who will continue to invest in the community.
Konstant said, "The opportunities to learn more about the Sioux Falls community has influenced my current career state and will only encourage a better tomorrow."
In 2014 the YPN facilitated a mentoring pilot program. Small groups of YPN members were matched with a community leader outside the YPN demographic. They were to meet quarterly for one year. While there was no set curriculum, each group had a specific focus: leadership development, professional growth, business insights and networking and community and civic involvement.
Based on feedback from that pilot year, YPN leadership chose to restructure the program into the peer-led model that is used today. Currently, there are four small groups meeting once a month, each led by a current YPN member.
Nick Bentele, a business banker at The First National Bank in Sioux Falls, is one of the mentors. He said he volunteered to serve as a mentor as a way to invest in others. "I've benefitted greatly from the investment that others have made in me," Bentele said. "It's important to leave a legacy of giving back and helping to develop others."
Michelle Klobassa, TSP Inc., Erica Anderson, MetaBank, and Tara Allen, Allen Edge Real Estate Team at Keller Williams Realty, meet regularly to work on professional development as part of the YPN peer mentoring program.
Other mentors include Tara Allen, Allen Edge Real Estate Team at Keller Williams Realty; Dan Menke, Pride Neon; and Amber Schwiesow, Midco. The mentors worked with YPN staff to create a curriculum for the year on the topics of building relationships, problem solving, emotional intelligence, and mindset. Mentors spend between 2-4 hours a month preparing for the sessions.
Schwiesow shared that in addition to prep work, she also completes all of the same work she requires of her mentees. "I want to make sure we are all on the same page, and if I expect them to do something, I am going to show the commitment and do it myself too. It has been great and has helped me personally and professionally."
Bentele agreed that serving as a mentor has also benefited him personally. "Mentoring forces you to be mindful of those around you and notice others in a way that isn't always natural," he said. "It develops the habit of caring for others and finding creative ways to help them succeed. I've found that mentoring has helped me be more mindful of my relationships at home and at work."
For the mentee participants, the program is an opportunity to challenge themselves professionally and to become more deeply involved in YPN and the broader community.
Mentee Bill DeNet said that his employer, Tessier's Inc. Mechanical Contractors, has a lot of great internal resources for development, but he wanted to explore an external option in the hopes of bringing back new ideas to his company. "This program seemed like a way to investigate those options while networking with like-minded, young leaders in Sioux Falls," he added.
DeNet said it has been interesting to compare leadership perspectives within his mentor group, and that he has specifically benefitted from additional exposure to LEAN decision making, a process that Tessier's uses in construction.
A signature event
The idea for the Crossroads Summit conference emerged from the original YPN steering committee. They envisioned an event that would function as a platform for YPN members to form connections and deepen their professional development without leaving Sioux Falls.
Held every two years, the Crossroads Summit has become the signature event of the YPN. Past speakers have included former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager, Next Generation Consulting founder Rebecca Ryan, and former Harley-Davidson communications director Ken Schmidt.
Melanie Rapp has attended all three past conferences and plans to attend the next one later this summer. She believes almost anyone can benefit from attending the event - whether the attendee is trying to advance his or her career, or improve a specific aspect of their personal or professional life.
"The Summit is a great opportunity to get rejuvenated by motivational speakers, learn something new by taking a session that you haven't before, and meet other people that are go-getters and want to prosper," said Rapp.
The fourth Summit is planned for August 17, 2017 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center with the theme "Living Your Mission." Keynote speakers John Meyer, Lemonly, and Bert Jacobs, Life is Good, will discuss the responsibility that businesses have in contributing to community and the value in working for something greater than your daily responsibilities.
Maggie Groteluschen, The First National Bank in Sioux Falls, and Reggie Kuipers, Bender Commercial Real Estate, are serving as co-chairs for the 2017 Summit. They point to the veteran business leaders in the Sioux Falls area as inspiration for this year's theme.
"We have all these wonderful role models who have demonstrated the importance of investing in your community, and Sioux Falls is stronger for it," Groteluschen said. "We feel that this is an important message to lift up and share with the next generation of professionals."
A new feature of the conference this year will be a CEO Panel. Four local business leaders will share their professional experiences and perspective in a moderated discussion. They are: Anne McFarland, President & CEO, LifeScape; Jeff Scherschlight, CEO of Howalt+McDowell Insurance; Eric Yunag, VP Strategic Initiatives, Convergint Technologies; and Bill Baker, Chairman & CEO, The First National Bank in Sioux Falls.
In addition, organizers expect to have over 20 breakout sessions for attendees to choose from - these will be finalized in the near future.
The Crossroads Summit is geared toward young professionals, but is open to anyone. Tickets are $99 for the full day and registration is open now at sfcrossroads.com.
Building community connections
Young professionals around the country are seeking out ways to grow and engage in their communities. In Sioux Falls, the Young Professionals Network provides an avenue that connects the need for individual professional growth with community-focused engagement opportunities.
Steering committee member Paige Pearson Meyer, Midco, summarized the benefits of YPN this way: "There's great value in being a YPN member. First, it connects you with people in the professional community. Second, it exposes you to people and industries you might not be as familiar with. Third, there's an educational component to YPN's programming, and I think that's the organization's greatest strength."
Combine strong development programming with the network and relationship-building aspects that YPN offers, and the result is a valuable tool that connects young professionals, helps them grow in their careers, builds strong leaders and ultimately benefits the entire Sioux Falls community.
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