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YP Networks: Key Pieces in Millennial Puzzle
 
Published Thursday, August 17, 2017
by RACHEL COLLINS

Michael Aquino knows first-hand the challenges of getting millennials to live and work in NH. He grew up in Nashua, went to college in Boston and then stayed there for his first job. Yet, like many people then, Aquino boomeranged back to the Granite State nine years ago to work and live. Not long after, he attended his first event at one of 12 regional Young Professionals Networks (YPNs) in the state, iUGO Nashua, of which he is now the chair. “The statistics will still tell you that New Hampshire is an aging state,” Aquino says. “But, even though I don’t have the statistics to back it up, I have a feeling that it seems over the past few years that we’ve started to see more and more new faces.”

There is a growing statewide effort to attract and retain young professionals. New Hampshire’s YPNs and Stay Work Play NH, a nonprofit organization focused on encouraging 20- and 30-somethings to stay in, come to or boomerang back to the state, are part of that effort. In the past seven years, the YPNs have done everything from hosting social events to offering limited student loan forgiveness. The numbers reached vary widely from region to region, with some 2,300 on the mailing list at Catapult Seacoast and about 10 regular members in Keene.

“I’ve seen YPNs start with three people, then a year later 10 people, then a year later 20,” says Katherine Shine, co-chair of Catapult Seacoast, a Portsmouth-based YPN. “It really is a testament to getting out there. There are young people everywhere if people want to be engaged in that part of their community. If they don’t want to, they’re not going to come no matter how fun the event or how many free drink tickets you hand out.”

  
Young professionals attending various events organized by Catapult Seacoast in Portsmouth.
Courtesy of Catapult.


Though typically YPNs cap membership at age 40, “We’re not checking IDs at the door,” Shine says. Ryan Houghton, co-chair of Catapult says he feels that the group “is just kind of a beacon, so to speak, that exists in our community to let others know you’re not alone. For me, personally, I was newer to the area. I didn’t grow up here. And it was a nice way to meet other people and have an ease of introduction outside of professional meetings.”

Often YPNs offer millennials ways to immerse themselves in the community and make connections that lead to “civic engagement opportunities where young people actually have a place at the table,” says Nikki Sauber, outreach chair for Keene’s YPN.

Some young professionals groups have developed programs that go beyond offering social connections and education. Since 2008, Manchester Young Professionals Network (MYPN) has been running the NH Startup Challenge, a business competition that in the past decade has awarded more than $500,000 in cash and in-kind services to NH startups. The 2017 winner was announced in May: Addapptation in Newfields, which helps organizations build micro apps that can be integrated with any cloud technology. Headed by a young entrepreneur, Sumner Vanderhoof, the company walked away with $55,000 in cash and free services.


The 2017 winner of the MYPN Startup Challenge was Addapptation in Newfields. Pictured from left are: Sean Foote, Startup Challenge committee member; Emily Bolton, Startup Challenge committee chair; Sumner Vanderhoof, founder of Addapptation; Jason Gagnon, Startup Challenge committee member; and Phil Shaw, Startup Challenge committee member. Courtesy of MYPN.


“The Startup Challenge is one of the most important programs MYPN offers each year because it reinforces the strong startup presence in New Hampshire and helps budding businesses like Addapptation by providing resources to achieve their future goals,” says Alex Horton, chair of MYPN’s board of directors.

Trying to Create Millennial Magnets
Convincing more millennials to stay or move here is critical to the state’s economic health moving forward, as NH’s population is the second oldest in the nation and baby boomers are beginning to retire in large numbers. “There’s a huge change in the state’s dynamic,” says Jason Beiswenger, CPA and chair of the NH Society of CPAs Young Professionals Committee. “Baby boomers are retiring, so as far as the state goes, there has to be a group of people to come in to fill that void.”

Enter the millennials. “It’s often in the late 20s or 30s that people feel the appreciation for what New Hampshire has to offer,” says Kate Luczko, president and CEO of Stay Work Play NH. “What we do is plant the seed for down the road.”

A step in that direction is a major marketing campaign and installation unveiled in May at the I-93 rest area in Hooksett. The 20-foot-wide circular display, made up of six, large two-sided panels, showing images from around NH, has a charging station in the center of the space and a place where events eventually will be hosted. “Over two million people a year are going through that space,” Luczko says. “We are creating a digital portal to deliver the message—come stay, work, play. The idea is that you just had a great vacation here, why not think about moving your company here or getting a job here?”


Digital Prospectors, winner of the 2016 Rising Stars award for Coolest Companies for Young Professionals presented by Stay Work Play. Stacey Brobst Photography.


Michelline Dufort, director of business relations for the NH High Tech Council, says statistics show up to 125,000 Granite Staters commute out of the state every day to work. To get the attention of the 10 to 20 percent of those commuters who are likely tech workers, the NH Tech Council filed two legislative bills this session aimed squarely at that group. One bill would establish a technology sector marketing tax credit for businesses recruiting skilled tech sector professionals. Another bill, which ended up being tabled, would have made money available to employers to offer a one-time student loan forgiveness of $5,000 to new hires from out-of-state who had been in a tech job for at least four years. Dufort is optimistic that bill could be reconsidered in the future.

Another piece of the seismic shift in the state is realigning company recruitment efforts. Coming up with creative incentives to attract those millennials is already underway. A Challenge Grant incentive program, started by Stay Work Play NH, showcases employers who agree to pay down $8,000 in federal college loans of newly hired NH graduates during their first four years on the job.

Kara LaSalle, president of Fusion, the Lakes Region’s YPN, says one key to retaining young people is letting high school students know what NH has to offer. “I grew up in Gilford, but I don’t think all of the amenities we have here were ever fully translated to me at that age,” she says. “We make that knowledge accessible now to younger folks, to make them think about coming back here after college.”


A networking event organized by Fusion on board the Winnipesaukee Belle in the Lakes Region.
Courtesy photo.


Stumbling Blocks
Still there are challenges. The Central NH YPN and Greater Derry Londonderry YPN both folded, and the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce’s YPN was heading in the same direction.

Donna Morris, president of the Greater Salem Chamber, says young professionals are becoming increasingly transient and pursuing new career opportunities out of town or state, which made attendance at YPN networking events unpredictable and contributed to vacancies in leadership positions.

To better serve Salem-area young professionals, the chamber decided to reinvent its YPN as the Young Professionals Academy, a $150 program comprised of four monthly classes titled Business Personalities, Professional Communication, Business Networking and Community Involvement. Along with attending each session, participants are required to attend two chamber committee meetings and a committee meeting for one of the chamber’s nonprofit members. At the end of the program, there is a graduation ceremony at the chamber's annual mixer event at Canobie Lake Park in Salem.

Morris stresses how much she prefers this approach versus the traditional YPN setup. Instead of hosting separate events for younger professionals, she says the Academy presents participants with opportunities to network with people their own age as well as more seasoned chamber members. The Academy’s first year attracted 18 participants, and this year’s class of 12 young professionals will be graduating this month. From this first group of participants, Morris says at least six now serve on chamber committees.

YPNs also face stumbling blocks within their communities like high cost of living and limited or unaffordable housing that force their members to look elsewhere for work. “If someone is already saddled with student debt, it’s really unaffordable around here,” says Sauber of Keene YPN. “We’re working together to rack our brains to address these issues, like workforce housing and the high cost of living.”

Jessica Wright, chair of Stay Mt. Washington Valley, says last year the group raised $3,000 to offer one recipient help repaying some student debt. “We had 12 applicants for the contest, who had over $700,000 in combined debt, so we realized we were on to something,” she says. The group is also starting a competition for young professionals with entrepreneurship skills. The winner will get a $25,000 equity/convertible loan.

But YPNs know they can't do it alone. “The challenge of keeping young professionals in New Hampshire is definitely bigger than groups like Catapult,” Shine says. “We have to make sure we have the industry and resources for them, the talent development for them and provide them with the community they want to live in.”

NH’s Young Professionals Networks

Catapult (Seacoast)
catapultseacoast.org
facebook.com/catapultseacoast

Concord Young Professionals Network (CYPN)
concordnhchamber.com/concord_young_professionals_network_cypn.html
facebook.com/concordypn

Fusion (Lakes Region)
fusionnh.org
facebook.com/NHFusion

Greater Rochester Young Professionals
rochesternh.org/pages/young-professional-networking-events
facebook.com/GRYPNH

iUGO (Nashua)
iugonashua.com
facebook.com/iugonashua1

Keene Young Professionals Network
facebook.com/groups/KeeneYPN

Lake Sunapee Young Professionals Network
facebook.com/lsypn

Manchester Young Professionals Network (MYPN)
manchesteryoungprofessionalsnetwork.org
facebook.com/ManchesterYPN

NH Society of Certified Public Accountants, Young Professionals Committee
nhscpa.org/young_professionals/

NH & Vermont Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Young Professionals Group
abcypg.org

North of the Notch YP Network
facebook.com/northnhypn

Stay Mount Washington Valley
Staymwv.com

Sullivan County Young Professionals
facebook.com/SullivanCountyYP

Upper Valley Young Professionals
uvyp.org

YP Resource

StayWorkPlay NH
A nonprofit established in 2009 that runs a website and associated marketing efforts promoting what NH can offer to the 20- and 30-year-old demographic in terms of staying, working and playing here. stayworkplay.org


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