By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Kimberley Bridenstine and Kelley Harris just came back from a Young Professionals Summit in Cocoa Beach, Fla., armed with a wealth of information about starting an organized young professionals group to give the next generation of leaders a voice in shaping the Killeen of the future.
Leaders of the Killeen of the present sent them there, not to co-opt the shape of the future, but to try to ensure it will be healthy, wealthy and wise.
Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce officials seized on the idea of a local young professionals group of people 25 to 40 years old at the annual economic development conference of the Central Texas Economic Corridor in April.
Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting of Madison, Wis., promoted the idea in connection with sealing a deal on a study to determine "handprints" of the corridor and the communities of each of its members, which are the economic development corporations of Temple, Belton, Copperas Cove and Killeen.
Workforce Solutions of Central Texas is also a member interested in the economic and demographic data the corridor collects in efforts to attract talent and industry.
Young professionals organizations are a growing nationwide trend, and NGC energetically promotes them because they can define the aspirations of an area and help greatly in mapping the "handprint" of factors including the quality of education, recreation, health care and economic opportunity.
GKCC's staff is also the staff of the Killeen Economic Development Corp., although the elected officers are different.
In the other three cities, the chambers and EDC's are closely allied but separate. It happened that the GKCC was already working on the concept of "place design" specifically to create features in the community that will attract industry and attract and retain highly talented personnel to keep the city moving upward.
So the GKCC tapped Toyota of Killeen business manager John Lohse to be a board member this year as a youth representative and asked him and Bridenstine, an Allstate insurance agent, to work on forming a young professionals group.
Executive board named
They quickly formed an executive board, which named them co-chairs. Lohse is also treasurer, and Bridenstine is events chair. The others are:
Harris, of the Salons of Elms Square, and Bridenstine's sister, membership chair and secretary.
Todd Allison of Dynamic Designs, marketing and promotions chair.
Kelsey Brodie of Cumulus Radio, publicity and Web site chair.
Jill Roberts of GC Services, professional development and guest speaker chair.
"They're taking a great deal of initiative," said GKCC president John Crutchfield.
The projected group is not to be a part of the chamber organization and takes no orders from the chamber, which wants it to fly free on the presumption that the senior leaders of the community do not know what the younger folk know or what they want until the young ones tell them. They just want something cohesive, effective and permanent to take shape.
So Bridenstine and Harris studied available materials and went to the three-day conference in Florida, where they worked 12-hour days learning about how successful groups have done it. But before that, the committee had been meeting twice a month for several months.
"The whole idea is to start communication among the younger generation and to communicate with the senior leaders," Lohse said. "There are groups with 3,000 members now in big cities. They can tell you the handprint of Austin is good; Atlanta has what Austin has, but it's all overpriced for the younger generation. Things like this are what we can say in consensus."
Bridenstine said that when she agreed to serve, she saw it as "just another thing to do" until she heard the movement's focus on work-life balance, about "living first and working second." She said the conference attracted 150 people representing 80 organizations from 30 states. About 60 percent were Chamber of Commerce-backed. The rest were stand-alone.
Crutchfield said he could offer no figures but had the sense that groups that were chamber-backed had a greater success rate than others because roots and guidance help.
The organizing group projects a monthly after-hours mixer and a monthly "lunch & learn" for professional development on subjects such as teamwork, networking skills, business etiquette and political candidates. Once the group forms, it may form subcommittees on education, family life and other areas.
"We want to know how to attract and retain professional and skilled people," Lohse said. "We want to show newcomers the best features of the area and help them find the best places to live. We also want to form alliances with civic clubs and other groups."
Bridenstine said, "We hope to be well-run but not too structured."
The movement has a concept of three types of young people: those who stay home, those who leave but return "boomerangs," and those who leave and stay gone.
Lohse and Bridenstine both class themselves as "boomerangs." Both are third-generation Killeenites.
Bridenstine, daughter of Louis and Patsy Curb, went to Houston for a while and graduated from college there before returning home.
Lohse said he looked at Dallas and Fort Worth for a while but returned home to be a part of the family business since he was the youngest son and his siblings had all left to build careers elsewhere.
Where young professionals groups are connected with chambers of commerce, they're distant descendants of the junior chambers of commerce, or "Jaycees," which set a maximum age of 35 as a hard and fast rule – possibly an idea that would repel the new groups – and had wives' auxiliaries known as "Jaycee-ettes."
Crutchfield reflected that the Jaycee idea had faded almost to extinction for unclear reasons instead of changing with the times.
He calls the younger people "the millenial class". He noted that most of the educated people in that class grew up with computer technology, particularly the Internet, instead of learning it piecemeal on an as-needed basis.
"Our group is necessarily focused on short-term goals now, but they will be very directly linked with our efforts in place design. When Rebecca (Ryan) starts her work, they'll be a portal for her. We'll need young people on our place design team. If we get that right, we can both attract people from elsewhere and retain the ones we have, including professional and highly-skilled people leaving the Army."
He noted that intimacy with the Internet has created a highly mobile type of professional that can live anywhere and telecommute.
"That makes attractive places all the more important because they can pick the best places to live. Michael Dell started Dell Computers in a dorm room, but when the company expanded, it could have gone anywhere. It thrived because it stayed in Austin, where it attracted other experts who could have gone anywhere."
He said the GKCC has recently talked to leaders in Belton about starting a young professionals group there and will talk to the other cities as well in the interest of expanding the concept over the Central Texas Economic Corridor because Ryan will be working for all its members and because its whole purpose is collaboration for economic development. But they will have to decide whether the EDC or the chambers will offer sponsorship and guidance.
It just happened that the unified structure made it easy in Killeen, so Killeen broke the ground.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557.