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Chamber Relaunching ‘Young Professionals,’ Tackling Age Question

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PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Where have all the young people gone?

A group of young professionals called “YP NOVA” that prided itself on networking at area businesses and taking to the putt-putt golf course each year to raise scholarship money disbanded last year.

The group’s note-taking organizer, Andrea Whaley at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, said the group fell apart after six years because of what happened in the members’ personal lives.

“Much like our lives, things are constantly in flux, and when people’s personal lives change, other things people are involved with also can change,” she said.

It’s not that having a networking group aimed at attracting young people didn’t work. In fact, the Chamber of Commerce, which has facilitated the group since its inception, says it’s still a great way to get young people interested in starting their own business, mentoring those who already have, and to bring more sought-after youth to become involved with the chamber.

Some complaints about the old YP NOVA: There were few members who were actually considered by the group’s own standards to be young, or under age 40, and group members met mostly for drinks and to socialize. 

Few young people at chamber events

Vincent Consumano is a 28-year-old website developer who founded FreshySites, as well as a non-profit to help build computer labs for children in public schools. He saw the need to reorganize YP NOVA, and through a brainstorming session at 1 Million Cups Prince William, determined he needed to show area college students, as well as those involved in the Future Business Leaders of America clubs in area high schools, that YP NOVA was a place they would want to be.

There’s also a host of young business owners in the community that might be interested in joining such a group.

“We want this to be a place to harness knowledge and foster ideas,” said Consumano. “A young business owner at age 22 might not want to join a chamber of commerce because they don’t see the chamber as having a place for them. Honestly, when I go out to chamber events, I don’t see a lot of young people at them.”

About 25 people joined him on April 10 for a session to gauge interest for a renewed YP NOVA. When compared to other committee meetings at the Prince William Chamber, the turnout was large. They discussed what the mission of a new group should be, what activities the group should promote, and they spent a lot of time talking about setting the maximum age limit to 40-years-old for those to be considered a “young professional.”

The value of those over 40

Tee Morris, 45, an entrepreneurial author, came to the reorganization meeting but is not thrilled about age limits. After working at what he called a “uber hip” ad agency in Washington, D.C. staffed by young people, the agency lacked experience and put too much influence on free social media marketing, a medium that is in decline, says Morris.

“There is something to said for experience among young professionals… I’ve been watching the implosion of Facebook and when working around so many young social media gurus, I can say Facebook has never been a free ride when it comes to marketing your business,” said Morris.

Others agreed, and said placing age limits is a sure way to turn off would-be members.

“Some people who are over 40 might look at this group, see the age restriction, and say ‘we’ll, I can’t do anything for them,” said Jennifer Puffenberger, of Puffenberger Insurance in Warrenton. “We have to remember that there are young professionals and there is also young at heart.”

Those who are over age 40 would could still be a member of the group and would serve as a mentor to members.

What are we really here for?

The topic of mentorship, whether it be mentoring students in public schools or pairing up with young entrepreneurs, also came up when members were discussing just what their mission should be.

“I’m not interested in community service. I’m a member of a rotary so I already have that box checked,” said Tracy Milanese, Vice President at Access National Bank. “I need to grow my business, and I don’t mind mentoring each other, but if community service and mentoring – not that it’s not important – is going to be the focus of this group, it may not be the right group for me.”

But doing more good in the community could lead to more recognition for the group.

“Community is important,” said Ben Hazekamp. “We need a group to let the chamber, and everyone in the community know we are here through mentoring or something to that.”

Nearly everyone agreed at the group’s mission should be one of building mutually beneficial business relationships, and to be more than going out after work for drinks shoptalk.

“One of the problems with some of the networking events is you go and pass a card but you don’t really get into a relationship,” said Jennifer Jessie, of No Blue Creative.

The youngest person in the room, 17-year-old intern Michael Carter, said he would be interested in a group that would help promote him.

“I need to make sure the group is going to help me to grow professionally, and that that will have food [at their meetings].”

Consumano will take what he learned at this meeting, mull it around, and will schedule another meeting of YP NOVA in early May to take place at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Manassas. Everyone is invited to attend.

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