There are more young professionals in Ottumwa than many may realize.
Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation Executive Director David Barajas Jr. said in conversations with the OEDC board last year, they stressed “the importance of doing things to change and adjust the culture of the community if Ottumwa wants to progress into the future.
“One of the most important things in any community is finding opportunities to engage young people,” Barajas said.
The Ottumwa Young Professionals Organization is the result.
Many rural communities face “brain drain,” Barajas said, where young people go off to college and never return home.
“But not many of those communities are taking the steps to stop that brain drain,” he said.
One way to retain young professionals and to attract more is to invite them “to the table,” so to speak, and help them understand that they are wanted and needed here, he said.
“This is the beginning of helping to change that culture,” Barajas said of the Ottumwa YPO.
Megan Framke, OEDC initiative manager, said young professionals have to feel comfortable around each other first before they can give back to the community.
That’s the goal of Network at Night, held the second Wednesday of each month at Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company.
Framke noted that she did not recognize or had never met half of the people who turned out for the first Network at Night two weeks ago.
“We want to see better things happen in the community, but we can’t do that without a sense of community to start with,” Framke said.
Representatives from Indian Hills, Ottumwa Regional Health Center, John Deere Ottumwa Works, Cargill and the Ottumwa school district all came out for the first event.
“There have been young professionals here for a long time, but there was no opportunity for them to come together,” Barajas said. “Young professionals are here, in the community, but they’re in their own corners because no one has helped them feel welcome or engaged.”
Getting young people engaged in the community then makes it easier for corporations to attract young professionals, he said.
Framke referenced the book “Live First, Work Second,” by Rebecca Ryan, which addresses the increasing attitude of upcoming generations who place as much or more importance on their lives outside of work.
“She’s very blunt but puts a positive spin on it,” Framke said of Ryan. “It can and will happen, you just have to give it time.”
Barajas said he was able to speak with Ryan at a conference in May.
“Today’s generation is looking to live first and work second,” Barajas said. “People are looking for communities that are engaging, welcoming and progressive.”
Social media has had a huge impact on workplace culture, he noted.
“Older generations are beginning to understand that younger generations are looking at things differently because of technology,” Barajas said. “The communities who realize that are those who in the future will have opportunities to progress and move forward.”
Framke said she has received a lot of direction and advice from Ryan.
“It’s important that we as a community, as we continue to grow, we grow with the changes in the rest of the world,” Framke said.
Ottumwa can’t be afraid to make changes, Barajas said.
“There are a lot of things that character our community that are great, but if we want to progress, we need to do things differently,” he said. “We need to show people from outside to take a look at what’s happening here.”
Framke said there is a sense of regionalism surrounding southeast Iowa’s YPOs in Albia, Oskaloosa and Fairfield.
“It was interesting to see that such a small community [Albia] can support a young professionals organization,” Framke said. “They’re very involved in the community. It’s refreshing to hear that other communities around here are being so progressive.”
In April, Penelope Trunk, an author, blogger and serial entrepreneur from Wisconsin, spoke at an Indian Hills ceremony to honor area individuals and businesses for entrepreneurship.
Trunk shot down Barajas’ idea for a young professionals organization in Ottumwa, saying Ottumwa could not support one since “there’s no ladder to climb” and there are not enough competitive jobs to warrant a young professionals organization.
“I think we already proved her wrong,” Framke said. “It’s taken off way beyond what she expected.”
Barajas said in order for the organization to succeed, people need to listen and be open to other’s ideas and viewpoints.
“What Penelope and others need to begin to understand is that we will define who and what we are,” Barajas said. “It’s our responsibility to define what direction we’re going, and we don’t need anyone on the outside to define who we are.”
Ottumwa YPO holds Network each month
The Ottumwa YPO holds Network at Night the second Wednesday of each month at Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company.
The kickoff event will be held from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 19 on the patio of Bridge View Center. There will be music, food from Beach Body BBQ and beverages from Peace Tree Brewing Co., of Knoxville.
The event is not ticketed and people of all ages are welcome to attend.
For more information, contact Megan Framke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The organization can also be found on Facebook at facebook.com/OttumwaYPO
There are more young professionals in Ottumwa than many may realize.
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