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Chambers of commerce cater to young professionals

Groups are for the ‘next leaders of the business community’


At a young professionals happy hour hosted by the Highlands Ranch Chamber of Commerce, 24-year-old Erika Oakvik mingled with a small group of people — some dressed in suits and skirts, others sporting T-shirts and jeans — over personal and professional life.

“One of the most important things about marketing,” said Oakvik, who works for CareNow Urgent Care, “is meeting the movers and shakers.”

Young professional groups are emerging in several chambers of commerce across the Denver metro area. Targeting those 40 and younger, the groups provide an opportunity to network, grow professionally and have fun with like-minded people.

Events are geared toward the interests of young adults — happy hours, hikes, gatherings at popular restaurants. Oakvik described the atmosphere as relaxed, not intimidating.

Young professional groups are “extremely important for any type of chamber,” said Annie Smiley, director of marketing and events of the West Chamber of Commerce, which has 750 members across Jefferson County and the metro area.

“Our goal is to prepare the future leaders of the chamber,” Smiley said. “Eventually these individuals are going to take on larger roles within the chamber.”

Clelia McVay, events and programs coordinator of the Metro North Chamber of Commerce, has a similar outlook. The Westminster-based chamber’s Young Professionals Network was created last summer to provide networking opportunities for all levels of business and community leaders, McVay said. The group meets for formal events, such as a presentation, and informal events, such as a meetup at a local brewery. Members also participate in a couple of community service projects throughout the year.

“Young Professionals are able to become engaged in the community they live and work in on a much deeper level,” McVay said.

Young professional groups within chambers are for the next leaders of the business community, said Jacob Day, a member of the Highlands Ranch Chamber.

After noticing young professionals attending chamber events — monthly luncheons, trivia nights, grand openings and more — and notcontinuing with the chamber, Day, a 35-year-old who works in finance, spearheaded Young Professionals of Highlands Ranch. Twenty members signed up for the first event, a happy hour on July 20 at Hilton Garden Inn in Highlands Ranch.

Andrea LaRew, president of the chamber, said she was hearing from young professionals that it was intimidating to attend chamber events and engage with professionals who are established in their career. The new group allows young professionals to create relationships with peers, partner with mentors and explore career paths, LaRew said.

“Young professionals who are just entering the workforce or are new to their field have different wants and needs than those who are seasoned in their career,” she said.

Shelby Schacher started YP Leads!, a young professional group within the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, because she saw a need for a place where young adults in similar stages of life could connect. Schacher, 25, joined the Centennial-based chamber when she was out of college and starting her career.

“Everybody is in suits and dresses and they already have their establishment and know what they are talking about,” she said of chamber meetings. “It’s intimidating to walk in and be the new person.”

Started last November, YP Leads! meets twice a month for a range of activities, from discussions about business development and social media marketing strategies to field trips to a member’s business. There are currently 17 members and the group will cap out at 20 to keep it small and build relationships, Schacher said.

The group offers encouragement and fosters friendships, she said.

“We can all relate to each other as far as difficulties,” she said, “and also successes.”

Smiley has had a similar experience. She said she has met some of her best friends through West Chamber’s young professionals group, which she revamped about a year ago. The group — about 200 people are signed up online and 30 to 40 attend events — meets monthly for activities. On Aug. 19, they hiked North Table Mountain Park and then networked at a restaurant in Golden. An Oct. 12 event called Fish Bowl will feature a panel of five seasoned businesspeople. Participants don’t have to be members of the Lakewood-based chamber — though the goal is to expand the chamber — and must be under 40 years old.

Events cater to five pillars: access, social, education, activities and philanthropy. Smiley came up with the structure to help young professionals build relationships with mentors and peers, balance work and life through activities and contribute to the community.

“Members have invested in this group because they see the value in it,” Smiley said. “It’s creating friendships and bonds.”


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