Nashville, with a rising international profile and red-hot job market, has emerged as a destination of choice for recent college graduates and young professionals.
Music City has a knack for attracting fresh talent. The region’s post-recession boom has been accompanied by a whopping 37 percent growth rate among millennials for the years 2007–13, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate information company.
“Research shows that by 2025, millennials will make up the majority of our workforce," said Meredith McKay, manager of talent attraction and retention at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “Having a young, millennial-heavy workforce now ensures that we will have an experienced and prepared workforce come 2025.”
One tool that the Nashville Area Chamber uses to engage young professionals is YP Nashville, a millennial-focused partnership between the regional chamber of commerce and 50 local young professional organizations (YPOs).
The initiative’s mission is to connect, empower and engage young professionals while developing the next generation of community leaders across the Middle Tennessee region. “Instead of offering individual memberships, we are an umbrella organization that partners with other YPOs in our area,” says McKay.
YP Nashville is staffed by the Nashville Area Chamber and led with the help of a volunteer chair who serves a one-year term. Current chair, Sarah Hannah, a partner at law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, has previously held leadership roles in other Nashville-area YPOs.
“YP Nashville provides its partners with the opportunity to develop relationships with other motivated, young professionals and to be engaged in the leadership of the Nashville community in a meaningful way,” said Hannah.
“We have an ecosystem of young professionals who not only want to create a successful professional network, but also want to use their resources to make a positive impact on their community,” says Hannah. “I think that’s a win for Nashville.”
The initiative can trace its roots back to 2000, when the Nashville Area Chamber contracted with Next Generation Consulting’s Rebecca Ryan, who referred to the Middle Tennessee region as a “talent magnet.”
“We knew, as a chamber, this was an opportunity to capitalize on attraction of young professional talent while also retaining the talent already living here. Whether it’s our college graduates or millennials moving to town, we want to make sure we keep a young labor force for our companies,” says Alex Hughes, vice president of talent attraction and retention at the Nashville Area Chamber.
“We wanted to build something new and innovative and really cast a wide net to incorporate as many young professionals into our community as possible. And we wanted to continue building the next generation of leaders in the Nashville area,” Hughes said.
In 2002, the presidents and officers of five Nashville-area YPOs began meeting to plan and share ideas, which led to a decision to collaborate on future initiatives. A few years later, in 2005, the same five groups partnered with the Nashville Area Chamber to form what is known as YP Nashville today. The program has rapidly expanded since then, with 50 additional YPOs signing onto the initiative.
“The city of Nashville is growing exponentially, and as more young professionals move to town, they are going to be looking for opportunities to network and be engaged”
– Sarah Hannah, YP Nashville Chair
The partnership allows presidents of the various member organizations to gather several times each year to work together and offer support to young professionals in Middle Tennessee. YP Nashville promotes these groups and their events by highlighting the work of a different YPO each month in its newsletter and on social media. The expanded reach of the partnership structure allows YP Nashville to connect with more than 30,000 young professionals in the community through social media, digital communications, partner organizations and outreach activities.
In addition to promoting the events of its members, YP Nashville hosts four to six educational and leadership development events each year. The group’s most well-known event, the annual Nashville Emerging Leader Awards (NELAs), celebrates young professionals for achievements in their careers and contributions to their communities. The NELAs are awarded in 15 categories including education, technology and financial services.
“We understand that a great way to attract and retain young professionals is recognition,” says Hughes. “It’s a major motivator in making sure they continue their work in the community.”
The process for selecting award-winners runs about 10 months. Nominations, which are submitted by peers, colleagues and supervisors, open in January of each year and run through mid-February. A panel of judges – either past winners or “industry titans” – evaluate applications and name about 75 finalists across 15 industries.
The annual NELAs ceremony is held in August, when one winner is selected per industry. “We have had winners that have gone on to become metro council members, partners in their law firms and designers of transit plans for the city,” said Hughes. “Others worked in the mayor’s office or helped expand our tourism and hospitality sectors. They have all contributed to our community in different ways through their strong leadership.”
Another event, YP Nashville Connect, is an after-hours community-building gathering that bills itself as one of the largest events in the area for young professionals. The annual gathering features display booths staffed by YP Nashville partner organizations, along with food, music and door prizes. The gathering functions as a trade show for dozens of local YPOs that market their organizations to the hundreds of young professionals who attend each year.
“All of the YPOs who set up a booth at Connect are partners of our initiative and are given the opportunity to connect with more than 600 potential new members and volunteers,” explained Hughes. “People enjoy the ability to have a one-stop-shop for getting connected in the community.”
YP Nashville’s $90,000 yearly budget is mostly programmatic and is offset by its official corporate sponsors, as well as yearly investments from partner organizations. The budget is mostly allocated to professional development events, leadership retreats, the Connect trade show and the Nashville Emerging Leader Awards event, which consumes the biggest chunk of the budget.
“We knew, as a chamber, this was an opportunity to capitalize on attraction of young professional talent while also retaining the talent already living here. Whether it’s our college graduates or millennials moving to town, we want to make sure we keep a young labor force for our companies”
– Alex Hughes
Hannah offers advice for chambers of commerce interested in creating their own young professionals-focused initiative: the key to success is to start by finding the right mix of resources and committed leadership.
“Chambers need to commit the resources necessary to grow the organization. That means finding the right ambassadors from within the chamber’s staff and member organizations who are going to be committed to dedicating their time and effort to the success of the program.”
And in terms of talent attraction, Alex Hughes thinks that crafting an engaging narrative could be the solution for regions struggling to win over young professionals.
“Millennials these days want to make a difference and build a community. If you can share stories of young professionals who have moved to your community and really contributed to the growth of that area, it goes a long way.”
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