Investing in the next generation

Fifteen years ago, the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce responded to demand in the community for programming that would engage the next generation of workers and support their professional development. With input from a startup team of volunteers and financial support from Forward Sioux Falls, the Young Professionals Network officially launched in April of 2009.

The program gained 400 members within its first year, firmly establishing its place within the Sioux Falls business community. Today, YPN has more than 800 members, representing approximately 380 companies.

“A lot of change has occurred in this community in the last 15 years, but the need to engage and develop the next generation of workers is a constant,” said Jeff Griffin, President & CEO of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.

The goal of YPN is to connect young professionals and help them develop the skills they need to succeed – both in their chosen occupation and as active leaders in the community. With members between the ages of 21-39, some individuals are just getting started in their careers while others are taking on leadership roles within their company. Through a variety of programming and events, YPN introduces its members to the region’s resources and possibilities, creates business opportunities, supports civic involvement and promotes an overall investment in the future of the community.

Creating Connections

It’s incredibly important to invite young professionals into organizations such as YPN where they are introduced into community engagement… This warm introduction helps build a pipeline of community leaders for years to come. -Sadie Bell, First Bank & Trust

Anyone who has ever attended a business event with a room full of strangers understands that networking takes practice. The YPN Social Action Team plans events that give YPN members the chance to develop that skill in a comfortable setting.

“YPN takes the awkwardness out of networking,” said Steering Committee member and Social Action Team Co-Chair Zach Scott, Reliabank. “When we plan events, I try to think of what attracts people, and will the space work to mingle and communicate?”

Monthly Off the Clock and Morning Buzz events allow members to connect in a relaxed setting. The result is expanded professional networks and personal friendships.

“Along with business connections, a lot of the people that I have met have turned into close personal friends. It’s created a strong collaborative community feeling that I feel welcome in,” said Megan Barkley, SEAM & Millennium Recycling.

Jocelyn Smith, LifeScape, agrees that networking is one of the biggest benefits of YPN membership. “YPN has helped enrich my professional confidence in big or small group settings. With hundreds of members in YPN, I meet new people at every event. It has allowed me to connect with other people whom I wouldn’t have been able to meet otherwise.”

Because YPN is a program of the Chamber, it attracts members from a variety of backgrounds, resulting in networking opportunities across industries. YPN Steering Committee Chair James Gaspar, Interstate Office Products, described YPN events as “the best venue in town to network with other emerging leaders who are interested in helping Sioux Falls thrive and grow.”

“YPs can come to our events and find other like-minded individuals who are interested in advancing their careers. They can connect with others who are learning to do business the “Sioux Falls Way” and forge new relationships,” Gaspar stated.

Developing leaders

Combine the abundant relationship-building opportunities of YPN with strong development programming, and the result is a valuable tool that helps young professionals grow in their careers and become strong leaders.

Personal and professional development events such as Focus Workshops and A Seat at the Table give YPN members the chance to gain new skills or learn from established business leaders. The biennial Crossroads Summit has become a don’t-miss event for young professionals across the region.

Jesse Carlson, Dacotah Bank, attended the Crossroads Summit for the first time in 2023 and called it an unforgettable experience. “It was filled with enlightening educational breakouts, such as learning about our community from Mayor Paul TenHaken and gaining insights into the roles of our young local state representatives and senators. The day was spent engaging in educational sessions, networking with like-minded young professionals across the state and catching up with old friends,” he said.

Programming such as Community Connections tours, Our Sioux Falls and Topics on Tap offer a chance to learn more about the various industries, non-profits, projects and issues of the region. Many YPN members say that while they might find professional benefit in these educational events, the most valuable takeaway is that they shine a light on the bigger picture for Sioux Falls.

“I’ve learned so much about our city through YPN, and I am proud of the collaboration its foundation was built on and the future collaborations that will continue to make it grow,” said Smith. She points to YPN’s community-focused approach as one of the things that initially drew her to membership in YPN.

Ally Brandner, Sanford Health, joined the YPN Steering Committee in part because she wanted to encourage other young professionals to be involved in collaborative community leadership. Through its civic engagement efforts, YPN seeks to harness the skills and enthusiasm of young professionals in order to effect change and contribute meaningfully to their communities.

“It is vitally important for young professionals to be informed, advocate and participate both in political and non-political processes,” Brandner said. “There are various paths to participate in solving issues that improve our community.”

In his eight years of involvement in YPN, Gaspar has encountered multiple opportunities for personal and professional growth. From planning networking events and curating educational content to leading a committee of volunteers, he said the experience has taught him how to be an effective board member and community leader.

Gaspar said, “My service on the YPN Steering Committee has helped me learn how to embrace change and has demonstrated to me the importance of strong volunteer leadership for nonprofit organizations.”

A Smart business decision

…I have found that the opportunity to connect with fellow young leaders in the community who share their passion for our city and their careers is the most valuable aspect of this organization.” -Ally Brandner, Sanford Health

The Sioux Falls business community gave YPN a stamp of approval from the beginning. Employers and managers recognize the importance of providing their young employees with opportunities to learn and grow – both personally and professionally.

PREMIER Bankcard CEO Miles Beacom said that his organization encourages employees to get involved in YPN because it helps recruit and retain young professionals.

“We need to keep our young talent who have grown up here, as well as attract young talent from other states,” Beacom said. “They are the future and key to our success and longevity.”

Angel Kaspar, a credit analyst with First PREMIER Bank, joined YPN shortly after she moved to Sioux Falls. “When I first moved to Sioux Falls, like most young individuals, I was looking for a way to meet people my own age and YPN was a great way to do so. It also offered a wide variety of events that really allowed me to experience Sioux Falls in a different way and helped me get to know our local community.”

Many companies choose to cover the cost of a YPN membership and offer flexibility in scheduling to allow their employees to attend events hosted by YPN. It is an easy investment decision to make, according to David Doxtad, President of ISG.

“YPN’s programs align extremely well with our mission by not only positively impacting the community, but also boosting the skills of the professionals that participate. These professionals will have the drive and confidence to bring benefits to our community, state and region for generations to come.” Doxtad stated.

The next generation of business leaders gain access to resources and a path to leadership through YPN, which leads to further involvement and external professional success. Beacom stated “The YPN is a great way for young professionals to gain tremendous networking partnerships that are focused on everyone working together to continue to make Sioux Falls a better place to live, work and play!”

community impact

Fifteen years in, the impact of YPN is evident in the Sioux Falls business community. More than 4,400 people have held a membership in the program since it began, and many young professionals have used the program as a springboard to further involvement in the Chamber and the community.

Sadie Bell, Senior Vice President & Chief Retail Officer at First Bank & Trust, was one of the people who actively participated in YPN in its early years. “YPN became a fantastic opportunity for younger professionals, like myself at the time, to get involved in the Chamber,” said Bell. “It allowed me to engage with community leaders early in my career, which has awarded me endless value throughout my career.”

Participation in YPN led to other community service opportunities for Bell. She is currently a member of the Chamber’s Community Appeals Committee and Chair of the Board for The Compass Center.

Fiegen Construction President Lucas Fiegen also found YPN to be a valuable entry point for community connections. He joined right out of college. “Starting a full-time career in the family business, I was searching for the right group to become better connected with the business community.”

“YPN opened avenues into other fantastic networking opportunities – such as the Ambassador Committee, Forward Sioux Falls campaigns and many more. Overall, the impact was a door opener to many great things that have happened thus far in my career,” Fiegen said.

For the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, Griffin said the Young Professionals Network is a proven investment that will continue to be a signature part of how the Chamber fulfills its mission of building a strong community.

“YPN is a tremendous asset to Sioux Falls because it attracts and retains young professionals to build their careers and put down roots in our community,” stated Griffin. “By creating avenues for young workers to connect and investing in their professional development, we are demonstrating that their contributions are valued here, and we want them to stay.”