Young professional networks spread across New Hampshire

Barely two years ago, 11 young professionals from the greater Manchester area gathered to discuss ways to provide other up-and-coming businesspeople with the professional tools needed to succeed in their careers and the cultural incentives and social contacts they require to build a fulfilling life in the Granite State.

That first meeting gave birth to the Manchester Young Professional Network. Today MYPN’s membership tops 1,200, giving testimony to the existence of the vibrant community of upcoming business and community leaders who continue to call the greater Manchester area home.

“I think you’ve got a renaissance in Manchester. It’s becoming a place where a person under the age of 40 or without a family can have an interesting life,” said Stephanie McLaughlin, chair of MYPN and director of client development at the Manchester law firm of Sheehan, Phinney, Bass and Green. “That’s why the group took off. Young people saw other young professionals building a life.”

The early success of MYPN sparked a flurry of interest in other Granite State communities, each facing their own challenges but all sharing similar goals of recruiting and retaining the capable workforce of today and the business and community leaders of tomorrow.

“These are the people that have the capability and the drive to succeed in their chosen professions,” said Tara Golden, director of account services and operations at Rumbletree, an advertising and marketing firm based in Portsmouth, and co-founder of “Catapult,” the young professional network organizing on the Seacoast. “These are the people that will one day hold leadership roles in our communities.”

Still in its infancy, Catapult had a membership of nearly 200 even before its first formal networking function last month.

The networks of young professionals isn’t limited to Manchester and Seacoast.

In Concord, nearly 230 people attended the kickoff event in October of the Concord Young Professional Network.

Together only since January, the Mount Washington Valley Young Professionals Network already has more than 120 members.

All of the organizations boast a diverse membership of people typically aged from their early 20s to mid-40s and representative of all different industries.

A reason to stay

Ironically, the evolution of the state’s young professional networks has taken place during a time when many have voiced concerns over the number of young workers leaving the state.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, New Hampshire’s population of 25- to 34-year-olds declined by nearly 12,000 between 2000 and 2005. During the same time period, the state lost 10,000 more between the ages of 35 and 44.

Reasons behind the exodus include everything from limited nightlife and cultural resources to low wages and high housing costs.

Chris Williams, MYPN co-founder and president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, believes the development of young professional groups may be key to providing at least part of the answer.

“Through these organizations, people are developing a new feeling of community. There is a new positive energy and good buzz,” said Williams.

While the networks are divided geographically, all are united in their quest to address similar issues and have made social networking events and professional development part of their ongoing efforts. Cultural and lifestyle events geared toward New Hampshire’s younger sect are also popular.

Through this type of programming, Williams and other network leaders hope to expose young professionals to exciting local resources they may not have been aware of.

When MYPN began two years ago, Williams and others were committed to forming an organization that would expose young professionals to each other and the community resources they would need to make the greater Manchester area home.

Plans for MYPN — and the other three organizations in New Hampshire – include encouraging members to become active community leaders by getting involved in social and political causes as well.

Peter Francese of Exeter, a nationally recognized demographer and author, believes the state’s young professional networks could indeed be instrumental in changing what he considers a worrisome trend in New Hampshire’s population.

“Right now, 40 percent of New Hampshire homeowners are age 55 or older. Some experts believe this number will rise to 50 percent within 10 years,” said Francese. “We have to ask ourselves what will the impact on things like our school districts and workforce be if this continues.”

Francese credits much of the change to the current housing market, which continues to support over-55 age-restricted housing while proving less than hospitable to young families.

“There is still a lack of workforce housing in this state. You can pick up any newspaper and read reports from recent planning board meetings,” Francese said. “They’re generally against any development that might put more kids in the schools. It sends the message that if you’re young with kids we don’t want you.”

Like Williams, Francese sees the future role of these young professional networks to include community and political involvement, making them catalysts of a needed change in attitude.

“These groups can get voters and board members to see that young families are not the cause of rising property taxes, to see our penchant for age-restricted housing has economic consequences,” Francese said. “They can demonstrate that the benefits of a vibrant and youthful workforce accrues to the entire state.”

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