By Kathy Cutforth, NorthwoodsNews.com Correspondent
The Northwoods is a big place and meeting people can be difficult, especially for young professionals new to the region.
That is the situation Niina Baum found herself in several years ago when she moved to Rhinelander to work for Nicolet College. In an attempt to make contact with like-minded people, she joined numerous nonprofit organizations, and found a lot of nice people, but few in her age bracket.
That gave her an idea so she co-founded Northwoods Young Professionals just months prior to the start of the pandemic. Since then, there have been numerous in-person meetups in a different town each month. Membership is free and available to anyone between the ages of 21 and 40.
“We have been drawing between 20 and 40 people to our meetups,” said Niina. “I would say between two-thirds to three-fourths are people who have moved into the area. We do get some people who live here, but a lot of them have families and social networks already.”
The nearest other organization with in-person meetings is in Stevens Point, so they have been drawing people from as far away as Wausau. In the future, Niina hopes to recruit more local teams of volunteers to plan events throughout the region and to maintain their quota of fun.
The goal of Northwoods Young Professionals is not just fun and games, but to spark creativity, increase life satisfaction, and generate synergy that ultimately creates business connections and jobs.
The group received a grant last year from Grow North Regional Economic Development Corporation to offer a free app that matches young professionals with others who have shared interests. Initially in beta testing, the Like-Minded app has been used by more than 100 registered users. The group also has an active Facebook page and has recruited sponsors who receive priority on help wanted postings.
This year the Northwoods Young Professionals is expanding outreach even more and is partnering with Nicolet College to offer its first in-person professional development event on September 14th: “Branding Yourself for Career Growth” at Nicolet’s Lakeside Center from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. 3P Insights, based in Ashland, is facilitating the training that will include image branding tips, a free headshot for participants LinkedIn profile and refreshments.
Registration is free and open to anyone who is interested, not just students and young professionals.
The timing for such a group couldn’t be better. As Niina noted in her 2021 TEDxNicoletCollege talk, the region has been losing young people for years, but that trend appears to be changing.
Spurred on by various national trends and accelerated by the pandemic, this has caused workers to be less tied to a particular location. With a laptop, any place with a good Internet connection can be an office. Recent improvements in broadband technology throughout Wisconsin, and particularly here in the Northwoods, have made it possible and attractive to live in this area.
Niina also believes lifestyle concerns have drawn young people here to take advantage of outdoor activities, to live in a less crowded and hectic setting, and to live where the housing is affordable, especially for those who want to buy property.
“Even though housing costs have risen, costs have risen everywhere, and although the pay (here) may not be as good, the cost of living is still affordable in comparison,” she explained.
Personal ties also count. Some members like Niina left the Northwoods for school, training, jobs, and then returned; some have moved here to seek new opportunities, perhaps heartened to take the leap into an occupation in a region they remember from childhood vacations. A few used a family cabin. Others were able to keep their jobs and salary and move here for better quality of life, for comparably bargain prices.
The labor market is tight and young professionals are in high demand. Other local organizations have taken note and have started their own efforts to welcome and recognize this part of the labor force. For example, the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce has started its Top Ten Under 40 recognition awards, and the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC), has targeted much of their business recruitment efforts to entrepreneurs and remote workers. VCEDC virtual meetups, which are marketed and available to participants outside of Vilas County, have been particularly popular with the 25- to 45-year-old age bracket.
Although it is difficult to say exactly how many young professionals are moving here, according to Kathy Schmitz, Executive Director of VCEDC, the key is to make new workers, especially remote workers, feel welcome and connected so they want to stay.
Niina couldn’t agree more. That is precisely Northwoods Young Professionals mission.
Grow North Economic Development Summit
October 11th to 13th, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Lakeside Center, Nicolet College, Rhinelander
Economic Development Corporations:
- Forest County Economic Development Partnership
- Lincoln County Economic Development Corporation
- Oneida County Economic Development Corporation
- Park Falls Area Community Development Corporation
- Vilas County Economic Development Corporation