Brian Johnson is manager of Current, the young professionals group at the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce, and was founder of the Manitowoc Chamber’s young professional group, SAIL. Johnson, who also co-founded the annual Leaderfest event held for all young professionals in the New North, sat down with Insight Editor Margaret LeBrun to discuss his role helping to attract, develop and retain young talent to the region.
Northeast Wisconsin is positioned well to make a splash in terms of how we engage our young professionals. We have people stepping up to the plate saying, “Give me something to do,” and they’re doing it.
It’s no secret when you look across the country that you see pockets of talent shortages. Our goal is to make sure that Green Bay, or Northeast Wisconsin in general, doesn’t fall into one of those pockets.
My role is to manage the Current Young Professionals program at the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been with the Green Bay Chamber seven years. Prior to that I was in Manitowoc, where I owned my own small business, a lawn care and landscaping business – which has nothing to do at all with a political science degree. I co-founded the young professionals group in Manitowoc with the Manitowoc Chamber.
Data suggests that people in their earlier years are much more innovative and creative, and it’s because they don’t have life experiences that tell them that’s the way things are supposed to be. There’s data that supports why most high-growth, entrepreneurial companies are owned by people under 40. They take more risks.
The millennials are not only committed to advance themselves within their own careers but they are committed to other causes. They’re very involved, engaged and passionate about what they do. Unfortunately, a lot of people look at the millennials and label them as “entitled,” or “lazy.” That’s the most uninformed observation you could ever suggest with this generation. It’s quite the opposite – they are focused, very intent on making a difference and they’re going to do it in their way.
A lot of data suggests there is a huge disconnect between millenials and baby boomers. The baby boomers have all the knowledge and the power to correct problems. We’re saying, “Help us do it, help us get there, help us develop ideas and programs and take all that knowledge you have and transfer it to the next generation.”
Leaderfest started seven years ago in Oshkosh as a collaborative effort between six young professional groups. The first year it was about advancing the regional collaboration that was already going on at the New North level. The six groups that were part of it were Green Bay (Current), Appleton (Pulse), Oshkosh (Propel), Fond du Lac (Young Professionals of Fond du Lac), Sheboygan (Coastal Connections) and Manitowoc (SAIL). It’s an event that has continued to grow.
Current is focused on how to develop creative and balanced programming for our 1,200 members who are not necessarily members of the chamber or businesspeople. We have a young professionals’ advisory council to the mayor’s office and we are launching a mentorship program this fiscal year, pairing our members with professionals in the community.
The millennials are the single largest generation in our nation’s history and if you’re not targeting them now, you’re setting yourself up for long-term failure. They represent over $200 billion in buying power in this nation annually.
We target individuals 21 to 40, but we’re not restrictive; it’s about a mindset and where you might be in your career. People of any age can benefit from it. I’m 37.
We want to attract young talent to the area, engage them in the community, develop them as leaders and retain them. It’s making sure our employers have the workforce they need and more importantly, that our community can support the quality of life that we’re seeking to provide. If we don’t have that quality-of-life component figured out, forget the rest.