EDA group forward-thinking

Blair Patterson, the YPLC director, gives a talk about the group’s impact on Loudon County’s future.

The Economic Development Agency’s Young Professionals of Loudon County kicked off a new membership year, opening networking, professional development and philanthropic opportunities.

YPLC, which was an initiative of the EDA, has taken notice of workforce changes in the county and has organized a group for young people. YPLC invites local workers ages 18-40 to become members. Blair Patterson, group director, said there is a need to have young people employed in Loudon County due to a rising average workforce age.

“The average age in the workforce in this community is 48,” she said. “To put that in perspective, Knoxville’s is 35. When it comes to our workforce, our retirement risk is high. It’s above the national average, and our millennial workforce is below the national average, so we have a huge gap there. This group is intended to help fill that gap.”

While numerous young people live in Loudon County, the EDA finds many do not stay local for work. YPLC hopes to retain young workers while marketing the opportunities available. Patterson grew up in Loudon County, attended East Tennessee State University in Johnson City and returned to start a career. However, working in the county in which young people grow up isn’t commonplace today. Patterson said retaining people who grew up locally — as well as attracting new young professionals — is needed for a future healthy workforce.

“There’s a huge issue with workforce in the community and across the country, so Young Professionals was a trend for a workforce initiative,” she said. “There wasn’t a group around here that was designated solely toward the retainment of young people. I would say this group definitely started out as a retention effort, to retain the younger workforce of this community because they are the future generations of all of the leadership in this community, too.”

The professional development group began in 2018 with four members who were determined to uplift four pillars essential to young workers: social networking, civic engagement, community involvement and professional development. Patterson found it important to create a group knowledgeable about local businesses and the community.

“This group also gives them a place to engage with the community and make them feel a part of the community,” she said. “It makes them connect with each other, connect with the community, help them lean into those larger groups that they might not feel comfortable with yet.” YPLC hosts social events to get involved with other Millennial and Generation X workers as well as leaders within the community. Members often have laid-back lunches with community leaders, tour local industries and work closely with charities and nonprofits. Last year, members partnered with United Way of Loudon County and the Kids First Child Advocacy Center of the Ninth Judicial District. For the group’s Christmas party, the ticket in the door was a toy for a child in need.

Since growing to 67 members, Patterson has planned to expand the group’s mission. More community involvement opportunities are in the works.

“We’re also going to start diving into some mentorships with children in identified areas of the community,” she said. “We’re going to go into different areas of the community where the children could be in need of having somebody to talk to or just mentoring them. That’s also a retention strategy, too, when it comes to workforce. We want those kids to stay around and see there’s opportunities here for them. It’s kind of an awareness issue, too, to promote this area and show them the opportunities around for them.” The club’s beauty is its wide range of events and activities any young professional could enjoy.

“Within all these four pillars, there might be just one pillar that you’re interested in,” Patterson said. “A member might only want to come to professional development opportunities and events, and not come to anything else. That’s why I think the four pillars are so diverse, and we do different things with each once of them that there’s a spot for everyone.”

When YPLC members work toward the goal of each pillar, the EDA believes it can establish a brighter future for local young people.

“All these different initiatives … they’re also limitless to what we do in the future, so if we have someone come in, have an awesome idea, we’re going to go for it,” Patterson said. “We want it to be unlimited opportunities for everybody.”

Jack Qualls, EDA executive director, agreed with Patterson’s view that YPLC is necessary to grow the workforce and promote future leaders.

“YPLC is an effort started to assist with the promotion of Loudon County to different age groups both in and outside the community,” Qualls said. “It’s about attracting new talented workers and keeping them in our area. YPLC is our next generation of leaders.”

YPLC memberships are $60 per year, and members are required to attend quarterly gatherings. For more information, email Patterson at patterson@loud oncountyeda.org.