Making Blacksburg Sticky for Young Professionals



We love studying millennials. Their economic and leisure preferences are interesting and how they are shaping the workforce is fascinating. So, when the Blacksburg’s Creative Give Back application to re-energize the Young Professionals Program was selected as the 2018 winner, we were totally stoked! It offered us an opportunity to take a deep dive into how a YP network can be one strategy to help make a place “sticky” for millennials.

The Blacksburg Young Professionals Program “strives to create a unified community of young professionals and become an advocate of this area’s future leaders.” It fulfills that mission by providing networking, professional development, and volunteer opportunities. Like many YP Programs, Blacksburg’s program has seen waves and troughs, leaders come and go, and event interest cycles. The program needed a refresh if it was going to be a driver in Blacksburg’s talent attraction, development, and retention efforts. That’s where the Creative Give Back project comes in.

We did surveys of YPs and business leaders, interviewed people across sectors and age demographics, engaged leadership, and studied best practices in YP programs. Funny, we found that what business leaders think young professionals want is different than what YPs actually want. So, ask them directly rather than asking economic development or chamber board members. You might be surprised.

We developed an action plan that recommends the YP program continue to focus on networking, education and professional development, and volunteering, with ways to shake up the program and keep it fresh. That’s what we learned from best practice research, keep it fresh. Social networking has been the most popular part of the program in Blacksburg. We suggest continuing much as it has but with new networking formats from time to time. Education and professional development will be segmented into seminar series, salon sessions with executives, and a leadership program. Volunteering opportunities would revolve around a selected “nonprofit for the year.”

New to the Blacksburg Partnership are recommendations to increase business and community awareness around how to engage young professionals. Without employers and the community working jointly, the YP Program will not fulfill the part of mission to create future leaders for Blacksburg. The action plan also notes the importance of the community working collaboratively on issues that are important to young professionals such as housing, recreation, and dining/shopping/entertainment. Finally, there are recommendations in the action plan to give more structure to the YP Program and its leadership group. With leader-champions, quality programming, and awareness, the YP Program will help Blacksburg become a sticky place.

If your community is considering starting a YP Program, looking to refresh an existing YP network, or just looking for ideas on engaging millennials, read the full report.