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Group seeks young leaders
August 25, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

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Photo by Jerry Purvis: Becky Zwickl, outgoing board president of NEXT Young Professionals, helps set up for Saturday's beer and wine tasting festival in downtown Scottsbluff.

As new families move into the area, NEXT Young Professionals seeks to get them involved in the community and help build the community’s future.

“There’s a real need for retaining young people in the valley,” said John Selzer, the group’s incoming board president. “We want to provide a place where young professionals can meet and network. We’re an avenue for professional development.”

Every other month, except for the summer, the group meets for lunch. Speakers have included successful local business people. Last season wrapped up with the CEO of Cabela’s as the guest speaker.

The group also schedules several events, such as tailgate parties and Valentine’s Day events, for members to meet and network. The latest event was on Aug. 20 as they scheduled a beer and wine tasting event in downtown Scottsbluff. Open to the public over 21, the event was a fundraiser for downtown development.

Selzer, who grew up in the area, said he became a member when he first moved back from Lincoln. He graduated from the University of Nebraska’s College of Law and then worked for about five years in Lincoln.

“My wife and I had a baby and we decided we wanted to come back to a smaller community to raise our family,” he said. “We’ve been back since 2009.”

Becky Zwickl was on the board of the Scottsbluff-Gering United Chamber of Commerce when they discovered they were one of the only chambers in a community of this size that didn’t have an active young professionals group.

“The board asked me to research what others have done and come back with a plan to get a group organized here,” she said. “We looked at groups from Omaha to Cheyenne and how they got young professionals involved in their communities.”

Zwickl said the group was organized to get younger people involved in the community through volunteerism. Hands-on education is also offered through mentoring, leadership development and networking with other business professionals.

Developing younger business leaders is vital to the future growth of the community. Economic developers are always seeking to attract young people from the area who have gone off to college and after graduation might want to return home. The challenge is to have a system in place that will give them a reason want to come back.

“We actually have a host committee where we host dinners for businesses that contact us about young people who are coming to the area,” Zwickl said. ‘We show them around the community and what we have to offer. Research has shown that if young people don’t make a connection in the community within three years, they’re more likely to move away.”

NEXT Young Professionals was officially formed in 2009 with five people. Since then, the group has grown to almost 200 members.
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