Making Connections at the Inaugural YP Conference

By Dan Merfeld A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to represent Magnet at the inaugural Young Professional Conference that was held in Madison, WI. There were about 30 representatives from other YP organizations from all over the State of Wisconsin in attendance.

The conference was initiated by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which sees attracting young professionals to the state as an extension of their overall goal to improve the economy in Wisconsin.

Young Professional Conference

The Lieutenant Governor, Ms. Rebecca Kleefish, kicked off the two day conference by leading a discussion about some of the struggles that the state has battled in attracting and maintaining young professionals. She pointed out that the jobs available in Wisconsin tend to be in manufacturing and agriculture, however, young professionals do not seem to be interested in those types of jobs. The question was then posed, “How do we make those jobs appealing to young professionals?”

No offense intended to our Lieutenant Governor, however, I must admit, I had a bit of a bad reaction to that question, I’ll explain why in just a moment. Of course the Lieutenant Governor went on to clarify that she was attempting to solve this problem from a government perspective, which meant the metric she was held by boiled down to jobs and job creation. The more efficient initiatives to attract young professionals would, instead, have to originate from the young professional organizations throughout the state. This was, of course, the reason for the conference in the first place. Instead, the state government role would be about trying to solve the mismatch supply and demand status that Wisconsin appears to be in at the moment.

The Lieutenant Governor set the tone perfectly for what was to be an informative and inspiring conference. I was fortunate enough to meet the leaders of nearly all of the major YP groups in the state. I was particularly impressed with some of the efforts of the groups in Fond du Lac, Wausau, Green Bay, and Milwaukee.

But rather than give you a play-by-play of the two days, I thought I’d focus on my reaction to the question posed to our group. To be clear, it wasn’t a reaction brought on by my personal political beliefs or by Ms. Kleefisch’s delivery of the question, who was gracious enough to personally introduce herself to every person in the room beforehand. Instead, my reaction was centered on the question itself. Because, well, it’s a bad question to ask.

I believe it was Voltaire who is credited as saying, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” And I think that wisdom applies in this situation. The efforts to attract and retain young professionals to our state requires that we pull away from the chosen vernacular of tax rates, job opportunities, and even economic growth and start asking more people-centric questions. It’s my belief that those questions will be more fruitful in the pursuit of such efforts.

To illustrate my point, let’s do a quick thought experiment together. I want you to imagine the best place to live in the United States. Be as specific in your mind as you can be by thinking of a particular city, or even an area of a particular city that you would like to live in. Okay, got that location in your mind? Great, now let me ask you a few questions about the city you’ve picked. As these questions are somewhat rhetorical in nature, I’ll trust you don’t Google the answers and I’ll count on you to grade your responses fairly.

1. What is the estimated population of the city you picked?

2. What is the current sales tax rate?

3. What’s the weather like?

4. What is the unemployment rate of the state and/or city?

Chances are, you were able to answer questions #1 and #3 more easily than #2 and #4. That’s because questions #1 and #3 will have a greater impact on your decision to move to a particular city, even though questions #2 and #4 will have a greater impact on your economic survival once you get there. That doesn’t make you unprepared, irresponsible or ignorant, it just makes you typical.

On the whole, if given the choice, people do not move to a state or a city because of the tax rates or their potential economic prosperity. They move for other reasons, and those reasons tend to be more about the community and environment that they want to be a part of, rather than the economic factors, such as cost of living.

That’s not to suggest everyone ignores these factors entirely, particularly if the city you chose is well known for a high cost of living (i.e. New York, LA, etc). In those cases, cost of living will top the list and be one of the primary factors for you to consider before moving there. That exclusion aside, you’re more likely to be interested in the people and the places you’re going to spending your time and less worried about how you’re going to pay for it all.

This, more than any other reason, is why it is important to spend time building and participating in the community that you belong to. And for me, personally, why I choose to spend my time and efforts working for a membership-based organizations like Magnet. After all, connecting people is at the core of what Magnet is all about. We are passionate about building and maintaining a vibrant and thriving community for young professionals in the Madison area and we hope you will consider being a part of that community.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What do you think?


Dan Merfeld Vice President, Magnet