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MISSION: COMMERCE: Young professionals groups replacing Jaycees

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Historically, the local chamber of commerce was an association for local businesses and professionals to promote those entities to the community at large.

These groups were composed primarily of experienced businesspeople and, in addition to promoting businesses and enterprise, they often branched out into other ventures, such as philanthropy.

To ensure a consistent source of new members, Junior Chambers — or Jaycees — were formed as a subset of chambers. The Jaycees were responsible for grooming young professionals for a number of years until those individuals reached the age and experience leveled needed to transition to the chamber.

In Central Pennsylvania, young professionals groups have largely supplanted the role of the Jaycees. But these groups, while having some relationship with local chambers, have a different set of goals and objectives.

"Young professional groups were created to stimulate the brain drain and create a brain gain," said Meron Yemane, president of the Harrisburg Young Professionals. "Our goal is to recruit members to come here and make us as competitive as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore."

To that end, the business activities of the young professionals groups do not mirror those of the chamber of commerce. These groups function as separate entities, while maintaining working relationships with their local boards.

"We want to showcase our region as a great place to live, work, play, shop and develop young leaders," said Michael Wilson, president of the Carlisle Young Professionals. "The chamber serves its member businesses, while we're looking to highlight the region through activities, outreach and events."

Alliance Fuel, the young professionals group in York County, is closely affiliated with the York County Chamber. In fact, it has perhaps the closest ties to the former Jaycees.

"Our programs are designed for professionals 39 years and under," said Bob Jensenius, executive vice president of the York County Economic Alliance.

"Really, the goal is to use Alliance Fuel as a retention and recruitment tool. Young people who come to this community have a turnkey opportunity to become involved in the community and social life as well," Jensenius said. "The programming covers a broad spectrum, but the unique aspect is that they are designed by members of our chamber that are 39 and under for members who are 39 and under. So they design the programs themselves."

According to Wilson, Yemane and Jensenius, the young professional organizations operate with their own set of bylaws, mission statements and budgets. Additionally, they have their own boards of directors. There is a working relationship with local chambers; for example, Yemane sits on the board of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber.

"It's very important that young professional organizations have a separate mission, but we are a part of the chamber," Yemane said. "We should not operate in a silo, and so it's very important to partner with other nonprofit organizations."

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