Fifteen years ago, taking the “if you build it” page out of the “Field of Dreams” playbook, five 20- and 30-somethings set out to create an organization that would give young professionals a way to network with like-minded peers while helping to rebuild the region’s urban core.
It wasn’t all that long ago. There was no “Restaurant Row” or really much of anything to keep young professionals in the capital city after 5 p.m.
“It was a social wasteland,” said Greg Rothman, president and CEO of Lemoyne-based RSR Realtors, reflecting on the downtown landscape in the latter part of the 1990s.
Rothman grew up in the area and said he always knew he would be coming back to Central Pennsylvania after college to join the family business.
He was in the minority. Most of his college-educated friends vowed not to return, he said.
Larger metropolitan areas — Baltimore and Philadelphia, for example — had thriving social scenes full of downtown restaurants, bars and other nightlife. Harrisburg was a victim of “brain drain.”
“Looking back, Harrisburg had a worse reputation outside of the city limits than it does now,” Rothman said, referring to the city’s current fiscal challenges that revolve heavily around its debt-laden waste-to-energy plant.
In 1998, a subcommittee of the Technology Council of Central Pennsylvania began discussing how to combat the brain drain. That group included Rothman and four friends — Alex Hartzler, Eric Morrison, John Norton and Dan Schwab.
Taking the “if you build it” page out of the “Field of Dreams” playbook, the five 20- and 30-somethings set out to create an organization that would give young professionals a way to network with like-minded peers while helping to rebuild the region’s urban core.
That organization was Harrisburg Young Professionals, which formed in the spring of 1998.
“We all knew each other. We all knew we were committed to the region,” said Morrison, an attorney with Harrisburg-based McNees Wallace and Nurick LLC.