Young pros
M-T group provides a foot in the chamber door

By Gary Achterberg

March 19, 2019

Members of the young professionals group with the Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce participated in a work day at the Mequon Nature Preserve last summer.
The group removed invasive species.
Submitted photo

MEQUON — “Leadership in the pipeline.”

That’s how the executive director of the Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce views its expanding young professionals group.

“It really has enhanced our programming,” said Tina Schwantes, the M-T chamber’s executive director. “It’s another opportunity to have young professionals be with their peers.”

The group started four years ago. There were several successful events, but it started treading water after some of the individuals who did much of the organizing moved from the area for new jobs.

“About two years ago, we had a second wave,” said Mike McDonald, a wealth manager with Spectrum Investment Advisors in Mequon. His boss, Jim Marshall, then the M-T Chamber president, asked if he’d be interested in helping to revitalize the group.

McDonald got together with a few other younger members of the M-T business community. The group discussed events their peers would find interesting – and got to work organizing. They hosted a half-dozen events last year.

“Each was well-attended,” he said. “We had 30 to 60 people at each event.”

There are six activities planned this year. Organizers of the group say they are focused on offering substantial and useful programming that also provides social and networking opportunities. The group is trying to mix it up by offering programs at different times of the day.

The year kicked off in January with a group fitness class at Mequon’s Burn Boot Camp. Last week, there was a before-work opportunity to network over coffee and pastries. The next program, planned for May 16, brings together established industry professionals for a mentoring luncheon featuring small-group discussions.

Plans for the remainder of the year include a community service project in July. Group members will spread mulch and help with other improvements as part of Thiensville’s Village Park Reimagined! effort. The fall event features an Oktoberfest celebration and a trivia competition. The year will wrap up with a holiday party.

“We’re trying to stray away from the cookie-cutter young professionals over happy hour,” McDonald said. “We want to add value and provide events that help members be engaged and learn how to be successful in their careers at an early age.”

Colleen Landisch-Hansen, just promoted to Thiensville’s village administrator, also helps lead the group. Some members have gotten involved in other chamber activities, such as the annual golf event and as chamber ambassadors, she said.

Many who are coming to young professionals events work in Mequon or Thiensville, but live somewhere else.

“This gives them another tie to the community,” Landisch-Hansen said. “Maybe they’ll get married, move out here and raise their family here.”

She added that while there are some who participate in most activities, not everyone can come to a lunch event or something immediately after work.

“We try to offer different events that are geared to young professionals at different stages of their lives,” she said.

Schwantes said she has been impressed that the group has been self-directed.

“It really is the young professionals deciding what the programming should be,” she said.

Participants in the M-T group range from newly minted college graduates, who may be 22 or 23, up to members in their late 30s or early 40s, McDonald said.

“We’re not going to push anyone away,” he said with a chuckle. “If you feel young at heart and want to embrace that, we’re happy to have you.”

McDonald returned Schwantes’ compliment. He said he has been thrilled with the “buy-in” from the chamber to the young professionals’ activities.

“They’ve let us run with it,” he said. “It’s been successful, in large part, because of that freedom.”

Schwantes said the group has been beneficial for the young professionals, the chamber’s more-established members and the chamber itself.

“I think it’s nice for employers that they can offer something for young professionals,” she said. “It’s just win-win-win all the way.”