Not even a global pandemic can keep a good idea down for long.
The Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce hosted their first Chamber Young Professionals event on November 25 at the Tom Patterson Theatre, marking the first time they had hosted that particular get-together since before COVID-19 struck and forced everyone and everything into an unwanted pause.
In making its comeback, the CYP program â€“ something for Chamber members between 22-40 years old -- gave young professionals the chance to gather and network with one another while taking notes during a tax tips presentation from Famme & Company. Itâ€™s things like tax tips that help in small ways, but being able to gather and share experiences has been just as valuable.
Eddie Matthews, the Chamberâ€™s general manager, said the CYP program was born from a regular Business After 5 event where he heard from some of the younger members they would like to network with more people in their age group.
â€śThey wanted a networking experience with others their age in which they could share stories and experiences about business models and what others were going through in starting up their own businesses,â€ť he said. â€śThe ones we hosted before the pandemic halted everything were so well attended. We did three or four events and it was great to have the young pros meeting established owners and spending time doing question and answer sessions about the business we would meet at.â€ť
It didnâ€™t hurt that some of the first meetings were held at Jobsite Brewing and Stratford Axes, giving the get-togethers a little bit of kick to go with the networking opportunities. Matthews said the program took another step forward when Your Neighbourhood Credit Union stepped in and became the title sponsor.
â€śThat just shows how much they believe in supporting new business ideas and small businesses,â€ť he said.
For their part, YNCU believes the program helps fill a distinct need in the community and they were more than happy to help facilitate that. Tanya Drouillard, the manager of member services at YNCUâ€™s Stratford branch, said itâ€™s a hand-in-hand relationship as they see it.
â€śRelationship building and financial literacy are key components of growing as a business owner and working professional,â€ť she said. â€śThis program bridges that gap and offers the next generation opportunities to network, gain community support and connect and learn from one another. Our long-term goal is to ensure our next generation of working professionals and entrepreneurs in Stratford have access to the resources and connections they need to be successful.â€ť
Drouillard credits the work of the sub-committee responsible for the program, as they not only were able to pivot during the pandemic shut-down but also kept planning for the day when in-person networking would once again be a viable option.
â€śAfter hosting a few very successful events in 2019, we continued to play our future events based on feedback from participants,â€ť she said. Through the pandemic, we were able to host one well-attended virtual event, but after consulting our attendees, it seemed they were ready to get back together in person, and this event didnâ€™t disappoint.â€ť
For his part, Franklin Famme said the CYP program aligns nicely with his Â Â Â companyâ€™s philosophies of putting people first and making sure their staff is well trained. He highlights the importance of programs like this in todayâ€™s marketplace as a means of giving people greater access to success through shared knowledge.
â€śThe CYP is particularly important now because there are many people who have left the workforce as a result of COVID, and our economy is relying on young people to fill in the missing gaps,â€ť he said. â€śThe only way we as a society can prosper and recover is to have a solid workforce which includes both the mature and younger workers. While itâ€™s true that the pandemic has shed a light on the importance of our younger professionals, Famme & Co. have always valued young staff who learn and grow within our organization.â€ť
Famme added that it was fitting they were the ones to speak at this event, given they were to host the CYP gathering in March 2020 before the shutdown cancelled those plans. He plans on staying the course as the program moves forward.
â€śWe will continue to encourage our young professionals to get involved in CYP educational and networking events such that our business will continue to grow and thrive for many years to come,â€ť he said.
Matthews echoed Fammeâ€™s statement when it came to the value of the program, and said their next key step will be to re-establish momentum going into the future.
â€śThe mix and mingle format works really well, and the Chamber Young Professionals learn something and fun in doing so,â€ť he said. â€śWe want to get back to doing these every few months, and we also want everyone to leave these events learning at least one key thing, even if itâ€™s just meeting new people, we want them to get connected to the business community around them.â€ť