Professionally NEKed

Checking in with the Northeast Kingdom’s Young Professionals Network

A riddle: How do you make one of Vermont’s largest and most “remote” areas appealing to a young professional?

Throw in the fact that Vermont, like all of northern New England, has a higher median age than the rest of the country, and the riddle turns into more of a Gordian Knot. Well, if you’re Maire Folan, the answer is simple: flip negative perceptions to positive appeals.

The 30-something-year old Folan is the current chairperson of the NEK’s chapter of the Young Professionals Network and she doesn’t necessarily see big and remote as bad things.

“You can’t talk about the Northeast Kingdom without talking about geography,” says Folan. “But it’s that geography that can offer the most promise and opportunity.” 

Young Professionals Networks (YPNs) can be found nationwide and are typically organized in local chapters. Some may be specific to a certain industry, such as real estate, but the underlying goal of all is to provide ways for young professionals to make business connections. 

Folan and her board of six other volunteers are continuing a mission originally undertaken by Hannah Manley. Manley established the Kingdom’s YPN chapter back in 2011 when she was president of the board of the NEK Chamber of Commerce, the goal of the chapter being to create networking opportunities for the Kingdom’s nascent young professional community. Geoffrey Sewake took over the reigns in 2016 and infused additional energy into the organization by creating a partnership with the Northern Community Investment Corporation, the St. Johnsbury Chamber and others, which helped the YPN create a foundation for the group. Folan was tapped to lead the chapter in 2018.

After spending some time living in Washington, Folan returned to her native New Hampshire. She was looking at job opportunities in Boston and Vermont when she was offered a position in 2014 at Green Mountain Farm-to-School in Newport. Folan says the nature of the job and the beauty of the Kingdom made the decision to move to the area an easy one, but that it took her two years to feel a part of the community. It was that sense of lack of connection that helped lead her to the YPN.

“The NEK has a lot to offer anyone looking to start, or continue, a career—young or not. But it is easy to feel alone. Having an organization like the YPN helps take away that sense of being on your own.”

Folan and her team have worked hard to spread the YPN’s mission hosting monthly social events for members and non-members alike in order to facilitate the exchange of ideas, and access to local business leaders. They also help put on and promote professional development seminars like the recent Apple Tree Workshop hosted by Eden Specialty Ciders and the NorthWoods Stewardship Center where participants learned about what it takes to care for and maintain an apple orchard. It’s events like this that help to differentiate the Kingdom’s YPN chapter.

YPN_NEKed_Tees

“Every town (in the Kingdom) has its own flavor,” says Folan. “And the YPN exists to help create place-based business opportunities based on that. There are communities of interests; there are communities of place. And the Kingdom has both.”

Folan says the NEK’s deep ties to agriculture and unrivaled recreational offerings provide unique business opportunities not found elsewhere in Vermont. One only has to look at events like the New England Mountain Bike Festival that sees thousands of athletes descend on East Burke, or the global beer phenomenon that is Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend to know what she’s talking about. And while broadband access is still a consistent topic of discussion at meetings, the current pandemic has highlighted the ability of many professionals to work from their homes in the NEK.

When asked if the combination of connectivity, massive mountain playgrounds and organizations like the YPN helps with the pitch to bring in young professionals from other states, Folan says her chapter is focused on the needs of its members and expanding member services. But she says they have partnered with the Vermont Welcome Wagon Project (VWWP)–an organization with the goal of, among others, creating new Vermonters in order to continue to foster economic vibrancy. 

“Organizations like the VWWP are doing great things and I do think they will help bring new residents to the NEK. It’s a challenging, weird time right now. But it’s highlighting just how creative and resilient our members are. There will be a lot of exciting things coming down the road.”

Membership in the Northeast Kingdom chapter of the YPN is free. Click here for the latest news on events and how to join.

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