20140515_110312On Thursday, May 15th, Commerce Lexington held its inaugural young professionals conference designed to engage Kentucky’s next generation leaders. EMERGE 14, sponsored by Forcht Bank, was inspired by Commerce Lexington’s  trip to Omaha, Nebraska, which hosts a similar event, and where they witnessed first-hand the economic benefits of a vibrant, collaborative, and engaged young professionals community.

As the full-day event commenced, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray motivated over 250 young professionals to move beyond mere mediocrity by “seizing the moment.” Attendees represented a vast array of organizations from Kentucky’s signature industries to small technology start-ups as well as those from the nonprofit sector. With our call to action from the mayor, young professionals participated in twelve breakout session topics that included: Developing Your Best Professional Self, Inspire Customers and Build Your Brand, Growing a Movement, Nonprofit Leaders Shaping the Bluegrass, and Pursuing Elected Leadership.

Each session’s speakers and panelists resonated with the same overall theme: the economy is shifting and young professionals stand at the forefront of leading the way. The consensus amongst participants is that young professionals today desire transparency, accountability, and a results-oriented environment. Moreover, most organizations, along with local and state government, are underutilizing technology and are in need of a 21st century facelift to attract millennial job seekers. With a growing generation gap between those in leadership positions and millennials who have grown up in a much globalized and technology connected world, it is critically important for organizations to become better equipped to engage the next generation of employees, customers, donors, and volunteers.

What are the first steps organizations and young professionals can take? Organizational leaders should be willing to provide opportunities, guidance, and mentorship to the next generation. As a result, young professionals should eagerly seek and accept these opportunities to gain knowledge and learn from the experiences of our current organizational leaders. But, to get there, we must take risks. Veteran entrepreneur Randall Stevens challenged those in attendance to overcome our current risk adverse culture by saying it’s okay for us to do something different and be disruptive because that’s what entrepreneurship is about – taking risks to build a better tomorrow.

Dovetailing with this concept, conference keynote speaker Adam Braun, a New York Times bestselling author and the founder of Pencils of Promise, stated, “you discover who you are when you leave your comfort zone.” As young professionals and organizational leaders, we should be willing to leave our comfort zone to seek our purpose and redefine ourselves and our organizations, and I believe now is the time for “seizing the moment.”

As we stride forward in our careers and in our communities, know that young professionals are not alone in their efforts. All across the Commonwealth, young professional organizations are pulling together to network, collaborate, advocate, and encourage one another. Just last month, the Young Professionals of East Kentucky (YPEK) hosted a session at the East Kentucky Leadership Conference titled “Revitalizing Eastern Kentucky: Networking Young Professionals into the Equation” where they led conversations with regional leaders on how to better engage the next generation in corporate leadership and on organizational boards. And, recently, the Young Professionals Association of Louisville (LYPA) graduated their third class of their Emerging Leaders Program, a four-month accelerated and intensive experience designed to address the leadership development needs of young professionals. So, I urge you, both young and old, to join us in making Kentucky a better place.

For more information on the event, visit:

Kevin R. Smith is a legal intern at Forcht Bank, which was the presenting sponsor for the Emerge 14 conference.