Chamber officials: NWAYP Summit a good business investment

by Paul Gatling ( 504 views 

The Northwest Arkansas Young Professional Summit attracted more than 400 attendees last year, and organizers are expecting close to 500 for this year's event at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville.

According to a new Harris poll released in June, 70% of U.S. employees said they were somewhat likely to leave their current job for a new company that’s known for investing in employee learning and development.

In other words, effective employee development shouldn’t be considered an afterthought.

That’s the general idea behind a growing annual event coming up later this summer in Fayetteville. The fourth annual NWA Young Professional (NWAYP) Summit is scheduled for Aug. 9 at the Walton Arts Center in downtown Fayetteville.

The event is planned and organized by stakeholders who want to attract, retain and develop young professionals, which will, in turn, support the overall health of the region.

The summit was first held in 2016 at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers thanks to a one-time $15,000 grant from Rotary International as a way to engage young professionals through Rotary projects.

Todd Jenkins is chairman of the summit’s organizing committee and the de facto founder of the annual event. As a member of the Rotary Club of Fayetteville, Jenkins applied for the $15,000 grant, which could be used in an area of focus of the Rotary Club’s choosing.

Jenkins, 30, is a diversity and inclusion leader at J.B. Hunt Transport Services in Lowell.  He is also the founder and CEO of a leadership management, coaching and talent development training firm called Bowtie Leadership and Development. Through that work, he has attended and participated in a number of professional development events.

Todd Jenkins

When the Rotary International gift was initially awarded, Jenkins said he thought the funding would be best suited for something that would benefit the entire region. He reached out to other Rotary Clubs in the area and recruited young professionals to begin planning for a conference.

“One thing I noticed that was missing from a lot of the professional development conferences I attended was the community engagement piece,” he said. “How to get connected off the clock.”

Jenkins said his goal with the summit is to enact change in the region’s young professionals through a holistic approach.

“I think that’s the value of the summit,” he said. “Once they come here to get inspired, they get empowered, and they receive the tools and connections to continue to develop themselves holistically. On and off the clock.”

The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce is one of several partners that came on board after the first summit to help organize the event through its Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders program, and it has grown in attendance. There were about 280 attendees in 2016 and that number ballooned to more than 400 last year.

Other organizers who are involved in the planning are Rotary Clubs throughout the region, the nonprofit group Northwest Arkansas Young Professionals and the Northwest Arkansas chapter of the Arkansas Urban League of Young Professionals.

Ross Phillips is the vice president of community development at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber and the vice chair of the summit organizing team. He’s helped coordinate three of the four summits and said attendance goals have been surpassed each year because businesses see the value of sending their employees to the event. He’s expecting between 450 and 500 people to register for this year’s event.

“Businesses want good employees who are engaged in the community, and that’s what this event is all about,” he said. “Developing young professionals not only professionally but also personally by getting them involved in the community.”

Phillips said there will be several nonprofit groups with booths set up at the venue to offer networking opportunities for attendees throughout the day. The idea is to help participants find something they are passionate about and then turn that into action through volunteering or board service.

The price of a ticket is $50, and Phillips said there will be a diverse group of employers represented. Some companies underwrite the cost as an investment in their employees who want to attend. Phillips said J.B. Hunt Transport Services sent about 50 of its employees to last year’s event. Walmart Inc., Tyson Foods, Arvest Bank and others will also be well represented, he said.

“I think they see the value [of the summit] for the up-and-coming leaders who are working for them,” he said.

An hour of networking begins at 8 a.m. followed by various speakers and breakout sessions throughout the day. The wide array of professional development topics include:

  • advocating without authority
  • networking skills
  • how to be an advocate
  • entrepreneurship
  • women leaders in the workplace
  • technology
  • home buying in the housing market
  • diversity
  • professional communication

Helena Gadison, one of two keynote speakers, will address the audience at 9:40 a.m. Joe Randel will give a keynote address at 1:30 p.m.

Helena Gadison

Gadison is the vice president of sales and merchandising for International Intimates Inc., an apparel manufacturer headquartered in New York City. She is based in Northwest Arkansas.

Randel is a senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) in Bentonville, responsible for arts and culture initiatives in the foundation’s Home Region.

“They are both very involved with several aspects and connections within the community with various industries,” Jenkins said.

Randel, who grew up in Hot Springs and Fort Smith, worked in the performing arts field in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, and he also lived in Mexico for a while before joining WFF three years ago.

He said networking is incredibly valuable, and not just getting out and meeting people, but building relationships with a diverse array of people and perspectives.

Randel said his involvement with the summit gives him the opportunity to highlight the importance of two related themes: diversity and relationship building.

Joe Randel

“I’m inspired by differing perspectives, and this event is very inclusive of all young professionals,” he said. “That commitment to diversity by an organization is compelling.”

Randel said in his own career, professional development and networking have played a really important role.

“I’ve found that everyone benefits from the opportunity to escape the daily grind and take time out to listen and engage with their colleagues and community in a meaningful way, especially folks that are outside of your normal circles,” he said.

Randel said it’s important for employers to encourage community engagement because it benefits both the employer and the employee.

“No matter what business you’re in, or what stage in your career, you need to build relationships — with colleagues, customers and other community members,” he said. “Successful networking, at its core, is about relationship building, not just the collection of contact information.”

Registration is required for the event through the website