Last Modified: Monday, September 10, 2012 11:50 AM
They are young, good looking, full of ideas and committed to not only conceptualizing but initiating steps to change Southwest Louisiana’s social and business scene.
Media and social observers call them “young professionals” — men and women between the ages of 20 and 40.
Among these professionals are white-collar employees who specialize in sales, technology and careers where extra schooling is necessary, while others own businesses ranging from techno-centric ventures to construction companies.
At a time when the region has over $20 billion slated to be invested on petrochemical and hospitality industries and national business magazines and economic prognosticators touting it as a hotbed of activity, young professionals born here and those moving in are positioning themselves to benefit.
Matt Young, 28, is a public relations director for The O’Carroll Group in Lake Charles. He contemplated job options outside of the area, but decided to stay because of the connections he’s made with other young professionals.
“Also, our economy seems to be moving ahead full steam. We are a global leader for high-tech energy exploration and production, and the Port of Lake Charles continues to incubate major initiatives for our area — allowing for expansion and creating jobs. Collectively we’ve got great, honest leaders not looking out for their own re-election — but nurturing a solid business climate and genuinely investing in the future.”
“I am excited, and I am doing OK. I don’t know if I can say that I’ve gotten work directly connected to the economic boom, but there is good energy from everybody because we all know something good is coming. That helps overall attitudes of the people here,” he said.
Troy Trahan, 43, is the president of Trahan Construction and a longtime member of Fusion Five, a young professionals organization based in Lake Charles. He saw the effects of the national economic downturn trickle into Southwest Louisiana in the recent past. Still, he thinks the region is ready for business, which is the reason he is investing time and money here.
“I believe our region offers much more than careers with opportunity for advancement, but also offers a diversity of activities that will keep young professionals engaged and stimulated.”
He said the open-armed acceptance of “newbies” into the region helps make the area enticing.
“This has captivated many young professionals who were ‘here on business’ to actually apply with local companies, hire on, then relocated their family to our region so they can experience the culture every day,” Trahan said. “I’m thankful to work and live in such a special place.”
Emily Newlin Stine, 30, of New Orleans works as the “next generation advocate” at the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.
Her job is to bridge a gap between young professionals and their older counterparts. She also observes the ideas that are shared among young professionals to learn about what is working in their business lives and what their concerns are.
She has an interest in discussions of quality-of-life issues.
“This area has a huge potential for a good quality of life. The low cost of living is a huge draw for young professionals,” she said.
Having worked in Washington, D.C., Stine is familiar with the busy and fast-paced lifestyle that young professionals contend with in a metropolis. In her opinion, youthful business people in Southwest Louisiana share a common trait that may not have been as important to their counterparts in the nation’s capital.
“What I see down here is balance between family and business,” she said. “That is very important to young people here. They make sacrifices, even among the most spirited of business owners I meet here.”
Just because the young Turks see unlimited potential in the region does not mean they are blind to problems that exist. Low pay in professional fields and a disconnect with some older colleagues concern them.
Mitchell said he started his own business after realizing he would not be paid what he was worth by a former employer.
“I think the older generation has a problem sharing. I want to be paid and treated as I feel what I am worth based on my education. Once I became a licensed professional it was real difficult for my employer to pay me what I am worth.”
Mitchell applauded the efforts of Tom Shearman (publisher of the American Press), Rick Richard (businessman), Mayor Randy Roach, George Swift (president and CEO of the Southwest Economic Development Alliance) and state appellate Judge Gene Thibodeaux for supporting his business.
He hopes other established leaders nurture more young professionals through creative and financial support.
“I think there is a need for more investment in ideas. Sometimes people wait until big money is here before they do something. Small investments help young professionals on small projects. Let’s start now and develop ideas,” he said.
Trahan said younger professionals feel pressure from older members of the business community.
“The old guard should embrace the young professionals, as they will mold the future of our area. I find the young professionals are hungry for knowledge and guidance from older, more experienced business leaders,” he said. “Unfortunately, some older business leaders may feel threatened by these young professionals.”
Young’s experience with established professionals has been different, he said.
“I was the new guy in town four years ago, and George Swift offered me a seat on the alliance’s board of directors. The youngest member of the board, I expected to feel intimidated and unheard. That wasn’t the case at all. The other board members were encouraging, forward thinking and collaborative.”
Stine identified population growth as a concern, especially since there are only two large urban centers in the region — Lake Charles and Sulphur.
“That means you have to work to target customers. If we had more population-dense areas, your customers would be closer,” she said.
The professionals spoken too also had different opinions on how the region uses new technologies.
“As a businessman who has the luxury of working across multiple regions, I feel, at times, we get left behind when it comes to keeping up with technology ... or maybe it’s just me that gets left behind,” Trahan said.
Stine thinks the area adapts to new technologies on a needs basis.
“Southwest Louisiana will find its own way to incorporate technology. People here just don’t jump on the bandwagon,” she said. “The spirit of face-to-face interaction is alive and well here.”