Talk to most young professionals, or anyone engaged in seeing San Antonio progress, and you start hearing the same things. There aren’t enough quality opportunities here, this city can’t retain talent, and we’ll never be a top competing city.
The conclusion is that this is a great place to raise a family but not for single young professionals who are trying to get started, let alone make an impact on a city or find an eligible mate (but that’s not the focus of this article).
Yet more and more, residents of San Antonio, whether native or transplants who fell in love, are realizing that something is happening in San Antonio, and the opportunities are practically boundless. One day, a few of those people found themselves realizing that they can have an actual impact on shaping opportunities for young professionals in San Antonio, and they formed LOOP.
LOOP is the Leadership Organization of Professionals, founded in 2012 with the goal, according to its website, of working “to engage, lead and transform San Antonio into a premier location for innovative and talented young professionals.”
The 34-year-old board president and founder, Lori Houston, executive director of San Antonio’s Center City Development Office, reflects on the group’s origins.
“We heard a lot of discussion about the absence of young professionals participating in (civic) dialogue , so we started to explore how we could create an effective organization that could create that dialogue and get them to participate in those decisions that SA2020 is making,” explained Houston. She and Omar Gonzalez, LOOP vice chair, shared their conversations with others in late 2011, and by January 2012 had assembled a committee of young leaders from real estate, law, medicine, non-profits, and the art world.
“Together the eleven of us decided to incorporate, with the goal of establishing San Antonio as THE place for young professionals to want to live, work and play,” Houston said.
The median age for members – who pay a $100/year fee – is 30, while members range in age from 23-40.
Their lofty goals seems perfectly achievable upon speaking with one of their youngest board members.
Kelly Beevers, 26, is an acquisitions associate with Hixon Properties Inc., a high profile property development company in the heart of downtown. The young woman has been with LOOP since the beginning, and her presentation of their subtle strategies for long-term growth and the incremental improvements that San Antonio needs to make are compelling.
“Our marketing strategy thus far has been word of mouth and by recommendation – we wanted to make sure we would grow enough to sustain it and handle it. Also for quality control, to make sure we are engaging our members and that they have a clear understanding of our mission and value we bring,” Beevers said.
She went on to describe the six key areas that LOOP identified as focus points for members to educate themselves and make an impact: education, transportation, entrepreneurship and business creation, political engagement, corporate recruitment and retention, and boards, commissions and committees to advocate for the young professional voice.
By now it should be clear that LOOP is not your typical booze-infused networking gig. While the group clearly wants to have fun (a shockingly common goal most young people share), these also are serious people with serious brains looking to engage with something real.
“For us, it’s really about a community of young professionals equipped with the knowledge and resources to transform a city and make a difference,” said LOOP Board Member Brian Hurtak, a 30-year-old marketing director with USAA. “I moved here three years ago and it was kind of a struggle to meet young professionals, especially in something that wasn’t a happy hour scene. I met other board members who were thinking along the same lines. We look at how we can make this a city for young professionals to work and play.”
This past spring, LOOP put together an event for those looking for more than job development. In a twist on a career fair, LOOP brought together a dozen boards and commissions, including the Office of the City Clerk ,which represented more than 20 organizations, to showcase the opportunities they can offer any professional, young or otherwise.
“A lot of people forget that we should consider the young professional’s point of view, and that young professionals can be on those boards, many of which actually make pretty significant decisions,” Hurtak said.
The evening also featured a Q&A session raising key considerations that any professional should consider in joining a board, such as the required time commitment, financial expectations, even insurance considerations, thoughtful additions to what could be an otherwise overwhelming experience for the growing professional.
Other activities combine a lighthearted activity like bike tours with a chance to learn about the cultural heritage of San Antonio.
“One of our goals is to introduce young professionals to San Antonio and the cultural opportunities here to show that this city is different and special. Not only are our members networking, but they are learning about a cultural opportunity we have,” Houston said. “Hopefully that will lead into recruitment and retention.”
That hope is targeted by their new ambassador program in which LOOP plans to assist partner businesses with promoting San Antonio as an attractive destination for young professionals, as well as a mentorship program pairing San Antonio locals with new young professionals.
The theme of real value in terms of learning of and offering opportunities to their membership is consistent, although only time will tell if the ability to be a resource of people and data to new young professionals will pan out. They have a great start with their organizational advisors, counting SA2020 CEO Darryl Byrd, former deputy city manager and current CEO of Centro Partnership Pat DiGiovanni, and 80/20 Foundation Founder and Rackspace CEO Graham Weston as their supporters – all innovators with a focus on real data and results.
“We’re working on that,” Houston said. LOOP recently formed a new committee on metrics to report on membership demographics, event attendance, and the elusive challenge of measuring success.
Yet any seasoned executive understands the value of face time in making business connections, and so far LOOP has delivered with their “fireside chat-style” panels with organizations such as VIA, theFund, B-cycle and more.
LOOP’s pull was able to gather high-level executives from a selection of San Antonio’s trendiest organizations in a room with the LOOP membership, giving these precocious young professionals the opportunity to ask questions, offer an opinion, and make themselves known to the more established movers and shakers. Although it may be too soon to tell if any LOOPer will become the next ‘great find,’ the organization is proud to report that after giving their feedback to B-cycle about different rates and shorter rental times, B-cycle announced adjusted rates in effect this July.
It may not be the most glamorous bragging point, but true grassroots accomplishments rarely are.
“We’ve been fortunate that since the beginning our events have had a very open dialogue,” Kelly observes of their panel events. “They’re so interested to know what our demographic thinks about ‘fill-in-the-blank.'”
LOOP’s next event though members-only, promises to be another stellar opportunity for young professionals to meet the movers and shakers in one of the city’s most important arenas: Education.
“It’s an opportunity for our members to find out what initiatives exist in the city to get high school kids college-ready,” explains Kelly.
Yet as usual with LOOP, their education-focused evening will have a second agenda. “We want our members to know what good things are happening to help fight the perception that there isn’t anything good going on in this city,” Kelly says.
It is this tactical understanding that perhaps sets LOOP apart the most from other organizations.
Accepting the fact that change is slow is one thing; proactively informing public opinion is another, and this realistic assessment of San Antonio’s strengths and challenges bodes well for the group and for young professionals across the city.
“It’s a big undertaking, but it’s exciting to see how many people are excited about that potential and are willing to help. It’s inspiring,” ended Kelly.
Forget keeping San Antonio lame. Now, it’s about making San Antonio exceptional.
To join LOOP’s prospective member list or to find out more, please visit www.loop-sa.com or contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re also on Twitter @Stayinthe_LOOP and perhaps the best way to keep up with the gang is through their Facebook page. Though not officially affiliated with the event, “tons” of LOOPers will be attending Pecha Kucha Night this Thursday at the Josephine Theater and the event makes for a great way to meet members and see what LOOP life is like. Read more about the wildly popular event (especially with young professionals as presenters and audience members) here: “PechaKucha 11 Preview: Josephine Theatre.”
Note: Pecha Kucha organizers advertise with the Rivard Report.
Highlights of Upcoming LOOP Events
Late September – Annual Membership Meeting
Early October – Political Engagement event: How to get to know your city council person – especially those under-40 members. Learn about the impact of demographics and increasing engagement in elections. (Members only.)
October 12 – UTSA / Rice Tailgate
November – Behind the scenes tour of new downtown cultural institution (TBA)
December – Entrepreneurship/business creation event: A roundtable discussion will inform members of success stories of local incubators in the medical, tech, and other sectors, while educating members on the resources that are active in creating small business in San Antonio. (Members Only.)
January 2014 – Formal Membership Drive
January 2014 – Friendfest
Jillian Reddish is a communications professional who works for Texas A&M University-San Antonio and with the San Antonio chapter of the American Marketing Association. A graduate of Trinity University, she is an advocate for San Antonio’s Southtown neighborhood(s) and Texas beer, and will choose a book over a movie any time. Follow her on Twitter at @MyJillieBean.