Iowa State Partners with Keokuk Chamber to Grow Young Leaders

KEOKUK, Iowa — The Greater Keokuk Young Professionals organization has risen from the ashes, thanks to the Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development, and two dynamic young local leaders.

Greater Keokuk young ProfessionalsTo continue to grow, businesses are regularly faced with the decision to import young talent or “grow their own” through developmental seminars, workshops and certification courses provided either internally or by a third party. Brian Cross, executive petty officer in the U.S. Coast Guard in Keokuk, and Dominique Palermini, salesperson for Conn Communications, decided that Keokuk could grow its own by reestablishing a local young professionals organization.

An initial attempt by others was successful at first, but suffered the loss of its leadership and support from other community organizations. To avoid repeating the results of this earlier attempt, Cross and Palermini approached Chuck Betts, executive director of the Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce, for advice and support.

Betts, who is also an ISU Extension community development specialist, drew on the resources of both ISU Extension and Outreach and the Keokuk chamber to provide as much support as possible to the two young leaders.

“With the help of ISU Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development and the board of directors of the Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce, the young professionals were quickly able to reestablish the group as the Greater Keokuk Young Professionals and start to generate real interest in the purpose and activities of the group,” said Betts.

To ensure the longevity of the organization, the Greater Keokuk Young Professionals founders met to identify strategic steps that were imperative to long-term success without moving too quickly or overselling the organization. They were determined to spread the welcome net as broadly as possible through social contact before trying to establish programmatic offerings for the membership.

As a result, within 120 days the new GKYP organization had more than 60 members, held monthly meetings in the form of socials, began planning programmatic offerings and placed Cross on the board of directors of the Statewide Young Professionals group.

Membership to the GKYP is $44 for the first year and $35 for subsequent years. All members received a polo shirt with the club logo as part of the membership package and are encouraged to wear the shirt to as many group functions as possible. Community service projects soon followed, ranging from participating in community clean-up events to ringing bells for the Salvation Army and donating toys and food to the Hope Center, which furnishes necessities such as clothing to people in need.

Once GKYP was reestablished, Conn Communications, KSB Bank and Advanced Home Health Care signed on as corporate sponsors, each contributing $1,000 to help cover first-year operating costs. This early funding allowed the group organizational stability and provided more time for longer-term planning.

During its first year, GKYP set up a Facebook page, sponsored a trip to the sixth annual Young Professionals Day at the Capitol in Des Moines, and sponsored a local session of the nationally simulcast Chick-fil-a Leadercast, a daylong leadership development seminar.

As with many smaller towns in Iowa, young leaders and young leadership have historically been in short supply in Keokuk. However, with the establishment of the Greater Keokuk Young Professionals, the community is better equipped to “grow its own” instead of importing talent from outside.