Dubuque resident Derek Olberding, 25, has enjoyed a quick rise through the professional ranks.
Shortly after graduating from Loras College in 2010, he landed a job with Fidelity Bank & Trust in Dubuque. He was named the bank's assistant vice president last year.
Olberding is convinced his experience with Young Professionals Dubuque has played a major factor in his early success.
"I thought it offered a huge benefit and helped me meet other professionals in the community," said Olberding, who became the president of Young Professionals Dubuque last June. "At the same time, it was not as intimidating as going to Chamber events as a young person and networking with more seasoned business professionals."
Enrollment in Young Professionals Dubuque has skyrocketed the past three years, rising from 350 members in 2012 to 703 in 2013, and 998 this year.
Molly Grover, president and CEO of the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, attributed much of the growth to a new strategy that invites area companies to become annual sponsors of the program.
"Lately, we have seen that the business community is really getting it," Grover said. "We're just seeing more businesses wanting to be at the table, wanting to engage with young professionals in the community. They know this is a bullpen of talent for them for their future workforce needs."
Young Professionals Dubuque got its start in 2006, when the Chamber hired Meghan Hackett to start the program. Hackett died tragically in late 2006, but Grover still credits her with energizing the program in its early stages.
"It's fun and fulfilling to see her vision coming to fruition and to see how successful YP has become," she said.
The organization connects young workers through a variety of programs and events, including monthly luncheons and after-work gatherings. Major annual events, including Days of Caring and the yearly symposium, also serve as major highlights for YP members.
Young Professionals Dubuque is overseen by Barry Gentry, senior vice president of the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce. Under Gentry's leadership, the organization has grown and captured the attention of more area businesses, including Cottingham & Butler.
Creed Waelchli, director of community development at Cottingham & Butler, said the group serves as a critical tool for a company looking to grow.
"We are definitely on a growth pattern right now as a company, and you can't grow without new employees," Waelchli said.
For growing businesses, it is much easier to find young employees than mid-career professionals who have already established themselves at other companies, Waelchli said. In many cases, finding younger workers can also prove more beneficial.
"If you can find young workers, people who haven't developed any bad habits, and you can develop them within your system, that is a great thing," he said.
Changing demographics within the local workforce show the growing importance of young professionals.
The number of workers in Dubuque County between the ages of 25 and 34 has grown from 9,685 in 2002 to 11,524 in 2012 (the latest year in which data is available), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the finance and insurance industry, the number of young professionals has risen from 438 to 974 in the past decade. Meanwhile, census figures show that local young professionals involved in the management of companies and enterprises has more than doubled (from 61 to 126) between 2002 and 2012.
The number of young professionals in two other professions - real estate and professional, science and technological enterprises - also has risen by more than 10 percent in the past 10 years.
The growing prominence of younger workers has highlighted the need to keep young talent in the area.
Grover believes that a worker's first three years in the professional ranks will shape the remainder of their careers.
"Those early years are really critical in determining if they stay or move on," she said. "With YP, it's not only about building a peer network, but it's also a chance to connect them to the community. If they feel they are part of a growing community, their likelihood of staying is much greater."
The importance of keeping young talent in the area has prompted the chamber to launch the Future Young Professionals, a program that emphasizes connections with local college students.
The University of Dubuque was the first school to come on board with Future Young Professionals in 2010. Since then, Loras College, Clarke University and Northeast Iowa Community College have become affiliated with the organization, and membership has grown to 75 members.