The Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce has launched a new organization for local executives and business owners — including retirees — who are interested in promoting career development and economic prosperity in the region.
Members of the Established Business Leaders (EBL) group can now put their knowledge, connections and perspective on the Manhattan business community to use through a variety of social networking, mentoring, advocacy and educational opportunities. The group is one of several in the Greater Manhattan region that harness the power of collaboration, joining Black Entrepreneurs of the Flint Hills (BEFH), an organization devoted to supporting minority-owned businesses; Hype, a program for young professionals; and Spark, a nonprofit formed to promote local entrepreneurial efforts.
The idea for EBL was born when newly retired co-founders Wayne Sloan, former president of BHS Construction, and Harry Watts, former managing director at Kansas Farm Bureau, formed a coffee group for fellow retirees. The conversation often turned to how they might continue to play an active role in regional economic development efforts despite no longer representing a company or industry.
“I asked the group, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had something similar to Hype, but for senior professionals and community leaders?’” Sloan said.
Aware that many in Hype and the other organizations had expressed interest in a mentorship program, he and Watts saw an opportunity to develop such a group and dedicate it to providing a new wave of local talent with the same guidance they found so valuable earlier in their careers.
“Mentorship was very important to me in my career when I was just moving back to Manhattan,” Sloan said. “My mentor and I created a lifelong friendship, and still to this day I’ll contact him if I have a question or problem.
Watts compared the mentorship role to that of a younger person following in their parents’ footsteps.
“You hope the kids you’ve raised will be there to step in for you when you’re a senior,” he said. “This is a similar concept — we have a responsibility to utilize those skills, that knowledge, and give back to the young professionals who will take over the responsibilities of growing this region.”
What began as a mentorship arrangement, however, quickly grew into much more — a way to more fully engage those who have played integral roles in the exceptional economic progress Riley and Pottawatomie counties have seen in recent years.
“This is a group of people that should remain in the know,” said Larie Schoap, retired vice president of ESB Financial and EBL steering committee member. “I’m thrilled to see them stay involved, and to see the vital combination of experience and knowledge they hold paid forward to the younger group.”
More Than a Mentorship
The group quickly attracted interest from potential members and the business community alike. The benefit of maintaining ties to professionals with extensive networks and experience was a no-brainer. To establish an official blueprint for the organization, five goals were identified.
In addition to its first goal — to form a robust mentorship program with Hype and Spark — EBL will undertake general advocacy work for the region.
“I’ve been involved with advocacy my entire life, and it’s absolutely critical — I think we saw what it can do when Scorpion Biological Services selected us for their manufacturing facility,” Watts said. “We all know the importance of relationship building as we work to advance our community, and there’s still an opportunity for us to do that going forward by communicating with city and county commissioners and state legislators.”
EBL’s third goal is to keep members active and engaged through educational and social networking activities in the form of “lunch and learns” featuring guest speakers, happy hours, coffees and other gatherings, the number of which will increase as the group grows.
In hopes of building on current momentum and the region’s business-friendly reputation, the organization’s fourth goal is to vigorously promote economic prosperity in the region. As became clear with the amount of effort that went into securing Manhattan as the home of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, Scorpion and other entities, significant time and teamwork go into such endeavors. EBL aims to be able to help when the next opportunity knocks.
“With our professional acumen, volunteers and community supporters, our seasoned business leaders were instrumental in accomplishing those objectives,” said Watts. “I hope we’re able to do more of that as retirees.”
To meet these objectives, EBL set a goal of recruiting at least 50 established leaders. Because members won’t fall into one convenient category — some retired, some employed, some employed part time and all from different industries — neither will the options for participation. Members can take part in as many or as few activities as they wish, and even the activities themselves involve varying levels of commitment.
“We tried to design a mentorship program that’s flexible,” said Stephanie Pierce, economic development and entrepreneur relations manager at K-State Innovation Partners and chair of Hype, which co-sponsors the mentorship program along with Spark. “We don't want to hold you to a strict schedule that requires you to meet with someone once a week, every week, for a year. Instead, we’re trying to make a mutually beneficial match that allows you to engage with young professionals or entrepreneurs as your time permits.”
Mentors can work with an individual or a group, or even just assist with a specific question or dilemma. They can be available to advise on topics related to business and industry, of course, but can also weigh in on civic engagement or life skills.
“There’s a lot of knowledge, experience and talent in this group of people who now have more time to volunteer and contribute their support,” said Linda Cook, who retired from Kansas State University as chief of staff and director of community relations. “Advancing our region’s standing is where this group excels, and such talents and abilities don’t simply disappear when someone retires.”
Put Your Experience to Work
To learn more about becoming an EBL member — or to nominate another local established leader — complete the organization’s online interest form. To begin the process of becoming a mentor, help Hype and Spark create your profile by completing the Manhattan Professional Mentor Application.
Questions about the programs can be directed to Amber Wilhelm at the Manhattan Chamber. There are no official eligibility qualifications, and membership with the Chamber is not required.