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New organization looks to attract and retain Willmar's young talent

WILLMAR -- A new organization has opportunities for younger individuals who want to make friends, build client and colleague networks, and improve their abilities, knowledge and skills.

NeXt -- an organization for people age 19 to 40 -- hopes to attract and retain the community's young talent while developing the next generation of leaders.

The organization's name is kind of catchy, says Bob Mathiasen, chief credit officer at Heritage Bank in Willmar and NeXt Leadership Team chair.

"We're the next generation, we're the next business leaders, we're the next employees, we're the next residents of this community and we have an obligation to improve ourselves and take charge in building the future of this community,'' says Mathiasen.

NeXt will have a kick-off event from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Willmar Conference Center. Admission and food are free. Organizers will have booths set up and provide games and activities for people to play while they're getting to know one another and hear about future educational opportunities.

NeXt is an affiliate of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President Ken Warner said it's exciting the group is developing the program that they want. If they help write it, they'll underwrite it, Warner says.

"It's just encouraging to see them put together a program that they want to implement for that age group in our community, and the Ch-amber looks at it as a wonderful opportunity to create a volunteer succession plan for the community,'' he said. "It's really fun to be working with tomorrow's leaders today.''

NeXt re-places a former Chamber program called the Young Professionals. Attendance during a series of "lunch-and-learn'' sessions was good at first but slowly dwindled, Mathiasen recalls.

"So we decided to go out to our under-40 members and ask them what they were looking for, and what they were looking for was different than what we were providing,'' he said.

Mathiasen said many wanted the ability to network and get to know other people. Under the old format, participants came in, sat next to someone and listened to a speaker. The speakers and programs were good, but the format just wasn't creating that feeling of getting to know other people, said Mathiasen.

So organizers regrouped and formed a leadership team and committees to make the new program work.

"It's really created to be a place where people can come together, get to know other people who are sharing similar situations in their life, early in their careers, trying to advance in their careers,'' Mathiasen said.

Education Committee member Michelle Hanson, certified payroll professional at Conway, Deuth and Schmiesing of Willmar, "didn't know a single soul'' when she moved here 3½ years ago. She said the structure of the former program wasn't a great opportunity to get to know other people and the Chamber.

"I think that what we're trying to do here is really take all those things that we were lacking before -- the networking, the social aspect of it -- and put that together with education and just make it a good, round organization,'' Hanson said.

Justin Mattern, owner of E*Tap Marketing, said organizers have come up with a structure and leadership team to seek what young people are looking for and to work on ways to help develop their skills and advance their careers.

When asked what happens when someone turns 41, team members chuckled and said they "graduate."

"The Chamber has a lot of other great venues for the other people,'' Mathiasen said. "It affects me personally. I crossed over to 40 just a couple of weeks ago. My time with the NeXt group is short. It's a great group and it's going to be a lot of fun. I wish this would have been around for the last seven years that I've been in Willmar.''

For more information about NeXt, visit

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150