By: Lauren Charley

[box type=”shadow” ] NEXTNiagara is an organization of young professionals within the region, representing the emerging generation. Together the members display Niagara’s potential to prosper in all occupational fields, including the business, economic, health, education, and legal sectors. [/box]

 “Niagara has a number of competitive advantages and natural assets that can be better leveraged to stimulate economic activity and encourage long-term growth.” –Jessica Potts, Chair of NEXTNiagara

There are many qualities which give the Niagara Region international recognition. Its unique climate and terrain, producing the  conditions that have facilitated the development of the  legendary wine country, the quaint and peaceful culture, and of course, the wondrous beauty of the Horseshoe Falls all contribute to make Niagara one of Canada’s most thriving tourist destinations. However, many visitors to this scenic beauty fail to recognize it as a prosperous area for occupational development in the business, health, economic, and technology sectors. These industries continue to grow, especially as the next generation steps up to transform Niagara into not only a landmark for tourism, but also a hub for economic and political affairs. This initiative within the community is greatly displayed through the actions taken by NEXTNiagara – “the voice of the emerging generation in Niagara.”

NEXTNiagara was formed in 2011 with the Niagara Workforce Planning board as a founding partner, and funding donated by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The organization currently operates as part of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, after joining forces in 2012. Together their goal is to see Niagara grow as a prosperous community where the emerging generation can live, work and stay. Anyone who considers themselves to be a young professional or member of the emerging generation is encouraged to take part in the wide-ranging opportunities NEXTNiagara offers. These include regular networking events and socials dedicated to uniting young people across diverse occupations, providing them with an opportunity to converse with one another, as well as form strong and beneficial business relationships with established professionals.

Members of NEXTNiagara include students, recent graduates, and young entrepreneurs and professionals. Essentially, anyone who considers themselves a part of the emerging generation is invited to represent Niagara as it continues to grow its professional business and economic development. The organization encourages participation from individuals across all occupations and sectors including law, finance, business, education, transportation, manufacturing, arts, and media, to name just a few. They also encourage young entrepreneurs to take part in their social events, to help them build connections with fellow up and coming businesspeople and establish themselves as professionals in the community.

NEXTNiagara’s governing panel is comprised of 15 members, a chair and a vice chair, who are all part of the emerging generation and represent a wide range of industries within the community. They include members of both the public and private sectors, as well as non-for-profit organizations, entrepreneurs, lawyers, educators, businesspeople, financial service workers, and more. The panel meets on a monthly basis, with sub-committees meeting when necessary.

Although simply attending NEXTNiagara social events or following the group on social media gives membership to the organization, participants are encouraged to create “YoProfiles” on the “YoProfiled” website, and sign up to receive the monthly In The Loop newsletter. Each year, applications are accepted for positions on the governing panel. By submitting a résumé and application, successful candidates are allocated spots, as they become available. Selections for these positions are based on a number of factors including the applicant’s community engagement, participation in NEXTNiagara events, and ultimately, what skills and leadership qualities they can contribute to the panel.

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In addition to professional networking between businesses and occupational professionals, the organization seeks to increase participation by the region’s youth in local politics and governmental affairs. “Part of NEXTNiagara’s strategic plan includes building a stronger emerging generation presence on local committees and boards, as well as increasing their participation in community initiatives and programming,” says Jessica Potts, Chair of NEXTNiagara. Although the organization is non-partisan, they encourage young people to take part in  municipal and regional politics, either by running for office, supporting political candidates, or simply taking part by keeping informed of local government actions and of course, making their own vote count. As the NEXTNiagara panel continues to grow, measures are being taken to strengthen the emerging generation’s active participation in Niagara’s politics. Part of this plan is for them to collaborate with organizations and educational institutions within the community in the development of policy and advocacy positions.

The events committee at NEXTNiagara holds a minimum of four socials and one marquee event each year. “Priceless” is the name of the inaugural event, which is a unique art-auction gala where participants can “bid with their time, not their dime.” Instead of money, attendees volunteer their time to local charities in order to bid for pieces of artwork donated by Niagara artists. This ultimately results in more community engagement by members of the emerging generation. Due to the organization’s increasing presence within the community, many businesses and foundations within the area offer to host and sponsor additional social events in support of the local youth. Previous and upcoming networking events by local sponsors include socials at 13th Street Winery, sponsored by Performance Auto Group, and PenFinanical Credit Union in Welland, sponsored by PenFinancial Credit Union.

In June, Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake sponsored a binational networking event with Buffalo-Niagara 360, a similar group of young professionals located just across the border. The event included a reception where guests enjoyed complimentary drinks and appetizers, courtesy of the Shaw, in addition to a ticket to see one of their plays, The Philadelphia Story. The partnership NEXTNiagara continues to build with Buffalo-Niagara 360 emerged from a previous partnership the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce had established with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce for Buffalo. Due to the similarity of the programs and goals of NEXTNiagara and Buffalo-Niagara 360, the two groups were a natural fit for collaboration. “Strengthening binational linkages (especially between two neighbouring regions that account for a large amount of cross-border trade) will play an important role in the long-term economic success of both Southern Ontario and Western New York. Leveraging the combined assets of larger regional economies is key to thriving in an increasingly globalized world,” explains Jessica Potts, Chair of NEXTNiagara.

By taking part in NEXTNiagara, students, recent graduates, and young professionals in Niagara have a unique opportunity to benefit themselves as they advance in the start of their professional careers. Networking events provide individuals with a chance to meet and connect with others in similar occupational fields to build their connections and establish their professional reputations. They are also a great way to create bonds with individuals in other industries, who can help them or their companies’ with an array of projects and develop meaningful business relationships.

Getting involved in NEXTNiagara is as easy as attending an enjoyable social event. The best way to stay connected for information on upcoming opportunities with the organization is by following NEXTNiagara on their social media pages such as Facebook and Twitter, and signing up for In The Loop at www.greaterniagarachamber.com/COUNCILS/NEXTNiagara/Registration-for-In-The-Loop