By Michael Bradley
Special to Delaware Business Times
When Kia Ervin first came to Wilmington in October 2012, she was a 29-year-old professional who had spent most of her time in Washington, D.C., with plenty of side trips to New York. She did her job in Delaware and played everywhere else.
“I felt like I was showering and working here, but my life was in D.C. and New York,” she admits.
Ervin wasn’t necessarily trying to avoid her new life in Wilmington, but, as a 20-something, she found it hard to discover opportunities to socialize, eat out and even buy essentials after dark. It was pretty clear to her why the state was having trouble hanging on to talented young people, even if there was a thriving employment market for them.
“I’ve lived all over the East Coast, from North Carolina to New York, and this was by far the hardest place to adapt to,” she says. “I felt that the area didn’t allow a young person to create a network.”
Today, Ervin is doing everything she can to make sure others who are in the same circumstance don’t feel the same frustration. She’s executive director of Accelerate Delaware, a nonprofit designed to attract, retain, nurture and cultivate millennials to the state. The group held a launch party May 14 at the Community Education Building Atrium in Wilmington. And Ervin wants to create an environment that builds a farm system of talented people who will be business leaders of the future.
Doing that will require a coordinated effort that uses professional, social, educational and mentoring programs as bait to make people want to work and play in the First State. That can mean as little as getting businesses to understand that closing their doors at sunset makes them less attractive to 20-somethings and as much as creating a certificate program that makes young professionals more desirable to employers and able to gain better jobs and salaries.
“We’re trying to build a bridge between young professionals and the business community,” Ervin says. “There’s not a lot of communication between those two worlds.”
The idea for Accelerate Delaware took root in 2014 within the Longwood Foundation’s incubator of ideas and quickly became a reality. This is a crucial time for Delaware’s business community, which needs to develop the next generation of leaders. To do that, it’s imperative that talented individuals are given good reasons to stick around.
“The target market for [Wilmington’s] downtown, in terms of living there, is millennials,” says Marty Hageman of Downtown Visions, a business improvement district in the city. “We want to do as many things as possible to make sure they stay and don’t take their talents elsewhere. We have to make it more interesting for them.”
Terry Young approves of that idea. A native of Louisiana, within the past five years, Young earned his master’s degree at LSU and then continued working in Baton Rouge. He came to Wilmington last August to tutor at Great Oaks Charter as part of the AmeriCorps program. He found that even buying items at the drug store was challenging, because many closed before he was finished working. The 29-year-old believes that a concerted effort to make the state more attractive to people like him will have a positive impact.
“I definitely think that trying to attract young talent to Delaware and keeping them here once they get here makes sense,” he says. “There are definitely a lot of opportunities.”