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Indy Gen-X group to tout city to out-of-town recruits

April 20, 2009

Twenty- and 30-somethings today choose a place to live, then look for work—or so it went before the arrival of the worst recession since the early 1980s.

Gen-X watchers haven't declared a shift in the decision-making habits that prompted cities across the country to start marketing their arts scenes, nightlife and great outdoors. But it stands to reason that a few of the less glamorous contenders could benefit from this economic turn of events.

"While we may not be known far and wide, yet, for the amazing cultural amenities our city has to offer... we are known for our affordable quality of life," said Molly Wilkinson Chavers, executive director of IndyHub, the city's young professionals network.

IndyHub isn't leaving anything to chance, though. Late this summer, the organization will launch a new Web site, circlingthecity.com, to pique the interest of out-of-towners who are being recruited by local companies.

The site will try to seal the deal by playing up Indianapolis' urban neighborhoods and lesser-known attractions.

"If somebody didn't know anything about Indianapolis, what would we really want to brag about?" said Elizabeth Friedland, account executive at TrendyMinds, the local public relations and marketing firm that landed the contract to build the site.

The site likely will include an interactive map of the city and links to organizations like Indianapolis Downtown Inc., and the various cultural districts, which have more detailed information, Friedland said.

The site, as it's conceived, is a bit like IndyHub in that it's meant to serve as a starting point for young professionals to learn more about the city, and get involved.

"There is a lot of information out there," Chavers acknowledged. "Even when we started in 2005, there was a lot going on, but there was no centralized hub of information."

IndyHub began in 2005 at the prompting of the life sciences network BioCrossroads as a possible solution to "brain drain." Backed by top employers like Eli Lilly and Co. and Dow AgroSciences, the organization has grown to about 3,700 members. (Memberships are free.)

The members get discounts or VIP treatment at monthly events, which Indy-Hub coordinates with other organizations in town. Young professionals have helped pack boxes at Gleaners Food Bank, for example, and on April 23 they'll be invited to "Spring into Spring on Mass Ave," a fashion show at the IndyFringe building.

All the events, Chavers said, are intended to give members a glimpse at behind-the-scenes work, or an introduction to something unique. "It's for people trying to figure out what Indy has to offer."

Retaining and recruiting young professionals is IndyHub's mission, but Chavers said there's no way to measure its effectiveness so far.

"That metric is really difficult to track," she said. "We aren't out there on the streets hearing, 'Here's a young professional who stayed because of IndyHub.'"

The organization continues to attract funding. Its budget has grown from $100,000 in the first year to $226,050.

The current budget includes two grants, $50,000 from the Indianapolis Foundation for general operating support and recruitment activities, and $50,000 from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, which is also supporting the increased emphasis on recruitment.

The Fairbanks foundation is giving a total of $100,000 over two years.

The grants are making it possible to launch circlingthecity.com, and allowed IndyHub to hire a second staff member. Karissa Rittmeyer, formerly of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, joined Chavers in January to handle events and media.

"We've been very fortunate to receive lots of corporate support from the very beginning," Chavers said. IndyHub still counts big names like the Baker & Daniels law firm on its list of sponsors and among board members. But it's also offering $1,000 sponsorships, which attracted Zing, a small-plates restaurant downtown.

IndyHub keeps up an aggressive schedule of events, which included showcasing 22 organizations in 2008, Chavers said. But you won't find the network by Googling "young professionals" and "Indianapolis."

The low profile was another strategy tailored to the tastes of 21- to 40-year-olds, who tend to frown on promotion that's too splashy.

Unlike many young professional groups across the country, IndyHub isn't run by a chamber of commerce. But with the increased emphasis on recruiting, Chavers will be collaborating with two existing groups, the Lacy Leadership Association and Indiana InternNet, an intern-matching program at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

A pilot program planned for the summer will have interns around town meeting twice a month for lunch.

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