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5 Questions with Kate Luczko, Stay Work Play

The Department of Resources and Economic Development has deep ties with Stay Work Play, the nonprofit organized to promote the benefits of New Hampshire to the under-40 workforce. Former DRED Commissioner George Bald was an original incorporator of SWP and Division of Economic Development Director Carmen Lorentz serves as a board member.

To catch up with SWP, we interviewed Kate Luczko, president and CEO of this vital workforce retention initiative. Kate has served in a leadership role at SWP for over five years, and prior to that, was part of the leadership team with NH Businesses for Social Responsibility. She’s also served as a member of the adjunct faculty at the University of New Hampshire.

Kate Luczko ~ Stay Work Play

Kate Luczko ~ Stay Work Play

1. Stay Work Play is growing again with the addition of Beth San Soucie, who was voted the Lakes Region’s Young Professional of the Year in 2014. To what would you attribute the growth of your organization? 

Like many blossoming organizations that find their niche, there is no one factor to which we can attribute our ability to grow. It has been a combination of continuing to build and expand our network of supporters for the mission of Stay Work Play, a strong board of directors and an active board of advisors, a variety of volunteers and certainly everyone who helps spread the word of Stay Work Play, both in and outside New Hampshire.
After five years in active existence, this year we created our first strategic plan, which will help us further show impact and forward momentum, a variety of new programs and partnerships are in the works, and really, there continues to be a need for New Hampshire to focus on attracting and retaining 20- and 30-somethings to the state, and we are the only private organization that wakes up every day and tackles this issue.

2. SWP was founded in 2009 to further the 55 percent initiative and recommendations from a governor’s task force on the retention of young professionals. How has SWP progressed in these goals.

We did an exercise with our board of advisors at the end of 2014 to look at the various recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force (it had been five years since the report was finalized) to evaluate the work that has already been done (by us and others) and to prioritize the initiatives going forward.

Beyond the creation of Stay Work Play, the other recommendations made by the task force weren’t necessarily created solely for our mission, but are of significant importance to the future of New Hampshire. A number of the initiatives are right within our focus and they will continue to be important to us to take a lead on (Business of the Year award, internships, student loan repayment, etc.) and with others there are organizations with attention in those areas to move them forward and we can support their efforts (broadband, workforce housing, etc.).

Through establishing ourselves over the past five years and going through the strategic planning process, we have also created new goals and initiatives that we will move the needle on in years to come.

3. Why is the link between young professionals and economic development so important?

Today’s young talent are tomorrow’s leaders. For the future of New Hampshire we need those 20- and 30-somethings to remain in or come to New Hampshire to establish their lives in the state. They are the ones who will be starting and leading companies, buying and renting homes, supporting nonprofits, arts, and cultural organizations, utilizing our higher education resources to elevate their skills and knowledge, and all-around contributing to the local economies throughout the state.

They are the ones to not only determine what the state should look like in the future, but they are the ones who will ultimately make it happen. If we care about economic growth and the future of New Hampshire, workforce and economic development are arguably the most important issues to focus resources on. We have worked very hard over the past five years to engage key stakeholders and with a variety of partners and the state’s young talent, are positioned to help move the needle on economic growth.

4. Can you share two or three remarkable things being done by YP groups in the state today?

One of our favorite outcomes over the past five years is that the Young Professionals Networks (YPN) are collaborating with each other. In 2010, we created a Young Professionals Network Advisory board that brings a representative of each YPN together on a monthly conference call. Through these calls, we created both a feeling of being a statewide and connected effort, and also the YPNs share news, events, and best practices. They partner on events and ask each other for advice and resources. It has been great to see the former sense of competition replaced with camaraderie.
The YPNs are also being very innovative with their events and programming. In addition to the traditional networking and social events, there are business plan competitions, professionally focused summits, summer-camp-like events, mentorship programs, community-impact efforts, field trips, and more. They are taking advantage of the chance to be creative, have fun, provide value, appeal to the younger demographic and help young professionals connect with each other and New Hampshire.
Finally, they are finding ways to make themselves relevant to the audiences they’re trying to reach. With 13 YPNs around NH and such a unique multi-faceted state, what works in Manchester doesn’t necessarily work in Littleton. So they are asking their young professional members what would be valuable to them, how they can best serve them, and then they’re taking steps to make it happen. With the YPNs being primarily volunteer-run and having over 10,000 members collectively, it is remarkable how much they accomplish and how much value they add to NH. We call them the “boots on the ground” for Stay Work Play and the Granite State.

5. The Rising Stars Awards are coming up soon. Can you tell us a bit about the history and the purpose of the awards?

The idea of hosting an awards competition was another recommendation of Governor Lynch’s task force. We hosted our first competition and event in 2010 as a way to recognize young talent, businesses and organizations that care about young talent, and initiatives working to help recruit and retain them.

While the original goals remain much the same, the competition has changed and grown over the six years since its inception. We have added three awards: College Student of the Year, Civic Leader of the Year, and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, to the original lineup of Young Professional of the Year, Coolest Companies for Young Professionals, and Leadership Development Program of the Year.

The celebratory event has grown tremendously too. Just two years ago, our goal was to have 200 people in attendance, which would have been our largest turnout yet, and this year we expect over 500 people. We have done a lot to make it not your typical rubber chicken dinner. We try and find fun elements and to further emphasize our goal of bringing awareness and recognition to those people and organizations who are working hard to make New Hampshire an amazing place.

This year we are at a very unique venue, the Space Entertainment Center in Hooksett. When was the last time you attended a business event and went up against your local bank president and friendly college senior at skeeball?! In addition to a fun arcade-game-filled venue, we have live music, raffle baskets representing businesses and organizations in six regions throughout New Hampshire (the hope being someone from the Seacoast wins the North Country – White Mountains basket and gets the chance to experience a less-familiar part of the state), an inspiring keynote speaker, the announcement of all of our winners, and a stellar crowd with which to network.

The Rising Stars Awards event takes place at 5:30 pm, Monday, Oct. 5. You may register here. This year’s finalist are listed here.

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