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    New Memphis Institute launches program to retain young knowledge workers

    Jane A. Donahoe

    Brad Vest / The Commercial Appeal New Memphis Institute’s Embark initiative reached out to D.J. Vaughn, a FedEx Corp. program adviser recruited to Memphis after graduation nearly two years ago from Wake Forest. Embark aims to help young professionals expand their social networks and take root in Memphis.

    D.J. Vaughn is new to Memphis, but he has quickly become at ease and at home in the Bluff City.
    Vaughn, senior communications specialist with FedEx Services, moved here from North Carolina about 18 months ago.
    He admits that the transition was “a little rough.” He jokes that the fast-food workers along Union Avenue got to know him by name, and his food order by heart, in the early months.
    But he has firmer footing now, and a broader network of friends, thanks in large part to Embark, a recent initiative of the New Memphis Institute.
    Vaughn is one of the pilot graduates of the program, which provides training and networking for a select group of 20-somethings over a three-month period.
    New Memphis Institute was long known as Leadership Academy, an organization created after the pivotal 1979 Memphis Jobs Conference to groom successive generations of civic leaders.
    Embark, and New Memphis as a whole, is putting an emphasis on this younger group of knowledge workers and the socialization they seek.
    “The factor that has the strongest impact on why they’re choosing Memphis is friends and family,” said Nancy Coffee, chief executive of New Memphis Institute. “We are helping them build their friend network.”
    The New Memphis Institute is also striving to change the conversation within those networks, arming its contacts with talking points and making sure good news disseminates.
    “That’s what we’re doing. We’re creating a new narrative for Memphis,” said New Memphis board member John Daniel, chief human resources officer of First Horizon National Corp., owner of First Tennessee Bank.
    Economic development and crime and poverty reduction are critical initiatives but building optimism and a sense of civic pride is tantamount to all of it.
    “The rewards are so unbelievably high,” Daniel said. And, unlike some of the other issues that plague Memphis, the good-news needle can move quickly, he said.
    New Memphis Institute has a full slate of spring and summer events planned, beginning with the Exposure community expo last week. New Memphis also is getting ready for Memphis: The Summer Experience, a 10-event schedule geared toward college and graduate school interns working here over the summer. That initiative kicks off June 2 with a Nike Inc.-sponsored welcome reception at Felicia Suzanne’s.
    Embark will graduate its last group of pilot and beta participants June 4 and officially launch in August with another class of 30.
    Since its soft launch in September 2013, Embark is making strides among its “cohorts,” as the participants are dubbed.
    Before participation, 12.5 percent of those individuals said they were satisfied with the size of their social networks in Memphis.
    Following Embark, 94 percent said they had developed meaningful relationships with other participants that they planned to continue. Also, 94 percent said they felt more connected to Memphis as their home after participating.
    “I think our city’s greatest asset is access,” Coffee said.
    You don’t have to tell Vaughn that. The Lexington, North Carolina, native, who is less than two years removed from his Wake Forest University graduate degree, said Embark offered him the opportunity to build his personal and professional network while learning about all aspects of life as a Memphian.
    “Through my participation in the program, I developed a new appreciation for this city and all it has to offer,” he said. “I found myself challenging many of the negative perceptions of Memphis.”
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