Local young professionals enjoy wine tasting and networking at Core Winery, where owner Becky Corey spoke on the benefits of networking outside your industry at a recent Santa Maria Connect! event.

Young Professionals in the Santa Maria Valley now have a place to mingle, network and learn more about the local business community. Santa Maria Connect!, a young professionals networking group started by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, has seen an energetic and positive response during the first few months of the program.

Glenn Morris, President/CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber has been wanting to start a young professionals program for some time now. “One of the core missions of the Chamber is to be a Convener of leaders and influencers,” Morris explained. “We are big believers in the value that can come from ensuring that leaders from across the business community are aware, engaged, and participating in making the community work. Part of that convener role is to ensure that the engagement is ongoing. Santa Maria Connect! is our way of beginning the discussion with individuals in local businesses who are just now emerging as local leaders.”

The program meets once a month, typically the third Tuesday in the evening, at a different local business. Meetings consist of a time to network and enjoy drinks and appetizers, then a guest speaker, and time for questions and additional networking at the end of the meeting.

Speakers have included Neda Zayer, Principal Planner for the City of Santa Maria, who spoke to the importance of young professionals getting involved in order of have an impact on the future of city developments. Neda said having a chance to speak with young professionals was a valuable learning experience for her, too.

“I spoke on the new Enos Ranch development occurring on Betteravia Road and how you can get involved in the public process in our community. It was very helpful to learn that most of the attenders did not know about the project and that they could be involved in the process of what is being built in the community,” Zayer said.  “It was eye opening for me to understand as the City, we need to do a better job in engaging our community in what is being developed here.”

Other presenters have included Dan Pankratz of One Way Board Shop, who spoke of the ups and downs of owning a small business, and Becky Corey of Core Winery, who talked about the positive impact collaboration and thinking outside your industry can have on your success in business.

“I enjoyed hearing from Dan who started One Way Board Shop,” said Dominique Rondeau of the Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program, who serves on the Santa Maria Connect! Advisory Committee and is a frequent attendee of the monthly events. “He gave a refreshingly honest dose of what it’s like to start a business here locally.”

With each speaker, young professionals gain insight into a different business sector of Santa Maria, while also learning about professional development skills and valuable business lessons from those who have experienced it firsthand.

For many attendees, it’s the combination of these insightful speakers with the networking opportunities the monthly events provide that keep them coming back.

“Santa Maria Connect! is great because it allows busy young professionals to connect with the right people in the right setting without a lot of pressure put on the situation,” said Ken Dahmen of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition. “Everyone who attends is expecting to network and some type of way whether to put their business out there for others to become familiar with or to make connections and collaborate with others. Santa Maria Connect!’s meeting format really fulfills those expectations.”

Santa Maria Advisory Committee members meet monthly to plan future Santa Maria Connect! events. (From Right: Joshua Luttman of Central Coast Visionary Insurance & Financial Services, LLC, Edgar Gascon of Hacienda Realty, Alex Magana of SMV Chamber of Commerce, Dominique Rondeau of Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program, Taz Dougherty of SMV Chamber of Commerce, Jose Guevarra of Pacific Investment Properties & Delta Capital, and Alex Smith of Academy Mortgage)

In the coming year, Santa Maria Connect! hopes to continue to engage local young professionals and provide valuable speakers and professional development opportunities.

“I think the program has been a success in its first year, and we’re excited to see where 2018 takes us,” said Edgar Gascon of Hacienda Realty, who serves on the Santa Maria Connect! Advisory Committee. “We’ve had events where we have 50+ guests and as time goes on and the word spreads, I think this will be a focal club in our community for professionals.”

Neda Zayer, Principal Planner for the City of Santa Maria, speaks to young professionals at a recent Santa Maria Connect! event about the importance of getting involved in order of have an impact on the future of city developments in Santa Maria.

Whether you’re looking to learn more about the local business community, network with other local young professionals or develop your own leadership and business skills, Santa Maria Connect! offers something for all young professionals.

“I’d encourage people to attend because it is a time where you meet others outside of your industry or immediate networking sphere; so it allows for new conversations and new growth,” Gascon said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to step outside your workplace and network,” Rondeau said. “Santa Maria Connect! is a great way to learn from many local industry leaders and meet other your professionals in the Santa Maria Valley community. And it’s just a lot of fun!”

Santa Maria Connect! meets once a month, typically in the evenings, at various local businesses in Santa Maria. Learn more by visiting https://santamaria.com/santa-maria-connect or contacting Events & Special Projects Manager Alex Magana at (805) 925-2403 x 814 or alex@santamaria.com.