SIKESTON - It looks like any gathering of young people for an evening out - lots of talking and laughter as they get to know one another.
But really it is much more. For the Sikeston Young Professionals, it is an opportunity to get to know others in business in Sikeston and the surrounding area.
Missy Marshall, executive director of the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber had discussed the need for an organization designed for young professionals ages 21-40 nearly two years ago.
"We had seen younger professionals moving back to the area and they wanted a way of networking," she recalled. "There really wasn't a common place young professionals could gather to re-establish friendships if they were from here or if they weren't originally from here to meet others."
While membership in the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce is a good way to meet others, Marshall said the SACC wanted to offer other venues to young people, too.
"These are the next group of community leaders," she said. "We want to give them the opportunity to build relationships now so they can take the next step into leadership."
Sikeston native Nathan Cox, who had recently returned to his hometown, also was looking for that networking connection. He approached Marshall and the Chamber about establishing an organization.
Soon a list of e-mail addresses for some 150 young professionals was established. In December, those individuals were invited to an after-hours gathering and some 40 to 50 people accepted the invitation.
"The first turnout was better than I hoped," said Marshall.
Cox was equally pleased by the response.
"I probably met about 15 to 20 people I didn't know," said Cox. "Some had just moved back to town that I didn't know had, others were in different professions and I just hadn't had the opportunity to meet them yet."
He said it was an opportunity for all those attending to interact and learn more about others and their businesses as well as make or rekindle friendships.
"But the purpose is mainly for networking, meeting new clients and prospects, creating business leads along with social interaction," he said.
The day after the event Cox said he got 20 e-mails from those who showed up stating how much they enjoyed it.
Since that first event more people have asked to be included, Cox said. The list of those eligible for the Sikeston Young Professionals has already grown to 190.
Cox said the organization will continue to be informal. There are no membership fees although since the group is affiliated through the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce, they do encourage membership in the SACC.
Among those attending the first event was Jeremy Anderson. The organization appealed to him not only because it was easy to take part in but also because he was able to connect with other young business people in the community.
He had such a good time, he is serving as co-host for the next Sikeston Young Professional's gathering, which is set for 5 p.m. Feb. 15 at Jeremiah's.
Those involved hope to see as many as 75 to 100 attending the second gathering.
"We encourage everyone to come out. You don't have to get an invitation and we welcome people from all around the area," said Cox. "The more the merry."
Added Marshall: "Just bring a business card and have a good time."