Engage! Cleveland helps young professionals find their way in The Land

Ashley Basile Oeken faced a tough challenge when she arrived in Cleveland in March 2009 as a young professional ready to embark on a marketing management career.

There wasn’t a place she could go that was geared to help aspiring leaders make connections, get involved in the community and take advantage of new growth opportunities, a process that other cities had already begun to put in place.

Engage! Cleveland’s purpose is to fill that gap and foster an environment where innovation is recognized and rewarded, and creative minds are given access to the tools they need to build on their ideas.

“Cleveland was a little behind the times as far as having an initiative that really worked on supporting, attracting, retaining and engaging young talent,” Basile Oeken says. “Research shows that young professionals who are engaged in the community are two to three times more likely to stay. So engagement is the key buzzword and that is the basis of all the work that we do.”

When people come together and are given the chance to share what’s on their mind and get engrossed in conversation, good things can happen.

“We’re very inclusive,” says Basile Oeken, president of Engage! Cleveland. “We’ve had mixed reviews on membership models, so we’ve steered clear of those. Any young professionals can come to just about any of our events simply by purchasing a ticket. We’re trying to connect them with employers, young professional organizations and other nonprofits to get them acclimated to all that Cleveland has to offer.”

Basile Oeken joined the nonprofit in September 2012 after a two-year stint with the Cleveland Foundation, where she helped launch the Fund for Our Economic Future. The Fund is an organization that seeks to bridge willing funders with business concepts that can drive economic growth in Northeast Ohio.

She was promoted twice during a two-year span, which captured the attention of the people looking to start Engage! Cleveland.

“They said, ‘We think you would be great to run our organization,’” Basile Oeken says. “‘It’s this new nonprofit that we’re starting. You fit the demographic and you’ve been a real cheerleader for Cleveland since you’ve been here.’ So I threw my name in the hat and I was hired. I knew there was a great need because I wasn’t from the city and I had firsthand experience to see how hard it was to break into Cleveland.”

The goal isn’t to eliminate all hardships. Everyone has obstacles to overcome in their career path, no matter the field they choose. Basile Oeken simply wants to create a place that provides easier access to the many resources available in a community like Cleveland.

“Cleveland is starting to get some recognition in the media, but I would like to see it on some of the top 10 lists of places young graduates want to work,” Basile Oeken says. “It’s not just because we have a low cost of living. It’s a robust community with great jobs. Our purpose is to help people see the great things that are happening.”

A growing presence
Engage! Cleveland hosted more than 60 events last year. One of the highlights of the calendar is Cleveland Young Professionals Week, which took place from June 24 through July 2.

“We had 33 events in nine days and provided young professionals with an opportunity to meet with exclusive speakers in very unique places, things they would never be able to do on their own,” Basile Oeken says.

One of the highlights of this year’s YP Week was a panel discussion featuring Indians owner Paul Dolan, Cavaliers CEO Len Komoroski and David Gilbert, president and CEO of Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.

In addition to helping individuals, Basile Oeken and her team are eager to work with employers that want to attract top talent to their companies.

“We have a job board they can post to,” Basile Oeken says. “We have an annual job fair that attracts hundreds of young professionals each year. We can also help with onboarding. We host different sessions throughout the year that are like a welcome or an introduction to Cleveland. Here are the things we have going on and here is how you can get involved.”

One thing Basile Oeken is not doing is holding rallies in other cities to convince everyone she encounters to relocate to Cleveland.

“It’s more like if you are somebody who left Cleveland or maybe you live in a neighboring city and you think, ‘I’ve been hearing good things about Cleveland,’ our hope is that you visit our website, see all the great thing that are happening and reach out to us,” Basile Oeken says.

The board that oversees Engage! Cleveland is a mix of both young and older professionals, who are ages 40 and older.

“You have young professionals who are graduating from college and starting their first positions and then you have C-level executives who are managing partners at law firms that have been working for 35 years,” she says. “You get that whole continuum at a board meeting. It’s very diverse. We’ve learned it’s very important to our work.”

How to reach: Engage! Cleveland, (216) 264-5644 or www.engagecleveland.com