By Scott Robertson
This is an exciting time of year in my job. The last nominations are rolling in for the annual 40 Under Forty program at our sister publication, The Business Journal of Tri-Cities, TN/VA. All nominations are due in to 40under.com by midnight Friday.
For those who aren’t familiar, 40 Under Forty is a celebration of the best and brightest young professionals in the Tri-Cities region. Initiated here 23 years ago by what was then called The Business Journal of Upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, the celebration initially served a few purposes.
First, it was good business for The Business Journal.
Second, it helped fight brain drain.
Brain drain? In any market the size of the Tri-Cities there will always be young professionals who are convinced that if they want to have a “real” career, they will have to move to Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, or some other big city. Whether it’s true or not, that will always be the perception some young people have about mid-size to small-town life.
But just over two decades ago, there seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy developing. We weren’t just hearing young people say, “We need to get out of town to get a real job.” We were also starting to hear some employers say, “If we want to hire the best young people, we have to hire from outside the market, because the best young people from here are leaving.”
We knew that both of those perceptions were wrong. We knew some great people under the age of 40 who were building great careers right here in the Tri-Cities.
The 40 Under Forty program seemed a good way to make that point to both sides.
Each year, we featured 40 individuals who were young, talented, and here. That showcase proved to employers that yes, such individuals were still here, and they were doing great work for companies willing to hire them and give them a chance to build their own careers.
It also showed young professionals who might be struggling here and considering a big-city move that there were opportunities for young people to start excellent careers here.
You don’t hear so much about brain drain anymore, so hopefully we’re doing some good with that. And while The Business Journal led the charge to show young professionals the benefits of staying here more than two decades ago, we’re certainly not the only ones spreading that message now. Young professionals have organizations in each of the Tri-Cities.
If nothing else, the 40 Under Forty program has become a remarkable predictor of future success in the region. Among our alumni are:
• Steve Smith (see last week’s story regarding his company’s purchase of all the BI-LO Food Stores in Chattanooga), the president and CEO of K-VA-T Food Stores. You may know those stores better as Food City.
• Tommy Greer, managing partner of Blackburn, Childers and Steagall
• David Davis, former 1st District United States congressman
• Bill Dudney, president, Citizens Bank
• Steve Johnson, president of Johnson Commercial Development, developer of The Pinnacle
• Ron Ramsey, Lt. Governor of the Great State of Tennessee
• Lottie Fields Ryans, now retired vice president and general manager, CenturyLink
• Tony Treadway, co-founder and president, Creative Energy
• Steve Darden, attorney, Hunter Smith & Davis, former Johnson City mayor
• Jon Lundberg, founder, The Corporate Image & Corporate Marketing Group and Tennessee state representative
• Anne Pope, former federal co-chair, Appalachian Regional Commission
• Robert Van de Vuurst, attorney, Baker Donelson
• Jeff Banyas, dentist and Johnson City Commissioner
• Miles Burdine, president and CEO, Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce
• Joe LaPorte III, chairman Citizens Bank
That’s 15 very influential and successful individuals, and that list was culled just from a quick glance at the first three years of the program.
There has been one change over the course of the program that has affected the make-up of more recent classes of 40 Under Forty honorees. These days community involvement plays a greater role in the judging. The judging in the early years took community involvement into account to some extent, but was far more about business acumen and early-career business success.
As the program has gone on, we have realized that community involvement and business success are, more often than not, inexorably linked. Those who take their own time to serve on community boards, to help meet the needs of those less fortunate, and to become servants themselves, often become the best leaders a business community can have.
So in realizing that fact, and in opening the criteria to make community involvement a greater factor, we have broadened the list of honorees to include a far greater representation of the community than would have been possible two decades ago. For instance, the last few classes have been dotted with medical professionals. Just so, not-for-profit organization executive directors now find themselves regularly added to the list, as do educators.
Judging is performed by an outside panel. The Business Journal and Johnson City News & Neighbor do not nominate, nor do we judge, unless a judge has a conflict of interest in the case of a particular nominee. Judges are brought in from Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol to avoid even the appearance of geographic bias.
This year’s class will be revealed Oct. 2 at a gala event at The Millennium Centre. The full class list will be available at 40under.com after that.
If you know a rising star in the business community, now is the last chance to get that nomination in for the class of 2015. Visit 40under.com today.