One of Commerce Lexington’s signature events is Emerge, a daylong interactive conference held each spring since 2014. Inspiration for the event came during a leadership visit to Omaha in 2013, when a panel of young professionals spoke about the importance of emerging leaders in their Nebraska city.
“We decided to create an event (in Lexington) that would connect emerging leaders and help them plug into the community,” said Amy Carrington, director of leadership development at Commerce Lexington.
The Emerge conference has grown from 150 to 400 participants “to help engage and support emerging leaders in the Bluegrass region,” Carrington said. This March, attendees at the Lexington Convention Center heard dozens of speakers and panelists, with a keynote luncheon address by Rebecca Darwin, founder of Garden & Gun magazine, and Marianne Barnes, master distiller at Castle & Key Distillery. The all-day event featured breakout sessions on topics of personal growth, professional development and community engagement.
Jason Cummins, director of athletics operations for Horizon Performance, provided the opening session remarks. He challenged audience members to engage with one another and to embrace the concept of interruption. He even interrupted their comfort level by having people rotate to different tables in the room.
“I want to learn from all kinds of people with different backgrounds, beliefs, strengths and experiences,”
Jamie Rodgers, legislative aide to Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilmember Amanda Bledsoe, chaired the 2017 Emerge steering committee.
“This conference rivals the conferences and professional development I have attended in larger cities across the globe,” she said, “but offers the networking and connections from the young movers and shakers right in your hometown.”
Rodgers lived in Beijing, Bangkok, Louisville and Cincinnati before moving to Lexington. She brought the global breakfast series CreativeMornings to Lexington in January 2017.
At Emerge, Rodgers moderated a panel of creatives, and a breakout session highlighting Central Kentucky’s transformation in the past five years as a creative hub, thanks to business-minded artists and creatively thinking entrepreneurs.
Diversity was evident at the Emerge conference.
“I sat next to someone from San Francisco, Chicago and Henderson (Ky.) just in the first session,” Rodgers said, “all people who have moved to Lexington mid-career for work.”
“It was a great mix between young professionals and some of us who have been in the business world for quite a while,” said Tom Wallace, human resource director of the Lexington Public Library. He was a panelist on the Tough Talk: Cringeworthy Conversations breakout session, advising attendees that sensitive topics should be communicated face-to-face.
Mike Hilton, director of customer and vendor engagement at Quest International Users Group, chaired the first Emerge steering committee.
“We have a unique brand of emerging talent in Lexington,” he said. “We have people who are excited and energized about making themselves better and want to turn around and try to make this community better.”
While the Emerge conference harnesses the energy and motivation of young professionals gathering together for one day a year, the impact of encouraging a city’s emerging talent over an extended period of time will be immeasurable, notes Hilton.
“Great things are going to come out of Emerge,” he said. “Fifteen years from now we’re going to look back and say, ‘Look how many great things came out of that emerging talent.’”
Takeaways from Emerge
“All people have a responsibility to continually work to improve themselves, and use their talents to benefit their community.”
— Mike Hilton, Director of Customer and Vendor Engagement, Quest International Users Group
“If I had to give one piece of advice to someone trying to rise in their career, it’s invest in yourself by attending professional development opportunities like Emerge.”
— Jamie Rogers, Legislative Aide for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilmember Amanda Bledsoe
“When needing to conduct a critical conversation, remember to pause and ask yourself, ‘How did the other person arrive at their viewpoint?’ You know the series of events leading to your perception, but do you know the other person’s back story? There are three sides to every story – yours, mine and one in between.”
— Tom Wallace, Human Resource Director, Lexington Public Library
“As leaders, it’s easy to coast. We get in routines with people we see every day, we pass by the same things in our community every day. View interruptions as a positive. It is sometimes the greatest impact of influence.”
— Jason Cummins, Director of Athletics Operations, Horizon Performance