molly byron at barney's

Molly Byron at Barney’s Drive-In, a participating business offering discounts on root beer floats to young people registered for the social calendar. (Julian Hast/southernminn.com)

About halfway through the Waseca Summer Social Calendar, program founder Molly Byron is feeling pretty good.

“We’ve received so many positive comments from Waseca businesses,” Byron said. “They were excited that we were starting this type of new program and offering it to their interns and employees.”

Local businesses that are taking part in the program have also been excited by the new young customers the social calendar has delivered, she said.

The Waseca Summer Social Calendar, a pilot program launched by Lead for Minnesota and the Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce, is designed to attract and retain young, diverse talent in Waseca. Originally meant for students interning in Waseca over the summer, the eight-week program will include all Waseca employees 30 years old and younger due to internship postponements from COVID-19. The program is running from June 4 until July 31.

Registered participants receive an official membership card, which they can use to redeem daily discounts and deals offered by local businesses participating in the program. They also get access to the official social calendar, which highlights free events in the community.

The idea for the social program came out of a discussion within Lead for Minnesota about Waseca’s toughest workforce challenges, namely brain drain or the flight of young talent from rural communities to urban centers, Byron said. The goal was to create the social infrastructure for young people in various industries to connect socially with each other and with the larger Waseca community.

Byron, who is a community catalyst at Lead for Minnesota and who works with the city of Waseca in the Chamber of Commerce, wanted to collaborate with the Chamber in order to tap into the businesses in the community. This was both to make sure that those businesses’ employees and interns knew about the opportunity, but also to see if the businesses themselves wanted to participate in it by offering some deals or discounts to young people taking part in the program, potentially new customers who might wish to patronize their business.

“Of course, the Waseca Chamber, their mission is to make sure our businesses are thriving,” Byron said. “So it was a perfect partnership.”

As Byron puts it, young people are looking for more than just a job these days; they’re looking for community. As Ben Winchester, rural sociology for the University of Minnesota Extension, points out in his research, the top three reasons people move to rural areas are quality of life, safety and low housing costs — “jobs” are not even in the top eight. The Summer Social Calendar, in this light, is a way to illustrate to Waseca’s young workforce that Waseca is not just a place they can work, but a community in which they can build a life for themselves.

As the social calendar is a pilot program, Byron said she is still focused on getting the word out so that more young people can register — especially since it doesn’t end until July 31. About 30 young people are currently registered, she said. She hopes it will grow for next year.

“We’re hoping to find out who the young people are in Waseca, so we can start creating a network,” she said. “There’s so much opportunity that can stem from that.”

Reach Reporter Julian Hast at 507-333-3133. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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