Young professionals explore local job opportunities

Ozan Gokdemir questions local business leaders about how graduates may obtain money toward starting a new business in the area.
Ozan Gokdemir questions local business leaders about how graduates may obtain money toward starting a new business in the area. rcallihan@bradenton.com

An assortment of local business leaders joined together at Ringling College of Art and Design Tuesday night to convince more than 130 students of one thing — to keep their talent here.

Mind the Gap, a networking event put on by Bright Ideas on the Gulf Coast (BIG) and the Cross College Alliance, brought students in contact with nearly 60 potential employers and allowed them the opportunity to ask questions about their future in the job market.

The second annual meet-and-greet event was meant to demonstrate to businesses and students alike that there are opportunities in the area. Many business leaders said that there’s a disconnect between job-seekers and employers.

“Part of the challenge for us is that you don’t know that there are opportunities here,” said Sharon Hillstrom, CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.

That divide leads to graduates leaving the area once they’ve gotten a degree from schools such as Ringling, New College of Florida, State College of Florida and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee — which are all part of the Cross College Alliance.

But young professionals are willing to reach out. During a question and answer session, audience members peppered economic movers and shakers about the local job market.

Ozan Gokdemir, a computer science student at New College, asked whether there was money available for graduates looking to settle into the area and start their own business.

“I’m so glad you reached out because we need you to stay,” said Wendi Chapman, executive director of BRIDGE Angel Investors. “We have money. You don’t hear that every day.”

Other entrepreneurial students were happy to hear that they have a real chance to begin their own business ventures in the same place they grew up.

“This area with young CEOs is a great place to start your business,” said Christian Lizardi, a USF Sarasota-Manatee student who is looking to start his own “community-first” business.

Many students attended in search of valuable job experience to give them a leg up on their classmates after graduation. Iyanu Corniel is one of them. A third-year student at New College, she said she came to the event hoping to find an internship that appealed to her many interests.

While Corniel said that Realize Bradenton, a local nonprofit, had her attention, many students wrestled with the idea of moving away from the area for better job prospects.

However, Madeline Hansen, moved to Florida in 2013 to work an unpaid internship for Mote. She said that job opportunities are everywhere, you just have to know where to look. Other business leaders echoed the sentiment.

“We don’t live in a community or global market where geographical boundaries matter anymore,” said Chris Laney, director of education and learning at CareerSource. “You can be successful anywhere.”

Ryan Callihan: 941-745-7095, @RCCallihan