It may seem like career opportunities would be more plentiful outside small cities like Pueblo, but its size is one reason it’s a great place to be a young professional.
Instead of competing for mentorships and resources with the many aspiring professionals in bigger cities, Pueblo has more to help young adults than first meets the eye — one just has to find them, said Pueblo natives and entrepreneurs Timothy Zercher and Taylor Voss.
Both Voss and Zercher founded their own companies in Pueblo after attending Colorado State University-Pueblo and using several local resources geared toward career success for young adults.
Zercher, 25, who obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from CSU-Pueblo and in 2016 started his own social media company called Easy Social, considers the business community a hidden gem.
“Pueblo has a lot of great advantages,” he said. “One of them is our community. We really do wrap around people, especially when they demonstrate they have talent, ambition and are willing to work hard.
“We’re a full-size town, but we act like a small town. Employers talk to each other. Employers say, ‘He was my intern, you really need to talk to this guy who is amazing.’”
An easy way to network with accomplished business professionals in the Pueblo community is to reach out and ask to meet over coffee, Voss said.
“In Pueblo, you’re almost a one-degree separation away from any leader in the community,” said Voss, who is 24 and published his own book, “Getting Strength from My Struggles,” and launched his own motivational speaking startup, Let’s March, in 2016.
“I had the advantage of … saying ‘Hi, I’m Taylor, I’d like to reach out and get coffee with you.’ You can make connections and find a lot of mentors that way.”
Zercher said any young professional can advance quickly in their career, as long as they put in the work.
“In a lot of ways, that’s a big advantage for us young professionals who stay in the community,” he said. “Now the pool is smaller, so I’m not competing with 100 bright guys who are willing to work hard. I’m competing with five.”
Networking and meeting potential mentors can be effective, but resources and groups exist throughout Pueblo to give young professionals the needed first step into their careers.
“Specific organizations … [can] really help young professionals get plugged into those networks where they can be advanced and pushed forward,” Zercher said.
He is currently part of several organizations in Pueblo, including Rotary Club of Pueblo #43, one of two rotary clubs in Pueblo that targets business owners.
He also created a branch of the rotary clubs three years ago called the Rotaract of Pueblo, which is a free business organization for young professionals 18 to 35 years old. The organization is now run by club president Erika Retzlaff.
Voss started an entrepreneurial group while working at the Southern Colorado Small Business Development Center, called Startup Pueblo Meetup, which gathers the first Tuesday of every month and consistently has about 40 attendees. A Pueblo entrepreneur speaks for 15 minutes at each meeting. Additionally, professors can help bridge the gap between the professional community and young adults attending CSU-Pueblo or Pueblo Community College.
Students can talk to professors on their own, but also have access to career and networking fairs at CSU-Pueblo and the career center on campus.
“We work with all aspects throughout their college career from choosing a major, helping them with their resumés, job search, internship search — everything you can think of from researching salary data to researching companies,” said Michelle Gjerde, director of the career center. “We work with a lot of the faculty here and we bring employers on campus.”
Mentorship programs are also available for students at CSU-Pueblo, and PCC hosts the SBDC and serves as a resource for students in trade programs or those getting their degree, said Caroline Trani, executive director of the SBDC in Pueblo.
The SBDC offers workshops and classes for anyone interested in starting or owning a business.
“As young professionals identify their needs,” Trani said, “we’re here as a resource platform to help them.”
Other networking groups in Pueblo include the network meetings at the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce and the Latino Chamber of Commerce. Though they aren’t catered specifically to young professionals, they are good ways to meet other members of the business community, said Trani.
When Voss graduated from CSU-Pueblo, he didn’t stay in town — he had dreams of working for a startup company in Denver or Boulder.
After moving, Voss said he realized Pueblo was missing what the bigger cities already had, so he decided to move back and start his own networking groups, one of which is no longer around due to a lack of attendance.
Startup Pueblo Meetup started a couple years ago, died off, but was revamped this year.
Although the Rotaract club started three years ago, it also stopped due to leadership moving from Pueblo, and it was difficult for the group to keep going before it restarted, Zercher said.
It’s challenging to keep young professionals in Pueblo if they’re not connected to a group, Voss said.
“We don’t connect them to mentor groups and professional development so they can get more invested in the community,” Voss said. “I think we would really benefit from having more groups they could be connected with.”
If events, groups and resources were formally announced and publicized, Zercher said more young adults would use the resources available to them.
“I know a lot of young professionals that have no idea what opportunities are available as far as people mentoring them or job opportunities because they don’t know the right people,” Zercher said.
“The best way for improvement would be to make it more obvious to people who are looking to better themselves.”