Julia Ketcham Corbett

MANKATO — Taking a new job in a new community can be daunting for an employee, but it also carries risks for the employer.

“Something we found in talking to business and HR professionals is that if people don’t feel connected to the community in the first two years they are at risk of moving,” said Jaci Sprague, director of business & community relations at Greater Mankato Growth.

That led members of GMG and their board of directors to develop a plan to help immerse new people into the community.

The Community Navigators program pairs business people new to town with a business person who is well established and well connected locally.

“It’s about making connections on a personal level and professional level, finding people with similar interests,” said Julia Ketcham Corbett, a Mankato attorney and one of the navigators.

When an employer signs an interested employee up in the program they are matched with a navigator who meets with them and helps them with any immediate issues they might have, like finding a Realtor or day care.

Then the navigator takes them to community events, be it a hockey game or a symphony concert, and introduces them to other business and civic leaders in the community, particularly those who might have similar interests.

“So they are feeling better as they are making their home here both personally and professionally,” Corbett said of the program that just recently kicked off.

Corbett, who was previously on the GMG board and board chair, was one of those who began forming the idea for the Navigators about five years ago.

“We started talking about issues of employee recruitment and retention and how to help our members with that.”

Another part of the program, which is just beginning to be used, is to help businesses recruit a potential candidate by having one of the Navigators bring the person around town.

“If an employer has someone they’re recruiting, a navigator will take them around town for a couple of hours and look at things they’re interested in,” Corbett said.

But she said helping the employer keep a person once they’re hired is even more important.

The navigators are matched with the person for at least six months and navigators have goals of bringing people to a certain number of events and making a certain number of personal connections.

Nearly a dozen people have been assigned a navigator and are just beginning the process.

Those participating are white collar professionals, several in medical professions.

Dr. James Hebl, southwest Minnesota regional vice president of Mayo Clinic Health System, said in an emailed statement the program helps in their effort to recruit and keep doctors.

“When physicians first come to our organization, it is important that they, along with their families, become engaged and connected in our community. The GMG Community Navigator program is a great resource to connect our new physicians and their families as soon as they relocate to our community,” Hebl said.

Corbett said the program is a natural fit for the hospital and clinics. “It’s a significant help in the medical profession,” Corbett said. “It’s been primarily upper level professional positions accessing the program. Part of that is businesses pay a lot to bring those people in and they want to keep them.”

While the program so far is focusing on white collar employees, Corbett said GMG is working on a way to expand it to include new arrivals who are working in the trades, noting that manufacturers are also facing big challenges in recruiting and retaining employees.

Navigators is similar to the GMG Young Professionals program, where people under 40 get together to socialize and to hear from different business and civic leaders in the community.

Corbett said that while some participants in the Navigators program are under 40, many are not and the program fills a gap for helping those over 40.

“And those over 40 may want to connect in a different way. They may have a family and are busy and it can be difficult for them to make those connections.”

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