Brittany Ackerman’s return to Decatur has been much more enjoyable than her initial experience as an intern.

The 23-year-old 3M-Decatur project engineer attributes her happiness in the city to her involvement in the Jaycees, a Junior Chamber civic organization for ages 18 to 40.

After working on a Habitat for Humanity home in Southwest Decatur earlier this week, Ackerman said the Jaycees gave her a way to meet people other than her co-workers through socials and volunteer work.

“I didn’t know a lot of people when I came here,” said Ackerman, an Iowa native who started at 3M-Decatur last year after working as a summer intern in 2015.

“It’s easy to meet people when you’re involved in high school and college. But it’s not so easy once you’re out of school,” she added.

The Jaycees are an organization that the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and other local officials are counting on to aid in their effort to attract the much-in-demand young professionals that cities crave.

Decatur native Kaleigh Stovall, 24, moved back to the city in 2014 to work in marketing for Stonebridge Wealth Management.

Like Ackerman, Stovall said the Jaycees allowed her to expand her friendship base while meeting city leaders.

“I’ve really learned a lot about the community,” Stovall said.

John Seymour, chamber executive director and president, said attracting young professionals became a focus after a 2009 survey by Market Street Services showed the city needs to attract and keep more millennials.

“We’ve had a declining population of young people under 40 and that’s not good when you’re trying to grow the city,” Seymour said.

As reported by Stateline.com, a 2014 City Observatory study says this about millennials: “Their presence in a city is a direct reflection of its health and well-being as young migrant professionals are key to fueling economic growth and urban revitalization.”

Seymour said chamber leaders met regularly with the Jaycees after the survey to mentor them on attracting young professionals, but now these millennials are leading in the effort.

“Young people have to find a purpose to be in Decatur,” Seymour said.

Jaycees President Kelly Thomas, 27, said the club is up to about 40 members, which Seymour said is as large as he’s seen it in recent years. She said they lowered the age that a person could join from 21 to 18 so the college interns and plant co-ops at the local industries can join.

Seymour said those Jaycees are now involved in many aspects of the community. They serve on many of the city’s boards and committees. They volunteer for fundraisers and nonprofit events.

The Jaycees held the “Big Deal Casino Night” earlier this year with the proceeds going to the Habitat house that is being built in the Habitat subdivision on Denver Place Southwest.

The group also sponsors the city’s annual Christmas Parade, which is scheduled Dec. 4.

Many of the members of the steering committee leading the formation of the One Decatur comprehensive plan are young professionals. Kyle Pike, a Jaycees member who is on the One Decatur committee, said the club has emphasized getting involved and providing input into the plan.

“We should be involved, especially since we’re the group that’s really going to benefit from the plan,” Pike, 22, said.

bayne.hughes@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.

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