Emerge Summit

A first-of-its-kind regional conference is empowering young professionals nationwide

There’s no question that Greater New Orleans is filled with talented young professionals who are well-equipped to become the business leaders of the future—and with their skills and resources combined, their impact on the regional economy could be even greater.

Enter Emerge Summit, the young professionals conference that unites individuals and community organizations to foster networking, education and mutual growth for the next-gen workforce. The Summit returns for its fourth year on December 2-3, 2021, after the pandemic halted plans in 2020.

Rachel Shields, Chief of Staff at GNO, Inc. and one of the founders of Emerge Summit, says the event was created in 2017 after GNO, Inc.’s NextGen Council recognized the need for a unified and synchronous young professionals community.

“There are over 40 young professionals (YP) organizations in our 10-parish footprint,” says Shields. “There is something for everyone and everything, from different cultural groups to specific industry sectors.”

However, Shields and the NextGen Council realized there was no collaboration between those groups, meaning that opportunities and resources weren’t being leveraged to their fullest potential.

“Each of us is out there on our own, creating opportunities, soliciting members and nurturing leadership,” Shields says. “So, our NextGen Council said, ‘Let’s call a meeting, introduce ourselves and figure out how to work together to impact young professionals in a more efficient, facilitated way.’ That’s how the Summit was born, out of intent to provide an avenue for YP organizations to be a part of a larger network and to provide a platform for young professionals across our region regardless of age, background, interest or experience to talk about issues that impact them in our region and across our nation.”

The original iteration of Emerge Summit was just a one-day event, featuring speakers, networking events and breakout sessions. That single day was enough to prove that not only was there a need for such a convening, there was also a demand for it. From there, Emerge Summit expanded to a two-day event, growing both its programming and its reach of young professionals both within and around the Greater New Orleans region.

“Registration doubled in size in 2019 with over 400 registrants,” Shields says, “and young professionals are now coming from Louisiana, Texas, Florida and all over the Gulf Coast. Over the years, we’ve featured local experts to discuss personal development and growth, economic development and all those things that matter to young professionals today. We also have international research from all over the nation being presented.”

Shields says one of her favorite presentations was a guest speaker from Deloitte Consulting, which conducts an annual survey of Millenials and Gen-Z young professionals and covers issues like the political environment, social issues, personal well being, stress levels, economic mobility and more. Deloitte is expected to return for the 2021 Emerge Summit, which Shields says will include presentations and discussions on pandemic-related issues that might have young professionals questioning their future trajectories and career paths. 

“It’s really interesting to think about creating the conference now in a different light,” Shields says. “We feel like the pandemic has given us the opportunity to steer our content toward industry trends and projections for the next decade. No industry or household has been untouched, so we want to focus on all those pivots that have happened and what that means for the future. If you’re a young professional and you’re looking for that next phase, and questioning if that industry sector still makes sense for you, we want to give you a guiding path for opportunities in the future.”

Shields says attendees at this year’s conference can also expect to discuss topics like climbing the work ladder, multigenerational workspaces and evaluations of industry sectors including manufacturing, healthcare, human resources, energy and more, all of which are major economic drivers in the Greater New Orleans region.

Of course, Shields and GNO, Inc. want to make an impact on young professionals no matter where they are, and if interest and demand continue to grow as they have been, that might soon be a reality. 

“In the future, our big plan is for this to become the premiere young professionals conference, where corporate organizations and nonprofits from around the nation can send their employees to Emerge to learn things they can then take back and implement at home,” Shields says. “And of course, who doesn’t want to come to New Orleans for a weekend to connect with likeminded people and learn at the same time?”

Get to Know the NextGen Council leaders

What is your favorite Emerge Summit memory?

Delaune: I have made wonderful connections at Emerge Summit. The networking has allowed me to make new friends, colleagues and mentors. Conversations about developing and bettering our region have continued far past the Summit. But honestly, my favorite memory was sitting next to Big Freedia before she did her interview at the 2019 conference!

Matthews: The multigenerational appeal of the Emerge Summit. Leadership and innovation are contagious, and I have appreciated the moments of support by mentors during event.

What impact do you hope Emerge Summit makes on young professionals?

Delaune: I think Emerge Summit gives young professionals a unique opportunity to learn from each other about topics that are impacting our young professional lives. There are not many other opportunities like this in the city or even the region.

Matthews: My hope is that Emerge Summit provides the practical and applicable insight to enhance the leadership qualities of young professionals. At the same time, provide a safe place for networking and engaging with leaders across industry sectors professional experiences.

What are you most looking forward to in the next iteration of Emerge Summit?

Matthews: I am looking forward to meeting a broader group of emerging leaders like never before as we expect young professionals from across the Gulf Coast and other parts of the country for purposeful connections.

Delaune: I’m hopeful that we can meet safely in person and discuss how the events of the past two years have specifically impacted us as a group. It will give us the opportunity to learn best practices on how to keep moving forward from each other.

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December 2-3, 2021 • 8:00 AM—4:00 PM

The Conference Center on 11 • Pan-American Life Center

601 Poydras Street, 11th Floor, New Orleans, LA 70130

For more information and to sign up for updates, visit emergesummit.co