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Using 'Wichita's biggest party' to recruit young talent

Young Professionals Wichita hosted a Summer Intern Kickoff event at Riverfest on Thursday night. The idea is if they have lots of fun while working this summer they'll maybe want to move here after they graduate. Interns were building cardboard boats for a race on the Arkansas River. (June 7, 2018)
Young Professionals Wichita hosted a Summer Intern Kickoff event at Riverfest on Thursday night. The idea is if they have lots of fun while working this summer they'll maybe want to move here after they graduate. Interns were building cardboard boats for a race on the Arkansas River. (June 7, 2018) The Wichita Eagle

What do you get when you bring together a handful of strangers, some cardboard, a roll of duct tape and a couple of pool noodles?

If you're lucky, something that floats.

"Are you an engineer or anything?" Avery Miller asked Ashley Morton.

"I'm a software developer," Morton replied.

They plowed ahead anyway as part of a team making a boat out of cardboard at Riverfest on Thursday night. They were among more than 300 interns in Wichita for the summer who took part in an event created just for them.

Young Professionals of Wichita and the Greater Wichita Partnership organized the event so interns could meet each other and build positive memories of their time in Wichita.

The idea is "to help them see that Wichita is a place for them to settle down and get a job and see themselves living here," said Leah Sakr Lavender, talent specialist for Greater Wichita Partnership.

Riverfest is an ideal setting to bring interns together, Lavender said, because "it's the biggest party that we have" and it's at the beginning of summer, so they have time to build those relationships and explore the city and surrounding area.

Dozens of interns signed up for a cardboard regatta, in which they were randomly organized in teams and given perhaps an hour to build a boat and race it on the Arkansas River.

Others simply took in Riverfest and gathered for pizza and beverages next to Century II. Some have been here for a month already, while others arrived a few days ago.

Jack Langner said he was nervous about coming to Wichita from Atlanta for an internship at Textron because he was going "in the middle of the country," but he's been pleasantly surprised.

"What I like is it’s small town, but it’s got all the city amenities you would need: great breweries, great restaurants, a cool downtown scene," Langner said.

"It has been awesome. I could see myself living here," he said. "I really like it."

Justin Sutcliff said Wichita's much different from his native Maryland, but he's enjoying it.

"It's small, but it's fun still," said Sutcliff, who's going to Purdue and interning at Spirit. "There's lots to do and traffic is nothing like D.C. traffic, so that's a plus."

Dylan Fitzgerald just arrived in Wichita from St. Louis, but he's already impressed with how nice people are. As he worked on a boat with Brian McTigue, another St. Louis native, McTigue was telling him about good local restaurants and breweries.

"The Hopping Gnome is great," McTigue said.

Interns have also been given a passport featuring popular restaurants, breweries and attractions.

"That's keeping them busy and getting them excited to go do everything they can while they're here," said Pooja Patel, intern program manager for Textron.

Christina Keyes, who is interning at Koch Industries, said Wichita feels like it's in a bubble compared with her native Georgia.

"It's pretty barren out here, in terms of trees," Keyes said as she worked on a cardboard boat next to the river. "Wichita's not bad. I don't know if I could live here."

But the city seems like an oasis of sorts to Tom Crotzer, a New Mexico native who is attending BYU.

"Wichita's beautiful," Crotzer said. "It's green, the weather's nice, the people are nice. I've enjoyed my time here."

That's what business recruitment officials like to hear.

"We love this," Ramon Emmart, intern recruiting administrator for Fidelity Bank, said of the Riverfest event for interns. "It's a good way for young talent to find and appreciate what the city has to offer. We want to retain and keep them in the city."

Plans are already under way to make similar intern gatherings an annual event, Lavender said.

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