Matt McHatten loves to gaze out the window of his office in the newly renovated MMG Insurance complex in Presque Isle.
The $6.5 million upgrade completed last year is both a reflection of the company's growing prominence in the national insurance industry and a commitment to its Aroostook County home.
The view, a panorama of multihued trees and rolling hills, suits McHatten just fine, as does his position as senior vice president of external operations. In that role, McHatten, 41, oversees the company's field operations and business with its 150 independent agents across four states. But it also allows him to focus his considerable energy on initiatives much closer to home, especially those connected to developing a new generation of professionals.
"My perspective is broadened outside of Presque Isle by virtue of what I do for work," he says. "But at the same time, I get to live here. I have the best of both worlds."
Sharing that appreciation is part of the motivation that led him to help start the Young Professionals Institute, an intensive, hands-on leadership development group targeted for County professionals. McHatten said the institute was born out of a conversation in 2007 with University of Maine Presque Isle President Don Zillman, who was looking for stronger ways to connect the university with the local business community. At the same time, Realize Maine, a statewide effort to connect and invest in young Maine professionals, launched Momentum Aroostook, which collaborates with YPI.
McHatten and other stakeholders identified three areas the County's business community wanted to address: creating opportunities for young professionals to network; learning skills not normally taught in school or on the job; and the chance to practice those skills in a hands-on way.
Students are nominated for YPI by their employers in a competitive selection process to attend an eight-week program that teaches them a range of practical skills, from how to deal with media inquiries to making board presentations. The program strives for a good cross section of students from the business, civic and service organizations of northern Maine.
McHatten says while local businesses have an understandable interest in developing their younger employees and tapping into their technological savvy, the concept of YPI goes beyond the office.
"We felt we had a responsibility to the greater community as well," says McHatten. "If the community around a company isn't strong, then it affects everyone. We're all reliant on a healthy Aroostook County economy."
Follow-ups with the roughly 45 YPI graduates cement the usefulness of the program, says McHatten. At MMG, which has had several employees graduate YPI, McHatten says the YPI experience is noticed by established professionals. "We can all appreciate, for instance, the aspect of making presentations. There's nothing like the experience that comes from putting someone in the crosshairs," he says.
McHatten hopes YPI will continue to help solidify northern Maine's ranks of young professionals — a group vulnerable to the lure of big city life away from Maine. Out-migration is an important topic in the County. "We have a lot of positive attributes in northern Maine," says McHatten. "Affordable housing, lots of open space, connections to nature, world-class recreation. We just have to create more opportunities for people to come here."
And stay here. McHatten hopes his daughters, ages 7 and 11, will want to remain in — or return to — northern Maine when they're grown.
"I've pondered a lot about out-migration factors and I reflect on my own story," he says, noting his decision to stay in northern Maine following his graduation from the University of Maine. "I think the pull to stay becomes much stronger when you have children. There's a great sense of community, fantastic schools. What I'm doing is trying to afford them the same perspective my parents afforded me to both appreciate the area and explore other parts of northern New England and beyond."