You might say Sarah-Kate and Matt Sharkey moved to Eugene on a whim.
"Matt had only briefly driven through Eugene once, and I had never been to Oregon," recalls Sarah-Kate Sharkey, a native of Providence, R.I. "But we had a feeling Eugene would be a place that fit us. We were attracted by the natural beauty of Oregon, the culture of a university town and the size of the community. We didn't have jobs lined up here and didn't know a soul. It was an adventure."
The couple only intended to stay a year or two. But that was in 2003.
"We fell in love with Eugene and never left," says Sharkey, who works as associate director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of abused and neglected children.
The Sharkeys are two of the many young professionals who have planted roots in Eugene. The city's rich cultural offerings, spectacular outdoor opportunities and innovative business scene are a magnet for young workers. In fact, Eugene ranked third among cities its size as a U.S. hotspot for young, talented workers in Next Generation Consulting's 2009 "Next Cities" report.
In 2004, the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce recognized the city's growing segment of young professionals and created a Young Professionals Network that provides them with networking, professional and personal development and other opportunities.
One member of the organization is Jason Stefely, a State Farm agent who moved to Eugene from Chicago in 2002. Stefely and his wife Jessica relocated to Eugene for work, but they soon found it offered lots of other incentives.
"It was a great place to land. Eugene has a lot of the advantages of a big city without the hassle," Stefely says. "I'm a sports nut, so I love having the Ducks close by. I travel for business, and I'm five minutes from the airport. And the Hult Center brings great entertainment like Seinfeld and Harry Connick Jr. As a small business employer, I've also had great success finding other talented young professionals in Eugene to hire."
Sharkey has found a lot to love about Eugene too.
"It's small enough that the achievements of young professionals stand out despite our age, and that enables us to build valuable connections and gain career opportunities that might not be possible in a bigger city," she says. "There are so many creative, innovative and intelligent people working in exciting entrepreneurial ventures here. And there is great value placed on philanthropy and volunteerism, enabling this community to sustain a large number of thriving nonprofits. The University of Oregon also offers rich cultural and educational opportunities."
One of the biggest draws is a spectacular natural environment.
"You can drive an hour and a half and be in great skiing areas with lots of mountain activities like climbing and snowshoeing," Stefely says. "And Hood River is one of the top spots in the world for kite boarding and windsurfing."
Sharkey loves hiking Spencer's Butte and Mount Pisgah, walking along the Willamette bike path and visiting Hendricks Park.
Both Sharkey and Stefely agree on one thing – Eugene overflows with great food.
"I love to eat, and lots of young professionals go to the Fifth Street Market area, where you can find restaurants like the Lucky Noodle," Stefely says. "Downtown, a lot of young people go to Davis' Restaurant and Bar. They have good food and great beers on tap."
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