Next generation of Coachella Valley business leaders begins to ‘EMERGE’ in Palm Springs

Backed by the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, an initiative called EMERGE Palm Springs kicked off at an event that saw dozens of younger business professionals from throughout the valley attend.
Franchesca Zabata contemplates a question as she chats with others during a kickoff for EMERGE Palm Springs Feb. 23 at the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs Hotel.

A gathering on the top floor of the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs hotel last week had all the makings of many similar events. As beverages were poured and beats were mixed, the crowd mingled in business casual attire, exchanging business cards and small talk. But this was no average event. It may have been the very moment that the valley’s future business leaders began to unite.

Backed by the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, an initiative called EMERGE Palm Springs kicked off during the Feb. 23 event which saw dozens of younger business professionals from throughout the Coachella Valley attend. They learned via both word of mouth and also social media as the leader of the effort began a stealth campaign on Instagram and elsewhere hinting at what was to come.

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That leader is Evan Gray, the chamber’s 30-year-old director of programs, who arrived in Palm Springs from Arkansas (via Los Angeles) last fall and immediately sensed something was missing.

“Again and again and again I kept hearing that we had to get this started,” Gray said as he greeted attendees last week. “The only way to start this was just to just launch it.”

Trying to attract professionals in their 20s and 30s to gather in Palm Springs was definitely a tall order. But while the city’s median age of 56 might have been a road block (Coachella’s median age is 36 and Indio’s is 39) it was quickly overcome thanks to the support from more seasoned business professionals.

Chief among the enthusiastic backers of Gray’s idea, he said, were Chamber CEO Nona Watson and board member Brady Sandahl, one of the most successful real estate agents in the valley, who sponsored the kickoff event.

“We are excited to launch a program that will help guide and connect a new generation of community leaders to the vast resources and opportunities Palm Springs has to offer,” Watson wrote earlier this month. “This group will gain access to prominent industry leaders and equally ambitious peers.”

That’s exactly what Gray envisioned. 

“I knew this was a special community, unlike any that I had been a part of before,” Gray told kickoff attendees as he welcomed them. “Within a short time, I felt as though I was a fish out of water when comparing the years of experience that the current generation of leaders have under their belts in comparison to mine. 

“At the same time, the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce leadership acknowledged we needed to devote more resources toward the thought starters and future thinkers in the community, and so here we are.”

Gray hoped to attract about six dozen people to the grassroots effort’s kick-off event, and he hoped they would get the hint that EMERGE Palm Springs was aimed at a younger audience. As the event began to take shape, it was clear they got the message:

While there is no shortage of service organizations and chambers catering to older and more established business owners and leaders in the valley, EMERGE will be “the next generation’s oasis for personal, professional, and philanthropic development through relationship building, career advancement opportunities, and community enhancement.”

“We are the future of Palm Springs and we should be doing this together.”

— Evan Gray, Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce director of programs

That was good news for Franchesca Zabata, a 20-something social media professional with a degree in advertising from Rancho Mirage who immediately began networking in the elevator ride up to a top-floor meeting room.

“Palm Springs is more known as a retirement place, but there are more young people moving here,” she said as she settled in and grabbed a drink. “I want to meet other young people who are professionals, but I can’t because of lack of opportunity.”

Attending an event where she didn’t know anyone else was a leap of faith, she said, but “I want to meet new people and to work with them. I hope that by coming here it will open my opportunities.”

Based on the success of the kickoff event — held on a rainy evening and competing with VillageFest for parking — Zabata will get many more opportunities. Gray said to initially expect monthly gatherings, but many more opportunities to develop personal, professional and philanthropic programs will follow.

“I want people to leave here tonight and have some phone numbers,” said Gray. “We are the future of Palm Springs and we should be doing this together.”


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