Dayton Magazine sat down with AJ Ferguson—a Dayton native, University of Dayton graduate and UpDayton’s new executive director. In February, Ferguson became UpDayton’s executive director with the hope to engage young professionals in changing the Dayton region and expanding involvement in our community. 

How would you describe UpDayton?

UpDayton is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Most of our work is done through a network of volunteers with a target demographic of [ages] 18 to 40, but we say that everyone is welcome to join our mission, especially the young at heart. 

What is UpDayton’s mission? 

Updayton’s mission is to promote economic development and progress in our region by engaging young professionals in two ways: by enjoying their time here and being part of the community and, two, engaging them in making the region better. 

What have you learned since being named executive director? 

I’ve learned a ton about the organization and its history. I’ve had the chance to see the amount of energy people have for making this community better. Before being named executive director, I knew plenty of people working on Dayton issues, but in the past month I have met hundreds more working on projects I hadn’t heard of.

Have you learned anything about yourself?

I’ve been very much affirmed that this is where I want to be and that this is the work that I want to be doing. It really is a dream job for me. 

What is the best experience since becoming part of UpDayton?

It’s all been so good. People are generally excited to meet me, not because of my own accomplishments, but because they are excited about the organization and supporting it. 

How can young professionals and the networks they serve shape the future of Dayton?

I think young professionals are voices for progress, change and innovation. With the tech start-ups in Silicon Valley and on the coasts, you have young people as CEOs and leaders of companies that are completely changing the workplace. They are building this lifestyle that millennials really want, involving work/life balance and being healthy. 

Locally, young professionals have an important role in helping their employers see that growing trend and that we’ve either got to keep up with it or have less and less creative and talented people here.

When did you first learn of UpDayton?

When I was a junior at the University of Dayton, I came to my first UpDayton Summit. I was overwhelmed by the energy young people had for this city. It was a contagious energy that you wanted to be a part of.

As a Daytonian, how has the region surprised you? 

There is a universal desire in Daytonians to see Dayton back at the top, and more people than I imagined think that and want to be a part of that. I often put it this way, “If I move to San Francisco and I think that I want to make a difference in San Francisco, I’ve got to get behind a line of Mark Zuckerbergs to make any splash in that city. If you move to Dayton tomorrow, in a week you could be on a really cool project and be making a difference.”

What does Dayton mean to you?

Infinite opportunity.