For almost three years, Erik Nelson, workforce development coordinator at the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership (LEAP), has been forging important professional connections between people and organizations in the La Porte community. LEAP is a joint organization composed of the La Porte Chamber of Commerce and La Porte’s economic development corporation. Nelson counts himself fortunate to be so closely involved with LEAP and the work that it does for the community.
“Things are changing and growing in La Porte,” Nelson said. “In the last four or five years especially, that growth can really be seen in the city’s residential projects, restaurant options, and businesses. I’m grateful that I get to have a hand in projects that will have a big impact on our community in the future. It’s exciting to be a part of that.”
A La Porte native, Nelson graduated from La Porte High School in 2013. He went on to pursue a degree in sport management and marketing at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.
During his time at North Central, Nelson interned with the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Fire professional soccer team, and the Kane County Cougars minor league baseball team. After graduating in 2017, Nelson planned to work in either professional or collegiate sports. In 2019, he began working as a marketing and events assistant for the University of Notre Dame.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic would strike about six months after Nelson had started his new position, forcing Notre Dame to shut down all sports activities. Once the lockdown was lifted, Nelson was not called to resume his duties at the university. At this point, he learned about LEAP and, once a friend put in a good word for him, he was called in to interview for the newly-minted workforce development coordinator position. He was hired in 2021 and continues to enjoy the job to this day. Although his career has not gone in the direction that he expected, Nelson maintains a positive attitude and tries to pass on the lessons he has learned to others.
“When you're young, you have your future planned out and you think things are going to go exactly according to the plan,” Nelson said. “It can be nerve-wracking or scary when they don't. The path you end up taking might be very windy and unpredictable, but, as people always say, everything happens for a reason and things are going to work out. I'm getting to a point where I can look back at what I’ve been through and say, ‘I'm happy all of that happened because it brought me to where I am now.’ Whenever I work with high school kids, I tell them, ‘Just because your hopes and dreams for one thing don’t work out, that doesn't mean something good can't come out of it.’ I think you gain that knowledge through lived experience and by growing up.”
Nelson does more than share important life lessons with young La Porte citizens, however. Through his work at LEAP, he has helped to broaden horizons by establishing vital professional connections within the La Porte community.
“Relationship building and partnership building are huge aspects of my role as the workforce development coordinator,” said Nelson. “I help connect businesses with the local school corporation so that schools have a good understanding of the opportunities that our businesses can offer high school and college-age students. A lot of the time, in smaller communities like La Porte, kids are growing up and wondering what else is out there. I would strongly encourage our young adults to travel or go live somewhere other than La Porte for a time as I did. However, I hope that more of our young people come back to see the changes that have been made and enjoy La Porte’s small-town feel. I think it’s very important to help them make connections and make them aware of the opportunities that are right here in their own backyard.”
In addition to providing La Porte’s young adults with professional opportunities, Nelson gives back to his community in a variety of ways. He sits on the board of directors for United Way of La Porte County and serves as an advisor and mentor for the Slicer Champions Mentoring program at La Porte High School. As he faces the upcoming year, Nelson looks forward to helping LEAP produce new initiatives for La Porte and expresses much optimism for what lies ahead.
“Here soon, we’ll be announcing some exciting projects that are going to have a drastic and positive impact on the La Porte community,” said Nelson. “Many good things that will help maintain the city’s forward momentum are coming down the pipeline. I think some of them will surprise our community members, but I’m certain they’ll be very welcome surprises.”
Nelson spends his free time taking his dog to the park and on walks. He also enjoys spending time with his friends and family and frequently attends La Porte’s various year-round events.