PORTSMOUTH – As the sun set over the city Thursday evening, more than 100 young professionals enjoyed the view from the One Hundred Club, and heard inspirational messages encouraging them to participate in the 2019 10 to Watch contest.

Now in its sixth year, the contest recognizes and celebrates the achievements of young adults working to make the Seacoast their place to live, work and pursue their passions.

10 to Watch is presented by Catapult Seacoast, the local young professionals’ network, in partnership with Seacoast Media Group. Lead sponsors are Bank of America and Eversource.

The contest is open to everyone ages 21 to 40 living or working in the Seacoast. Many people enter the contest on their own each year and others are nominated by peers, supervisors or a friend.

“We have several club members who have been nominated,” said One Hundred Club proprietor Neil Gibb.

Gibb co-founded the One Hundred Club 15 years ago when he was just 32 and says the Seacoast is smart to embrace its young professionals.

“We were happy to donate the use of the club and provide the food for this kickoff event,” Gibb said. “A lot of private clubs alienate millennials, but I know the challenges they face. I love being able to foster this age group. There are a lot of good charitable business people.”

The judging panel is curated by Stay Work Play New Hampshire, an organization with a mission to improve economic, workforce and community development by promoting New Hampshire as a favorable place for young people to call home.

SWPNH board member Kaitlyn Woods said it’s “all about attracting and retaining young people” in the state.

All the young professionals in the contest are given opportunities to network with each other, share ideas and get exposure in the marketplace.

Howard Altschiller, general manager and executive editor of Seacoast Media Group, said the 10 to Watch contest is “one of the most enjoyable things we do all year.”

“It’s so much fun to shine a spotlight on the amazing young professionals on the Seacoast,” he said.

Caitlin Konchek and Nathaniel Morneault, co-chairs of Catapult Seacoast, said the nominations opened two weeks ago and that the kickoff at the One Hundred Club boosted a sold out attendance.

“This is the best turnout (in six years),” Morneault said.

The keynote speaker was state Rep. Tom Loughman, D-Hampton, one of last year’s 10 to Watch winners. At 33, he was among numerous young professionals to win a seat in the N.H. House this past November.

“We need young leaders badly right now,” Loughman said. “New Hampshire has a lot of challenges ahead and you’re the ones that are best suited to rise to that occasion.”

Loughman said that the House of Representatives in the state has 400 people and because it pays very little money, most of those who serve are retirees.

“So the idea that young people could run for office, get elected, inject their views and opinions and their ideas and change the course of the state was daunting,” he added. “Fast forward (since the contest), I got the good news that my bid was successful. Then, I got the great news, and I wasn’t aware of it at the time, that 40 young professionals – moms and dads – were elected at the same time and we all realized the potential of that moment.”

Loughman said they started networking the morning following the election, connecting, building relationships, and talking about priorities.

“I’m so pleased to tell you that our voices at the State House and at the Senate level, too, are refreshing to our colleagues,” he said. “We were talking about things they just never thought to address, and it is changing the conversation. Forty people out of 400. But it’s bigger than that. We’re changing hearts and minds through these conversations.”

Loughman said the guests had probably heard about “millennials being difficult to manage.”

“We don’t take direction very well,” he said. “Because we ask ‘Why? Why do we do it that way? Why has it always been done that way? Why is that more important than that?' That’s what makes us pretty darn good legislators.”

He said by asking questions, outcomes can change.

“What I want to leave you with is that (with) so many of the challenges New Hampshire has to face, you’re the ones who are best suited to rise to that occasion,” Loughman said.

He concluded by saying what many know – that New Hampshire is the second oldest state in the nation in age demographics.

“So we need to make this the best state in the country to live, work, play for young people,” he said. “We need to retain our young working families in the state and no one knows how to do that better than you guys do.”

10 to Watch 2019 contest details

How to enter: Go to Seacoastonline.com/10toWatch. You can enter yourself, or nominate a colleague, employee or friend. Nominees must be age 21 to 40 as of June 1, 2019, and live and/or work in the Seacoast. See complete contest rules on the contest page for details. Deadline to enter is April 7. Judges for the contest are from young professionals networks in New Hampshire based outside the Seacoast.

10 to Watch Awards night: The 20 finalists will be invited to the big event May 22 at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth. It will be a special evening of young professionals meeting up, guest speakers, food, drinks and honoring of all 20 finalists on stage before the 10 winners are named.