Ahead of its December 2 virtual event, the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce has announced this year’s Top 7 Under 40.

This five-year-old tradition honors seven professionals in Bellingham under the age of 40, and one winner who will be announced at the live event. Originally launched as a collaboration with the Bellingham Business Journal, the annual event is again taking place, despite the Journal’s closure earlier this year.

“We should always celebrate our young professionals in our community,” says Guy Occhiogrosso, the president and CEO of the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce.

There are so many great opportunities for higher education in Bellingham and Whatcom County, Occhiogrosso says, but because there can be a relative lack of job opportunities, many young people move away for work after completing school.

“That’s one of reasons Whatcom Young Professionals was started 15 years ago: to give our young professionals an opportunity and a venue to deepen their relationships, to build networks to better themselves cooperatively, and in hopes of creating environments and relationships that I would say provide value and benefit for years and years to come,” Occhiogrosso says.

Five years ago, the owner of the Bellingham Business Journal, Sound Publishing, approached the Bellingham Regional Chamber and asked if they would like to collaborate on this event to honor young professionals in the community. At the time, Sound Publishing hosted an annual Top 20 Under 40 event in Snohomish County, and wanted to bring something similar to Bellingham. The chamber agreed, happily expanding on their recognition of a Whatcom Young Professional of the Year, an award which existed for a few years prior to the Top 7 Under 40 event.

When the Bellingham Business Journal closed this year, the chamber, along with Whatcom Young Professionals, decided to continue the tradition they started five years ago. Without extra support from the journal, however, and due to necessary social distancing because of COVID-19, they decided to host this year’s event virtually. Instead of the traditional printed stories on each finalist published in the Bellingham Business Journal ahead of the in-person event, the chamber filmed short video profiles to showcase each finalist this year.

The virtual event, scheduled for December 2 at 6:00 p.m. is free and open to anyone in the Whatcom community. After showing the video profiles of each of the seven finalists, they’ll announce their pick for the Young Professional of the Year.

The finalists will all be tuning in from the safety of their homes, Occhiogrosso says, so they can celebrate in the company of their loved ones.

“It will be very similar to what I would say the major awards shows did this year,” he says. “The premise of this is to truly celebrate our young professionals and their networks, their colleagues and their families.”

This year, the selection committee had 40 nominees from which to whittle their choices down to the seven finalists. From there, the committee chooses the winner, who will be announced on December 2.

Congratulations to each of the top seven:

Paulina Antczak
Brad Barron
Claire Cummings Bogle
Heather Flaherty
Aaron Nelson
Aline Prata
Elke Stevens

All photos courtesy Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce


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