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Beyond Borders: Employers look to boost workforce with out-of-state talent

2023 SBJ Economic Growth Series Content: The Search for Skilled Labor

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a familiar refrain from employers was the number of job openings were far outpacing the number of people available to fill the positions. It’s a challenge the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate is not going away anytime soon.

In July, there were roughly 8.8 million job openings in the U.S. and 6.4 million people unemployed. While the gap between labor demand and supply persists, it is down from a high reached in March 2022, when BLS data indicated there were roughly two job openings per every unemployed person. Still, as the need for workers continues, Springfield employers have been willing to look beyond the Show Me State to bolster their workforce.

It’s a strategy that CoxHealth, Springfield’s largest employer, is engaged in – to find employees willing to relocate to the Queen City or to work remotely for the company in other states.

“We’re recruiting not just on a regional but a national level in many respects,” says Andy Hedgpeth, CoxHealth’s vice president of human resources. “We’ve just broadened our horizons looking to fill our vacancies. That naturally has led to an evolution of recognizing multiple numbers of states where we have employees who are permanently working for us out of the comfort of their home.”

The health care system in July passed a milestone of 13,000 employees, Hedgpeth says.

“We’ve never hit that mark and somewhat smashed through it. We’re probably closing in on closer to 13,500 at this point,” he says, noting when he began working for CoxHealth in 2008, the health system employed around 8,000.

Hedgpeth says roughly 820 people work remotely in Missouri and another 74 are employed by CoxHealth in remote positions outside the state. The company has hired 206 workers from out of state over the past 12 months.

Job openings at CoxHealth currently sit around 1,200, which Hedgpeth says is on par with last year. But hiring is up overall, he says, noting weekly orientation classes average 70 people.

“Our retention is up, so more people are staying, and at the same time, we’re hiring a large number of people every week,” he says. “As a result, we’re not necessarily seeing our openings decrease. We’re just growing our numbers to grow with the anticipated volume demands for patients.”

Increasing hiring needs is top of mind for many employers, according to respondents of Springfield Business Journal’s 2023 Economic Growth Survey. Nearly 50% of respondents plan to increase their employee count in the next year, while 39% intend to recruit new employees, up from 33% reported in the 2022 survey.

Promotional resource
One of the resources CoxHealth utilizes to attract out-of-state job seekers is LiveInSpringfieldMO.com, a website launched in 2014 by Springfield Business Development Corp., the economic development arm of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. The website is part of the chamber’s Talent Attraction Initiative, designed to assist employers with recruitment efforts. The initiative includes promotional videos about the city and a relocation guide produced in partnership with 417 Magazine, according to chamber officials.

“That’s still a really powerful campaign,” Hedgpeth says. “That website is one we oftentimes point prospective job seekers to see.”

Tiffany Batdorf, vice president of communications and community relations with the chamber, is a newcomer to Missouri. She was hired for the position earlier this summer and moved from Mitchell, South Dakota, where she worked as director of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce and its convention and visitors bureau. She was directed to LiveInSpringfieldMo.com when interviewing for her new job.

“Although I was somewhat familiar with it, it gave a little bit more of an in-depth look as to what Springfield really has to offer,” she says, noting she grew up in Miami, Oklahoma, and had previously visited Springfield. “If you’re looking here for employment, you want to make sure your quality of life really fits.”

While Batdorf couldn’t provide user counts from the past couple years, the website averaged 26,000 users per year from 2014-19 and 37,000 users in 2020, according to past reporting. She says site traffic through August indicates nearly 20,000 page views and over 13,000 sessions, with roughly 89% of those being new visitors. The age range visiting the site most is 35-44 at 21%, followed closely by 25-34 at 20%.

While chamber staff regularly post new articles on the site, such as information on the performing arts and a roundup of fall festivals and area farmers markets, Batdorf says the cost-of-living data is still in need of updating. That is expected to take place soon, she says. The relocation guide, which staff update every two years, was published earlier this year.

Broader approach
The search for workers in the banking industry remains competitive, says Kaitlyn Love, human resources manager for Arvest Bank in Springfield. The company, which operates in more than 110 communities across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, isn’t restricting its employee search to just in-state candidates.

“This is probably newer, within the last few years,” Love says of seeking out-of-state workers. “We are trying to take a broader approach. As we know, COVID really opened up that remote work and that has really helped broaden our views. Even though we are looking all over, we’re still looking within our four-state footprint as well.”

Arvest officials weren’t able to provide the number of out-of-state hires they’ve made in recent years but say the strategy is now ingrained in their employee search process. Sometimes, filling a role with someone in another state requires only an in-company move, Love says, noting transfers are common when an Arvest employee seeks advancement opportunities.

The bank employs roughly 130 people among its 12 Springfield-area branches and currently has only three openings, Love says. While she says Arvest promotes its company culture when trying to attract workers to Springfield from other states, a big part of the talent attraction is selling the prospect on the city itself.

“When they are looking to move into the area, we are telling them about all of the amenities that we have,” she says. “In my conversations with applicants in the interviews, they have been centered around, ‘What have you been doing for the community? What does the community have going on currently and how can I get connected?’ That’s been a great draw for us.”

Love says the company talks a lot with job seekers about its involvement in nonprofits, such as Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Ozarks, Harmony House and Ozarks Food Harvest Inc.

CoxHealth’s Hedgpeth says Springfield’s amenities are frequently a selling point to the health system’s applicants, noting health care, education and access to the outdoors are three of the city’s top plusses.

LiveInSpringfieldMo.com champions all three of those amenities. Batdorf says the chamber’s initiative continues to target a 750-mile radius, which reaches well beyond Missouri’s borders. 

“We’re going to have to continue to do attraction outside,” Batdorf says. “A big part of that talent attraction with young professionals is some of them may have moved out of the region to go to school or pursue a job elsewhere. Now, we’re trying to bring them back into this area and highlight and showcase some of the things they may not have thought about when they first left.”

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