Workforce talent attraction has been on the minds of Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce leaders since 2014. The topic was the centerpiece of a Nov. 12 panel discussion involving best practices and strategies to get people to relocate to the Queen City.
The key takeaways for what works with employers: referral bonuses, attending career fairs and engaging their employees in worker recruitment.
For panelist Ashley Norgard, an attorney with Kutak Rock LLP, a referral bonus program can be a key component for a company’s existing employees to feel they are a contributor to the employer beyond their office work.
“Your people are your most important asset,” she said. “Encouraging and empowering them to know that they are part of telling our story is also really important.”
At Sapp Design Associates Architects PC, Senior Project Manager Stephen Telscher said the firm adds around one new staffer per year. He told the chamber crowd the 22-employee firm aims to keep them for the long haul – and he’s a case in point, having worked there for nearly 20 years.
He said everyone is a mentor to someone in the office, and that responsibility helps keep the staff engaged on big decisions.
“Let your staff be part of the decision making,” Telscher said. “We take that very seriously in our company. Empower people to do that so that they’re not just an employee with no voice.”
Bringing them in
CoxHealth’s Celeste Cramer, system director of recruitment and retention, has a big task in front of her: There are around 1,100 job openings across the health system. She said approximately 70% of her job is tied to bringing in people to work for the company.
In 2019, she said CoxHealth’s recruitment team has been to over 300 events, consisting of networking, career fairs and public speaking engagements.
“A lot of times, especially for physicians, we’re really focused on recruiting their spouse as well – even more than them at times,” she said during the panel discussion.
CoxHealth’s recruitment efforts are conducted nationally and internationally, and Cramer said strategies to bring in CoxHealth candidates vary by the position. While there is a focus on local advertising, a lot of attention is also placed on branding, which is shared at a variety of events throughout the year to build connections with prospects.
When bringing in job candidates, Cramer said CoxHealth tries to keep everything with a Springfield-based focus, including hotels, restaurants and locally created swag.
One way Cramer said her employer tries to reach people outside Springfield is by promoting LiveInSpringfieldMO.com, a website launched in January 2014 by the Springfield Business Development Corp., the economic development arm of the chamber.
Rachael Mhire, marketing manager with the chamber, said the website is part of its Talent Attraction Initiative, designed to assist employers with recruitment efforts. The initiative also includes a video series promoting the city, a promotional brochure and a relocation guide. The guide is produced in partnership with 417 Magazine and published every two years, with the next edition planned for January 2021.
“We want to be a good partner to employers. This initiative is all for them,” Mhire said. “We’re always looking for ways to partner with employers to be sure their needs are met.”
The first of the video series launched in December 2014, she said, with an introductory piece that provided an overview of the city and its offerings. The chamber is now partnering with Springfield-based video production company Locke and Stache Media LLC on an update of that initial offering. Mhire said it’s set to roll out early next year.
The initiative was launched to reach a more experienced worker, Mhire said, beyond the young talent pipeline being fed by the local higher education institutions. Local marketing firm Creativore LLC was brought in to assist with the project, which included conducting a nationwide survey in 2013 on what job seekers considered when pursuing a job, as well as first impressions of Springfield.
The top five considerations for relocation were city safety, low-cost housing, vibrant economy, ease of getting around and high quality medical care.
With Springfield’s average 22-minute commute and a cost of living below other nearby cities such as Kansas City, St. Louis and Little Rock, Arkansas, Mhire said the challenge based on the survey was to get the word out.
“It wasn’t really good or bad, they just didn’t know much about Springfield, Missouri,” she said of the survey respondents, of which only 19% were very familiar with Springfield. “They didn’t really have an idea of what we were like.”
She said the city’s low cost of living is boosted in particular by the low cost of housing – 30.5% below the national average, according to 2018 data from the Council for Community & Economic Research.
During the panel discussion, Norgard noted her knowledge of Springfield was very limited in 2013, when she was considering a job opportunity at the local office for Husch Blackwell LLP.
“I had a Google search and 18 hours in Springfield before I decided to sell my house in Alabama and move here,” she said. “I kind of moved here on a wing and a prayer, but it worked.”
Norgard got involved in the community soon after arriving, becoming a graduate of Leadership Springfield Signature Class 33. She also serves as a trustee on the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Civic activity, encouraged by her employer, contributed to her love of the city, she said.
“It would be almost impossible for me to leave now because I have too many friends, too many business relationships, and that’s because my employer invested in me,” Norgard said.
Employers need to promote a work-life balance in order to attract and retain talent, Telscher said.
“It’s important to tell about the other 12 to 16 hours of their life when they’re in Springfield, besides sitting in an office,” he said.
Meridian Title Co. is making acquisitions to build firm to nearly 100 employees in two years.
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