In the olden days, like 2015, if Anyplace wanted to recruit new businesses, Anyplace simply pitched its unique attributes to site-selection consultants that scout expansion locations for businesses. Not anymore.
“Today, ‘talent’ is the name of the game, and America is facing a full-blown talent crisis,” said Rebecca Gehman, director of talent attraction for Development Counsellors International (DCI), a New York-based consultant to business-hungry places around the world.
DCI once helped Tacoma try to recruit tech firms by pitching itself to site selectors as “America’s No. 1 Wired City.” If Tacoma hired DCI today, that strategy alone wouldn’t work.
Any business checking out Tacoma or any other potential landing spot now first wants to know, “What are you doing to recruit talent?” Gehman told me. “It’s really a phenomenon that’s emerged just in the last three years.”
Blame it on a national economy in which, economists say, most everyone who wants to work has a job. Blame it on the big generation of baby boomers aging out of the workforce with smaller generations flowing in, leaving employers in a cutthroat competition to fill jobs.
“I think that we are in such a dire need of talent and jobs, that there are going to be communities … who are in raw real numbers going to be losing people in the next 10 to 15 years. Their labor force will shrink in real terms. There are going to be winners and losers,” said Darin Buelow, top international site selection consultant to businesses for Deloitte Consulting LLP.
Tacoma already has started to see it. “Definitely,” said Jeff Robinson, the city’s community and economic development director. “One of the first questions we’re asked now is, ‘What kind of skilled workforce do you have?’”
How in the world, then, can we here in the South Sound attract talent to avoid becoming losers? Well, that’s where things get mysterious. “It’s so new,” Gehman said, “we’re just now starting to see what works and what doesn’t.”
She has uncovered some clues, however, in a new report she wrote called “Talent Wars,” based on a national survey of 1,500 workers across all industries.
For us South Sound lovers, Gehman’s report reads a lot like bad news/good news.
First, the bad news. Salary ranks No. 1 among all factors when talent considers a job change. And we just can’t compete on salary alone compared to the Seattle-Bellevue areas. That’s why nearly 1 in 20 Pierce County residents commutes to King County for work.
After that, though, it’s mostly good news for our talent-recruiting future. Suburban and midsize urban areas like Tacoma finished in a near dead heat as the most desirable relocation destinations. Mostly because millennials and GenXers crave housing they can afford.
Just look at the Top 5 factors, according to DCI’s survey, that talent considers when weighing a job relocation:
❶ Housing costs
❷ Cost of living
❸ Quality healthcare
❹ Housing availability
❺ A welcoming, friendly local population
Check. Check. Check. Check. And you’ve heard of the Seattle Freeze, right? “Sure, Seattle is one of the cities where you get the most take-home pay. But if you can sell Tacoma because of its housing and lower costs, that’s a huge advantage you have,” Gehman said.
So, how can we recruit the talent? Cleveland County, North Carolina, a lot like Pierce County, once was bleeding super-commuters heading to jobs in Charlotte. So along the main routes, economic developers took out billboards touting competitive job openings right in the commuters’ own back yard.
The Chamber of Commerce in Baton Rouge created a Talent Concierge. When companies bring in job candidates, the Talent Concierge takes them on frank-but-confidential tours to provide a real look at the life, neighborhoods, and hot spots in Louisiana’s capital city. Their research shows that 94 percent of the candidates who took the Talent Concierge tour also took the job.
Here in the greater Tacoma region, we need our economic developers to roll up their sleeves and get creative on a talent-recruitment strategy. Meanwhile, the rest of us will work on being the welcoming, friendly locals.