Regional giants team up to recruit job candidates

January 23, 2010
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Would you team up with your competitor? What if it was an effort to attract national-caliber talent to your company?

Tomorrow, the announcement of a new collaborative, corporate-led initiative will be made at Haworth headquarters in Holland that does just that.

Quaeris promotes the West Michigan region to potential candidates who might not be familiar with the area. Quaeris also will help candidates who move to West Michigan become involved with the community. The initiative will represent Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Newaygo and Ottawa counties.

Quaeris might sound like a project straight out of The Right Place Inc. or any other West Michigan economic development organization. While The Right Place was instrumental in organizing the conversations among competitors to collaborate on the attraction and retention of talent, the program itself was spearheaded by regional giants such as Haworth, Herman Miller, Amway and others.

“The idea originated amongst a group of chief information officers. These are companies with a billion dollars or more,” said Kevin Stotts, who directs the initiative and is also vice president of community leadership for the Center for Community Leadership.

“They identified an issue that they were all facing … getting talent from outside the area to think about the opportunity within their company. At the same time, there was a group of human resource professionals within these companies having the same conversation. There was also a group of community development organizations that were brought together.

“(They) were all brought together in a meeting hosted by Birgit Klohs (president of The Right Place), and said, ‘We’re all being asked by our stakeholders to do something around talent and attraction. All of us our doing something, but nobody is really owning the responsibility of coming up with a solution.’”

The momentum from that conversation in fall 2007 carried over to 2008. A group that formed out of that meeting began to delve more deeply into the issues of attracting national and global talent to West Michigan.

“All these global companies are saying they need to bring in outside talent to meet some of their needs,” said Stott. “We really talked about the challenges and what we might do. In the beginning of 2009, they formed the organization called Quaeris.”

That’s when the heavy lifting began. The first half of 2009 was busy with focus groups, surveys and interviews. During the second half of the year, Quaeris started to design the solution to solve the issues. That solution came together in the form of a Web site, programs, services and resources that connect outside talent with the West Michigan community and educate them on the region.

“There’s really no awareness of West Michigan,” said Stotts. “So if a company like Amway is saying, ‘We’ve got this opportunity for you,’ they see it in this void of it’s in West Michigan and nobody has any understanding of the economic vitality of the region, the global companies that are headquartered in West Michigan. That provides some comfort to someone who is being recruited from Chicago or New York, because they want to see career progression either in that company or within the region … and not have to go through the anguish of relocating.”

It’s not first-tier cities like Chicago and New York or even second-tier cities like Denver and Minneapolis that need a program like Quaeris. For those cities, the benefits are already highly publicized. It’s the third-tier cities that need to make more of an effort — and Quaeris is a unique effort.

George Bosnjak, business development manager at The Right Place, sits on the board of Quaeris.

“What really differentiates it from a lot of other efforts across the country — which are usually led by an economic development organization, a chamber or a convention and visitors bureau — is this is really conceived and directed by our companies,” he said. “For them to be able to leverage and cooperate across the furniture makers, across insurance, across hospitals to work together to present West Michigan as a whole, larger region is a big win.

“The fact that this is company led, company driven and company funded — frankly, there isn’t anywhere else in the United States that is going at it in this model. That says a lot about West Michigan.”

While the billion dollar corporations of West Michigan may be the ones spearheading Quaeris, companies of all sizes can participate in its national and global talent attraction efforts. The size of the company determines its membership fee. For instance, a company with up to 49 employees would pay $1,000, while a company with 1,500-plus workers would pay $20,000.

Bosnjak emphasized the necessity of such a program.

“If our local companies can’t get the best people here to continue to grow and keep their headquarters here, they’re going to have to move branches and chunks of their business outside of West Michigan. We don’t want them to do that, obviously.

“When we’re bringing new business into the community and we can tell them we have a world-class, one-of-a-kind talent attraction retention integration partnership that they’ll be able to tap to get the best people to come and stay in the region — that’s a pretty huge tool.”

Stotts borrowed the adage from Michigan Future Inc. stating “talent follows talent” — and if West Michigan doesn’t have it, business will go where it is.

“What we know to be true is that it’s not about employers who are participating in the initiative competing against each other for talent. To a small degree they are. It’s the region of West Michigan competing with other regions around the country for talent,” said Stotts. “The more individual employers are successful in their attraction and retention efforts, the more successful the region is going to be.”

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