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Talent Attraction – A Strategic Approach

Why do people choose to work where they do? What motivates people to locate and remain in a given community to pursue their careers? Economic developers need to know.

The need has grown since the 2008 recession. Talent attraction is now a make-or-break issue for many businesses and for the communities where they employ people.

ManPower Group believes that “we are heading toward a global employability crisis.” In its 2012 Annual Talent Shortage Survey of almost 40,000 employers across 39 countries and territories, the world’s largest workforce solutions company found that more than a third of employers faced a barrier to their business goals because they were unable to find needed talent.

The importance of talent grew during the recession because, as employers drastically reduced their workforces, it became necessary to generate more productivity and innovation from each remaining person, which was only possible if they had the right person in the right job.

“Employers must reconsider their work models and people practices, and develop a robust workforce strategy that in a sense ‘manufactures’ the talent they need to execute their long-term business strategy,” ManPower Group concludes.

As this issue is front and center for businesses, it is becoming increasingly significant for economic developers: There is a direct link between workforce demographics and the ability to compete for economically significant businesses.

A recent discussion on LinkedIn’s Economic Development Leadership Group pointed to consensus that economic development and workforce strategies go hand in hand. In the discussion, initiated by Colleen LaRose of the North East Regional Employment and Training Association, an insightful comment about the relationship between the two was made by Jerry Sparks of the City of Texarkana, Texas:

“One of the toughest things a community must face is that they can’t meet the workforce requirements of a prospect,” Sparks pointed out. “If you don’t have a realistic view of your workforce, you will be chasing projects. There is nothing worse for a community’s economic development efforts than to get a new employer and be unable to provide adequate staffing.”

The vital link that Sparks refers to between workforce and competitiveness is harder to maintain in smaller communities. They are disadvantaged by youth outmigration. This results in decreased workforce quality, making it harder to attract corporate investments with growth potential.

Young people are no longer tied geographically to a community or region. Research shows that recent graduates will choose a community first, then find a career. This means that companies are following talent, not vice versa. Businesses are locating in communities that have a resident pool of creatively talented, educated workers and offer amenities and lifestyles sought by their employees.

Talented workers often choose their home community based on reputation and information researched online. It follows that economic developers must use the web’s capabilities to ensure that an appropriate image and identity is developed to appeal to the desired workers.

Strategy First

But this is not the first step. Strategy comes first. Implementing strategies to better attract, retain and develop creative and talented people will help keep communities and their businesses competitive.

Use the strategy as a foundation for developing the products that support it, such as a web portal. Some organizations have done the reverse, only to discover that their talent attraction products have low or no uptake.

Talent attraction takes many forms. Your community and its industries might benefit the most from attracting immigrants, knowledge workers or entrepreneurs, or by retaining students or skilled residents.

Of course it’s likely that you need most or all of these groups, and more. But your economic development organization has limited resources. To apply your budget most effectively, you need two basic types of knowledge: What are your community’s strengths and what does it need most to secure its future?

It’s the community itself that must supply the answers. A talent attraction strategy should be a community-wide initiative. You need the participation of businesses, educational and social services institutions and various levels of governments, with their research capabilities and financial support programs.

When developing your strategy, focus is critical. Carefully identify a target audience and develop the attraction strategy specifically for them.

Dakota Roots

A number of communities have created effective talent attraction strategies and we will highlight some in this series of articles. A good place to start is South Dakota.

“The Dakota Roots program provides all the connections needed to turn dreams of living in South Dakota into reality,” declares Governor Dennis Daugaard on the home page of

The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation launched the program in October 2006. The program engages citizens and business leaders to expand the South Dakota workforce, primarily by matching program participants with current career opportunities and educating participants on what occupations will be most in demand in the future.

Combined with a strong appeal to expatriates to return to their roots – “South Dakota is your feel good place” – the program has paid dividends. One indication is that Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, has once again been named the best small city for business and careers by, for the ninth time in 10 years. Forbes in June 2012 called Sioux Falls “the cultural center of South Dakota” with a diversified economy that includes financial services, health care and retail trade.

At, anyone can register, search and apply for posted positions. The job database has more than 10,000 listings. One-on-one assistance is available for employers and job-seekers relocating to South Dakota. The site delivers information on main industries, average salaries, cost of living and a link to the South Dakota Governor’s office of Economic Development.

Since 2007, the Dakota Roots program has attracted an average of 420 new employees a year and an average of 2,100 new active job seekers.

There are many ways to attract talent, as we will explore in this series and the Dakota Roots program illustrates a primary best practice: Develop the strategy first, create the appropriate products to implement it, then promote them effectively and continuously. All three steps are needed to make a talent attraction program succeed.


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One Response to “Talent Attraction – A Strategic Approach”

  1. September 5th, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Christy says:

    I appreciate the recognition that a sector led approach to workforce development and aligning workforce development w economic development goals is both solely needed and critical. However, “talent attraction” is a bit misleading, and certainly can’t make up for skills gaps in most places. Check out my recent blog on why college completion and talent attraction goals are only one part of building a pipeline of talent in the community.

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