Cleveland County’s Talent Recruitment Campaign

When I hear talent recruitment campaign, I picture Dallas, Chattanooga, and  other big cities. That’s why I was eager to learn about Cleveland County, NC’s (pop. 97,000) new talent campaign. How did a small, rural county convince its leadership that talent is where it’s at – and how did they find the resources for a campaign?

About a year ago, Kristin Reese, Executive Director of Cleveland County Economic Development Partnership (CCEDP) and several local leaders initiated discussions around the topic of talent recruitment. Similar to what many of you have experienced in your own community, local manufacturers voiced concerns about the inability to find workers. Cleveland County’s unemployment rate had plummeted from 16% to 4% due the success of the county’s recruitment program ($6B investment and 4,500 jobs in 10 years) and overall strong economy. CCEDP did an in-depth survey of existing manufacturers to get a better handle on workforce problems and to gauge future employment needs. The response was overwhelming and somewhat intimidating. The results reflected thousands of open jobs and that number was expected to double based on large segments of the workforce retiring within the next 5-10 years. Kristin shared the results of the survey with her board, government officials, education leaders and additional community partners, which prompted the creation of a dedicated manufacturing task force that would solely focus on the unchartered topic of talent attraction.

One of the most important things to note about these efforts is that Kristin and her team insisted that manufacturers drive the discussion. The manufacturing task force took it seriously and insisted that the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) methodology be incorporated, which was somewhat unfamiliar territory for the participants not from manufacturing. DMAIC refers to a data-driven quality strategy for improving processes and is an integral part of a company’s Six Sigma Quality Initiative. The utilization of this methodology ensured that the approach was highly organized, strategic, and focused. During the Analysis phase of this process, the task force discovered that most manufacturers had fairly rudimentary hiring practices, only advertising in newspapers and using temps. CCEDP responded by developing a tool kit of creative strategies in hiring. Examples include how to place an ad on Facebook and how to spotlight employees telling their story about working at the company. They started out by piloting the tool kit with two manufacturers. One company increased job fair attendance by 300% through the utilization of creative social media strategies.

CCEDP retained DCI Marketing and Little Red Bird Advertising to spearhead the development of an all-out Talent Attraction Campaign–Charlotte’s Backyard NC. The campaign will include a micro website, marketing collaterals, print advertisements, billboards, social media and video production. The campaign revolves around three primary key messages about the community: good jobs, low cost of living and perfect location. The target population will initially be focused on millennials who live within a 50-mile radius of the county but will also be heavily directed to the 21,000 residents who now out-commute. CCEDP will also be aggressively cross-marketing career opportunities through educational partners – targeting students, parents, teachers, guidance and career counselors.

So how is Cleveland County funding the campaign? First, CCEDP convinced its board to redirect a big portion of its budget for the effort – $100,000. The county provided new funding and manufacturers are stepping up to the plate and helping to underwrite some of the cost. In return, those manufacturers will be prominently showcased and spotlighted on the new Charlotte’s Backyard NC microsite. Total program cost is around $170,000. That is a big budget for many small EDOs; however, what could you do if you redirected program dollars and raised additional funds? Could you start with pieces and parts? Take the employer tool kit as an example. Could you help boost the applicant pool by 300% by only educating employers on how to infuse some creative strategies into their employee recruitment efforts?

CCEDP is trying to figure out how to measure the outcome of the campaign. One thing they are doing is asking employers to include on job applications where the applicant heard about the job. Hopefully they will see the micro website pop-up. They are also asking employers who are sponsoring micro website to monitor traffic pushed back to their company websites.

Looking ahead to the future, Kristin Reese can see a time when Cleveland County creates a position for talent recruitment, maybe a ‘Talent Concierge’. She spends about 90% of her time on this project now. Many EDOs are spending more time and resources on talent development. The Greenville, SC Chamber is recruiting a Director of Talent and Workforce Solutions. Wake County ED sponsors the “Work in the Triangle” website.

Economic development has always required creativity whether in incentive packages or product development. The talent puzzle piece is no different.

Let us know about your creative approach to recruiting, retaining, and training talent.

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