100 Years of Advancing Destinations

The New Battlefield: Cities Compete to Attract Skilled Workers

Author: Guest Andy Levine, President/Chief Creative Officer of Development Counsellors International
Posted: May 04, 2015
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In the fall of 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate briefly hit 10.0%.  Today, we’re almost at half that number at 5.5%.  And a dozen MSAs across the country are experiencing unemployment rates of less than 3%.  As the labor market tightens up, fast-growth companies are having trouble filling jobs for IT professionals, manufacturing workers, scientists, healthcare positions and other skilled professionals.  

For destination marketing organizations the shift offers a significant opportunity.  After all, potential residents and workers are often introduced to a new city or region as a leisure or business tourist.  So there is a tremendous synergy between visitor attraction and talent attraction.  

Different cities are approaching the talent attraction challenge in different manners.  At the center of Pittsburgh’s regional talent attraction campaign is a powerful job aggregator that continually searches 825 “help wanted” sources for new job openings.  The result is an average of 22,000 area jobs posted on the “Imagine Pittsburgh” website.  The site attracts more than 10,000 unique visitors each month.  The program is funded through company sponsorships although all job openings are listed for free.  

Nashville takes a more specialized approach focusing on the attraction of information technology professionals to “Music City.”  The “WorkIT Nashville” website combines a traditional job board with elements of LinkedIn.  Candidates can upload resumes easily and search for jobs, while simultaneously serving as a source for employers to search for talent, create employer profiles and post jobs and company information.

Hello West Michigan” created a special program that caters specifically to addressing the “dual career” challenge.  An average of 10 to 12 trailing spouses or significant others contact Hello West Michigan weekly, and a team member helps to connect them with potential employers in the region.

Louisville, Montreal, Cleveland, Calgary, Raleigh and Houston are other big cities that are entering the new battle for skilled workers.  Emerging “best practices” in talent attraction include:  

  • Early and active participation of area companies in the design and execution of a talent attraction campaign; 
  • A sustained and integrated communications effort that encompasses a mix of social media, advertising, media relations, job fairs and special events;  
  • Well organized, visually compelling, informative web presence offering links to specific job offerings.   

Big cities aren’t the only ones in the talent attraction game.  Bellknap County, New Hampshire, a rural area two hours north of Boston, recently launched a talent attraction initiative.  The program aims to “bring home” young professionals who grew up in the area and have moved away.  The approach is paired with a regional, radio campaign which tells the story of available openings in the county’s increasingly creative economy.