Why Tallahassee? Chamber panel talks talent recruitment, retention

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Tallahassee may be the place to make a name and a career.

More jobs are coming into the market. A report from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics shows 182,700 non-agriculture jobs in May, an increase of 2,500 jobs compared to May 2017.

But how do local business owners and CEOs sell the “Why Tallahassee” question to job seekers?

That question dominated a panel discussion hosted by the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Thursday at Hotel Duval.

Featured panelists were all recent transplants: Antonio Montoya, Domi Station’s new executive director who relocated from Huntsville, Alabama; Trent Sawyer, a management consultant for North Highland Worldwide Consulting who relocated from Atlanta; and Dr. Lyndsey Steele, a veterinarian at North Florida Animal Hospital who relocated from Canada.

A sense of community

While they represent a fresh perspective on the city, they all praised Tallahassee for its sense of community. It’s a place, they said, where professionals can have a bigger impact compared to larger metropolitan areas like New York or Atlanta.

“I came down here and basically confirmed what I knew from afar. Domi had done some very intriguing things,” said Montoya, who believes it’s easy to meet people in this city.

“I think we need to continue to make those relationships. We have to continue to make friends,” he added. “There are so many players. If we continue to have those conversations, then together we can make an impact.”

Sawyer, 32, said community challenges, such as crime, can be opportunities. Despite a 15-percent drop in crime reported last year, Tallahassee has the highest crime rate in the state for the fourth straight year.

He said those interested in working in criminal justice or related fields may be drawn to that challenge.

“There are issues that are happening here in Tallahassee and someone needs to solve them,” Sawyer said. “So see a need, fill a need. If you’re someone who is living in Atlanta, Georgia, you could have a great impact on some of the things that are happening.

“There’s a real need for bright individuals to come in and deal with these challenges,” he added. “Let’s sell that as an opportunity for those individuals.”

Focusing on talent retention

The Chamber stepped up its focus on talent retention two years ago.

What followed was a series of efforts to entice bright, soon-to-be and recent graduates with internships and jobs at high-profile companies. The Tally Job Hop allowed college students to load onto a bus and spend two days visiting businesses and meeting decision makers.

“The takeaway for me is they are talking about access to being part of a community,” said Bernice Cox, a member of the Chamber’s Board of Directors who is heading the talent and retention task force. “Talent will stay if they feel like they are being included in decisionmaking or their voice is being heard, not just in their job but in their community. And that seems to be more and more important to the millennials.”

Cox said the chamber and government officials must take a comprehensive look at community challenges.

“We have to have a community plan to look at that,” Cox said. “I do think we are starting to address crime in a significant way.”

But Cox said she’ll continue to pitch Tallahassee as a city where young professionals can sit at the same table as CEOs and business owners and serve on committees where they can make a difference.

“That is a drawing point,” Cox said. “That’s what they want.”