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They came, they saw, they stayed: Why people choose careers in Louisville

Edj Analytics Office

Stacey Langan

Stacy Griggs

Paul, Sabine, Mason and Brett Friedman in Cherokee Park.

Paul Friedman was a bit skeptical about Louisville. It was 2006, he was vice president of technology at a startup called InScope, and lived in Pound Ridge, N.Y., a suburb of New York City. The River City only came up on his radar because of a potential job opportunity. He was personally recruited to work at Humana, as a director of information technology, by Brian LeClaire, the company’s then-chief technology officer. But he wasn’t tempted.  

“Originally I gave a flat-out no, because I wasn’t going to move from New York to Kentucky,” he says. LeClaire challenged him: give Louisville a chance. Visit, meet the people, and at least see what you’re about to turn down. Friedman said okay. He and his wife, Brett, visited the city, and had a fine time. Soon that no became yes.

Friedman still wasn’t completely sold. He moved for the job, envisioning a two-to-four year stay. But something happened. The Friedmans began to love the city; especially how kid-friendly it is. This mattered as they already had one small child, and were soon to add another. Ten years later Friedman’s still here, and is vice president of business technology leadership at Humana.

“It’s an easy place to live, an easy place to have a family, and has a lot to offer,” he says. “We didn’t move because it’s Louisville, but we stayed because it’s Louisville.”

Winning the Recruitment Race
This is the kind of successful recruiting story the folks at Greater Louisville Inc. love to talk up. But the fact is, recruiting top talent is never going to be a cinch for Louisville’s companies. The city has a fairly low national profile, and the competition for talent is fierce, especially in tech.  

How to surmount these obstacles? Stacy Griggs has some ideas. He’s CEO of Louisville internet marketing company El Toro, a company’s that’s had rapid growth. A year ago it had 20 employees, today it has 39, and Griggs said it should end 2017 with 80.

How does El Toro win the recruiting race? He says the company starts by looking for people with a personal connection. For example, one company exec is from Arkansas, and has used his network to recruit several employees from the Natural State. “What we are looking at are people … that have had some sort of relationship with people on our team,” he says.

El Toro also uses the Kentucky Derby to abet its recruiting cause. The company has a well-stocked bourbon bar, and during Derby weekend they’ll invite select people over for drinks. Griggs says these visits often evolve into new potential hires or clients.

Griggs also makes sure newbies understand the Derby is a month-long thing here, not just a race; this makes Louisville just a touch more glamorous. “You don’t have other cities that have some sort of annual event like that,” he says. “We host something bigger than the Super Bowl every year.”  

El Toro also maximizes the talent it already has. Griggs says about a third of the company’s employees are former interns. Instead of waiting for the perfect candidate, El Toro trains its interns to do what it needs. To get the right interns El Toro uses a vigorous screening process, and only hires 10 percent of those interviewed. It’s clearly working. “The retention rate is high, and the (intern) interview failure rate is also high,” Griggs says.  

Speed it Up
That El Toro snags so much tech talent is impressive, given the tightness of that market. Sam Smith, president of Louisville-based tech recruiting firm Click IT Staffing says the unemployment rate for IT professionals is 2.8 percent, versus 4.9 percent generally.

Smith says Louisville has some strong advantages over some competing cities, as there is a comparatively high quality of life here, and a low cost of living. Still, he clearly doesn’t believe the city can rest on its laurels. In fact, he had some advice for Louisville companies looking to land more coveted talent: speed it up.

Louisville firms need to shorten their recruitment cycle if they want to be competitive. He says many firms take from three-to-four weeks to make a hiring decision, while web developers, for instance, usually get snapped up in a week.

He adds companies need to be less rigid about formal qualifications, especially with tech hires. Smith says that some companies won’t hire people with under five years’ experience, but this is a mistake, as there are a lot of talented tech people with fewer years of work on their resumes.

Smith also says companies have to make sure their best people are their recruiters. “They’re going to sell your company,” he says.

Stacey Langan, human resources director at Louisville data analysis company Edj Analytics, says employers can make themselves more enticing by offering out-of-town recruits a bit of a soft ramp-up to working in Louisville. For example, companies could offer new hires the option of working both here and in their current location, just so they experience life in Louisville first hand.

“I think that kind of transition phase has helped people be more successful,” she says. She added once people dip a toe into the River City, they’re far more likely to become a permanent part of the community. 
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