An Economic Development Best Practice

Attracting talent to an area can be an important but elusive part of an economic development strategy. As you watch the trend of talent moving and business following, how can you instead attract some of the talent that your existing businesses seek? How do you find this talent in the first place? How can you use technology to assist in your effort?

One of the best ways to identify and attract this talent is to start in your own back yard. And yes, technology can play a large and crucial role. Just ask the State of Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

The Oklahoma Department of Commerce has a very large tool belt when it comes to its marketing and branding efforts in recent years. After a conversation with some Oklahoma businesses, the Department realized that a good way to reach out to talent would be to market the state to individuals who have left the area but still have ties back to the state. Why start here? Because your chances of recruiting someone who already has a tie to your area are greater than trying to recruit someone who is unfamiliar with it.

From this conversation grew a collaboration between Oklahoma University and local business leaders to launch a marketing campaign for graduates who have left the area. The campaign would include traditional methods like direct mail, but would also focus on social media and a web portal. The portal would serve as a connecting point for the Oklahoma business community and former “Oklahomans.” The website features housing info, career opportunities, testimonials, and other data interesting to potential recruits. The Department is also making great use of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Ning. (For more on social networking sites, see Vidhan’s article below.)

There are two target audiences for this Boomerang marketing campaign. First is Gen-Xers who can fill the knowledge-based jobs in Oklahoma companies. The second is Baby Boomers ready to retire but still willing to come back to Oklahoma to consult or operate start-up companies.

The Department didn’t want a job-search website, but more of a connecting point for employers and potential recruits. To prevent the former from happening, the Department set guidelines employers must follow before posting job opportunities. In doing so, the Department avoids becoming the middleman, and simply lets recruits know jobs are out there. Recruits then work directly with the appropriate employer.

As for locating its target audience, the Department went straight to family-friendly Oklahoma. As press releases were sent out within the State about the project, family members of the recruits rushed to make their loved ones aware of the program in an attempt to get them to move back home. (“Family and friends” is a top reason a person will move back to Oklahoma.)

To measure results, the Department uses a feedback loop from participating businesses. Some businesses have told the Department that their highest quality recruits have been discovered through the Boomerang project. According to the Department’s staff, at least 4 successful job hires have happened through Boomerang, and 450 people subscribe to the newsletter. Those are significant results since the program’s launch just last Fall.

Kudos to the Oklahoma Department for this project. We think it will continue to be a beneficial program, and we encourage other economic development professionals to think about how they can develop a great talent-recruitment strategy.

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