West Michigan Fights Brain Drain

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A new partnership between West Michigan businesses not only is recruiting new talent to the area, but helping guarantee they stay.

Through a new collaborative program called Connect Sixty-Four, businesses along the 64-mile stretch of I-94 between St. Joseph and Battle Creek have formed an alliance to hire so-called trailing spouses — husbands and wives following their spouses to a new community after the other gets a new job. That partnership is giving organizations more muscle when competing with other communities for top talent.

“Attracting a strong professional to Southwest Michigan is a vital part of economic development,” said Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First, a Kalamazoo-based economic development organization. “Getting two is even better!  With a program like Connect Sixty-Four, our community now has the ability to double its talent base as trailing spouses will be presented with great opportunities for employment, easing their transition to the region.”

Connect Sixty-Four was launched earlier this year by WSI Inc., a Kalamazoo-based research, recruiting and staffing organization. The concept was designed from critical feedback from the area’s largest employers who said the No. 2 reason candidates won’t relocate to West Michigan is because of the spouse’s employment and income. The No. 1 reason is selling a home.

“With the changes in our economy in recent years, recruits need assurances that their spouses will have employment when they move,” said Robyn Rosenthal of Connect Sixty-Four. “Connect Sixty-Four gives them that assurance.”

The program gained popularity even before its formal launch in March. All of the Fortune 500 companies who have headquarters or divisions along the Connect Sixty-Four area are part of the program, including Stryker, Eaton, Kellogg’s, Kellogg Foundation and Whirlpool. Smaller, yet just as influential hiring organizations, also are part of the program.

Connect Sixty-Four partners are committed to interviewing trailing spouses who meet their hiring criteria. Through the dedicated efforts of a Connect Sixty-Four career consultant, trailing spouses receive unprecedented exposure to the organization’s hiring manager and priority consideration for interviews.

“That VIP pass gets trailing spouses exposure to hiring managers — exposure they wouldn’t get on their own,” said Rosenthal, who trailed her husband to the area three years ago.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, trailing spouse assistance is one of the newest and most critical components of a successful relocation program. In recent years, 90 percent of relocation refusals are said to be due to family or dual-income concerns, according to the Impact Group.

For those that are recruited to West Michigan, organizations risk losing those employees if the family doesn’t settle into the community – including the spouse finding employment —  within three years. The average cost to relocate a new employee is about $67,000, according to Worldwide ERC, the workforce mobility association.

Rosenthal said some of the Connect Sixty-Four partners also plan to use the program to retain talent, offering it to employees who are considering relocating from West Michigan to accommodate a spouse’s job.

Rosenthal said while many communities have trailing spouse programs, none have the same level of commitment from businesses.

“Programs that offer resume and interview coaching are a dime a dozen,” Rosenthal said. “No other program out there has this level of buy-in from the top.”

Learn more about Connect Sixty-Four online at www.connect64.com

Founded in Kalamazoo in 2001, Workforce Strategies Inc. has offices nationwide and is one of the nation’s fastest-growing privately held research, recruiting and staffing companies.

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