Scottsdale’s fiscal plan focuses on recruiting workers

In March, members of Scottsdale’s Economic Development team found themselves in uncharted territory — the job fair at the SXSW music festival in Austin.

The notoriously alternative scene at the festival isn’t where you would expect to find representatives of a business-oriented Scottsdale organization, but it is where you would find the post-collegiate, technologically savvy workforce that the city’s companies are looking to hire.

The unorthodox trip to SXSW was part of a new initiative that focuses on recruiting individual workers to live and work in the East Valley, said Danielle Casey, director of the city’s economic-development team.

As the waves of the tech boom spread farther from its birthplace in Silicon Valley, Scottsdale startups and established tech giants have positions to fill, but the city’s reputation doesn’t automatically draw workers. It will take a critical mass of tech companies and workers to rebrand Scottsdale as a hub of innovation, and in the meantime the city has started actively recruiting high-skilled workers to fill the void, Casey said.

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Scottsdale is the first in the region to roll out a worker-first strategy, said Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. The council brings together 22 smaller groups throughout the Valley to reach out to businesses and improve the region’s economic climate.

Camacho praised the initiative, calling it an innovative way to think about business attraction and retention. Most of the other economic councils in the Valley only actively recruit businesses, which Scottsdale will continue to do as well, he said.

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The change in recruiting practices comes as part of a five-year strategic plan that will help shape the city’s direction on many fronts, including the types of companies it recruits and what to do with aging sections of town, such as the McDowell Corridor.

To create the plan, Casey and the rest of her six-person team spent hours poring through hundreds of interviews that a third-party firm had conducted with companies based in Scottsdale, looking for patterns and ways that they could improve how the city does business. The answer came in loud and clear — bring in more highly skilled workers.

The new programs and growth in Scottsdale aren’t limited to tech industries such as biotechnology firms and positions for computer programmers, Casey said. The city is also actively recruiting for financial corporations, combing conferences such as the National Society of Hispanic MBAs’ annual meeting in Chicago this October.

Scottsdale-based businesses are often involved in the efforts as well.

Vanguard, an investing firm that has operated a regional location in Scottsdale since 1994, sent several representatives to SXSW with the economic council, said Stephanie Scher of the company’s recruitment marketing team.

Vanguard hired several employees from the convention and is looking to fill up to 200 more positions, mainly for client-relationship specialists, an entry-level role that requires a love for finances and a good GPA, she said.

“We’ve already benefited from some of the initiatives (Casey) has put in place,” Scher said. “They allow people to consider the full picture of accepting a job with us.”

Both Scher and Casey said that misconceptions about life in Arizona often stand in the way of people making the move out West, especially for individuals coming from the East Coast.

“A lot of what comes to mind is golf and resorts,” Scher said. “But what they miss is a wonderful work lifestyle here.”

At SXSW, Casey’s team was worried that misconceptions about the state’s physical and political climates — very hot and very conservative — would prevent candidates from visiting their booth, but in the end the interest was mutual. “We were slammed the whole time talking to hundreds of people,” Casey said.

Scottsdale’s economic-development team isn’t the only group working to encourage employees to move to the area.

Jay Chernikoff founded DeskHub, a co-working organization that allows clients to rent work space for themselves and their small companies, to help support the collaboration and innovation that he says will drive the region’s next wave of economic growth.

Flexible work spaces and month-to-month commitments can help attract individual workers who may want in on Scottsdale’s growing startup scene but are hesitant to move without a community behind them, he said. “One of the reasons you wouldn’t come here as an individual … is the isolation,” he added.

While DeskHub itself has a small staff and isn’t looking to hire, its model — bringing entrepreneurs and small businesses together under one roof — provides a medium for workers from different companies to connect with each other.

But desk space aside, often all that it takes to convince potential employees to make the move is knowing a little more about what life in Scottsdale is really like.

“They were vastly unaware of what companies are out here,” Casey said. “People were worried about heat, but we told them, ‘It’s hot in Austin, too.’ ”

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/scottsdale/2015/08/17/scottsdales-fiscal-plan-focuses-recruiting-workers/31845679/