By: Eric Wright
There is a wave of young professionals being sought and being brought to the Space Coast like no time in recent history. That new demographic could well alter the physical and the economic landscape of the county. What many still fail to see is that it didn’t happen by accident, but rather was the result of a dogged and focused strategy and an unprecedented level of cooperation between political and economic leadership. Now the same type of coordinated, cooperative effort may be needed to keep the talent pipeline open.
EW: We’ve had a number of historic wins in this community; how do we maintain the economic development momentum?
LW: Every community in the country is in the hunt to attract high paying jobs to their locale. However, that doesn’t just happen; they don’t appear out of nowhere. In this global competition or “War For Jobs,” as it has been called, there are a number of fronts.
One is corporate relocation; we have seen that with Blue Origin and OneWeb. Another is helping companies here, to expand here, instead of expanding elsewhere. Northrop Grumman has 34 sites across the country. They were not only considering this as an expansion site; so, the case for expanding here must be made. The third is startup, homegrown or what we call “innovation companies.”
The question is what can a community do to nurture all three of these to win this race? The answer to that question is talent. Much like corporate relocation, sometimes you must find and relocate talent and, like the successful company, talent can go almost anywhere since demand is currently outweighing supply. Our challenge is convincing them to come here.
EW: What are the keys to recruiting top talent?
LW: Again, this is a competition everyone is in and it is very similar to attracting companies. We can’t just say, “We’re a great place,” because everyone thinks they’re in a great place. We have to look at our competitive advantage compared to Nashville, San Jose, Austin, Boston, etc.
One is access. If you are a company and move here and want access to a city manager or a county commissioner, you can. If you move here and want to make a difference, you can get involved in a citizen advisory group and they really want to hear your voice. In many places that isn’t true. You can have an impact or be a part of the social or political development of this area. That opportunity doesn’t exist everywhere. Millennials want to be a part of something or change something or protect something — they can do that here.
Next is scalability, the tremendous aspirational value of the type of high tech jobs we have around here. We put payloads and people into space! OneWeb is going to change the world’s communications system. We will design the next generation of aircraft here — that is very compelling. Brevard County is a living laboratory for 21st century technology. You can grow professionally in the companies that are here. I tell people we have the intellectual infrastructure of a major urban area, but the scalability of a small town.
EW: By intellectual infrastructure you mean?
LW: What community of 540,000 people has a major technical university and a four-year college? Plus we have a military facility that is on the cutting edge of technology, dozens of corporations that are on the cutting edge of technology, a growing logistical industry with the Port and distribution centers and an international airport. We won’t mention a spaceport as that is so unique. In other words, that is not typical.
Then there is value for money. Maybe that isn’t as appealing to the single millennial, but if you want to come here and raise a family, you can afford not only a home, but so much more home than you can in other places.
EW: So we are in a competition to recruit talent to this community and we have all of these leverageable assets — how do we do it?
LW: Our success is not because of the EDC’s size, because we aren’t that big, or our budget, because it isn’t that large, but in many cases because of the strategic alliances we have made. One of those, who has a vested interest in attracting people to our area, is the Tourist Development Council. They want to attract as tourists the same people we want to attract as a talent pool.
In the 80s, Florida had an advertising campaign that said, “People like to live where they like to work and they like to work where they like to live.” I thought that was an incredible strategy. We want to do that with our TDC. Also, they have resources that we don’t and we don’t want to say, “We have this talent attraction need, but we don’t have any money to do it.” Eric Garvey (the executive director of the TDC) has said, when people visit a place a few times they are more inclined to want to live and work there.
We’re starting a talent attraction program because the companies here, Harris, Northrop Grumman and the rest, have said, “You were successful in bringing jobs here, now we need you to help our HR professionals to bring the talent here also.”
The more people are aware of this area, before a recruiter approaches them, the easier their job is. We also want to see what we can do to ensure graduates, like from Florida Tech, want to stay here, by making them aware of jobs in the area, connecting them with internships that get them to stay here.
EW: How do you connect with the millennials to get their input?
LW: Organizations like 3-2-1 Millennials help. It is its own entity, but Florida Tech and Florida Today helped us do a millennial survey and we met with them at Florida Today to review the outcomes. That is an example of access. Millennials in Austin or Atlanta probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with industry leaders, the publisher of the largest newspaper in the region and the director of the EDC, and give input;
that just doesn’t happen.
What surprised me, honestly, was how upbeat and engaged they were about the community.
EW: Other specifics on how we attract talent?
LW: Another thing we do is partner with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council (The Corridor). They host an annual career expo, where they bring in the career center professionals from all the universities that have a technology focus — MIT, Georgia Tech, Virginia Poly and the Florida schools — to meet with representatives from companies in this area, large and small, where they explain the kind of job and career opportunities, including internships, their students and graduates can have here.
Also, I think we are unique in that the superintendent of schools sits on the EDC board and is both a recipient and a contributor on how our educational system works to enhance our attraction and to produce talent in the pipeline. We create an environment where the representatives of industry, like Harris, can directly interface with the superintendent; that might happen in other places, but I don’t think so.