by Ginger R. Marcinkowski (2002 Issue)
RURAL COMMUNITIES ACROSS the United States are beginning to emulate a low-cost, highly successful program that is proving to be a model for the recruiting and retaining of a highly-skilled workforce. Known as Positively Pella, this new resident, community concierge service program evolved out of a Kaizen (continuous improvement) effort at Pella Corporation, a window manufacturer located in Pella, Iowa and one of Americas 100 best companies to work for.
Corporations such as Pella Corp. have long felt the sting of losing qualified employees to other communities after a short period of time due to the ineffectiveness of new resident integration.
After superb recruitment efforts, corporations found they were doing a poor job of assisting new hires as they struggled to move into a community. New employees were forced to spend countless hours searching out information on rental or housing availability, utility hookups, spousal employment and social activities.
The children sometimes struggled in their new educational surroundings and were inadvertently left out of social activities because they felt they had no place to turn to for information.
After several months of employment, new employees often found the pressures of non-integration for their families overwhelming and left the community for opportunities elsewhere. This movement may cost corporations an average of $15,000 per employee, which includes recruitment and moving costs.
Losing that money just a few months down the road is becoming increasingly difficult in today's corporate climate.
MORE PRODUCTIVE RECRUITMENT
The key to making the recruitment process more productive and less costly could be partnerships between corporations and the local Chamber of Commerce.
Many Chambers of Commerce, as well as other community information groups, are passive participants in the employee recruitment effort. Their job of giving out information and phone numbers of local landlords and realtors, but not the availability of housing options, are little help to the frustrated newcomer. They keep the community informed of social activities, but no concentrated effort to integrate new residents exists in most cases.
Normally, Chambers do not partner with their local businesses in the recruiting effort and respond casually to new resident employee requests in a polite, but non-effective manner. Across North America this pattern is repeating itself as a passive and reactive approach to valuable newcomers.
The proactive Positively Pella program is a striking contrast to the way new residents find most communities.
The most important change is the attitude the staff of Positively Pella exudes. They are well aware of the importance and value of each new resident.
Positively Pella staff realizes that each highly-qualified employee not only brings his or her skills to a community, they bring cultural differences that enrich a community, tax dollars that grow a community, well-educated spouses that often fill other corporate employment needs, and new shoppers for retail and dining establishments.
In short, newcomers are very important to the community.
IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM
The problem of integration was identified during the Kaizen effort when it was discovered that it was very frustrating for new residents as they searched for housing, day care and spousal employment.
They would have to rely on word-of-mouth and local newspapers to find information they needed. Oftentimes the information would be outdated and unreliable. Newcomers would have to search an abundance of sources before finding the information they needed. They had no good source to find out about social events that might lead them to the friendships necessary to make them feel a part of their community.
This lack of integration, coupled with their frustrating searches for housing and information, was found to be the reason that more and more families were departing from Pella.
With an abundance of employers seeking qualified staff, job opportunities abound for these unsatisfied and mobile employees in other communities.
During this Kaizen effort, it also was discovered that satisfied and long-term residents and employees of Pella were those who had an easy time procuring housing, finding friends and activities that bonded them to the community.
With the problem identified, the dream of Positively Pella was born. What if we could develop a hands on program that would be a community clearinghouse for all of the information that newcomers found hard to find? And what if that program could include someone to talk to and go to in times of frustration? Positively Pellas mission became just that.
Positively Pella's primary focus is to integrate newcomers into the community through efforts that include assistance in housing, employment, day care, social activities and other community services.
It was to take all available information from the community, compile it and create a state-of-the-art website that was user friendly, encompassing everything a new resident would want to know about Pella, Iowa and the surrounding area, including daily updates of available housing options, such as rental properties and for-sale properties.
It would list only day care and employment opportunities that were available. It would have a community events calendar, information on utility hookups, big city fun, shopping, voting, license information, schools, health care, goods and services and more.
It would be updated daily a critical point in keeping it effective to those who used it.
It would be housed in the Chamber of Commerce as they took on the leadership role for the community.
It would be accountable to an advisory board who would direct its mission. It would hire a manager and one full time web trained staff to build relationships, update information and care for incoming residents. It would be driven by a human touch.
The development of the website for the program was just the beginning.
A small relocation brochure has been printed for human resource departments to use at job fairs or first contacts with potential new employees. The brochure directs the potential new employee to the positivelypella.com website.
The human resource department then contacts Positively Pella with the name, e-mail and phone number of the employee.
Before they even move to the area, Positively Pella contacts the new employee and offers to give them a guided tour of the community on their first visit. An ongoing relationship is built with the potential new employee as they make their decision to move, with Positively Pella being the main source of information for the employee.
Continuing contact with the human resource department allows a free-flow of information that may assist the company with learning about what obstacles might need to be overcome before the new employee joins the company.
Spousal contact is maintained to ensure the success of the move. Weekly e-mails and personal phone calls from Positively Pella to the potential new employee keep them abreast of community social events.
If children are involved, schools are notified and teachers take the initiative to connect with the new students before they arrive. For older children, e-mail buddies are found to contact them even before they become part of the community, making their transition a little more welcoming.
Positively Pella calls local churches of the family's denomination and they in turn contact the families upon arrival.
Appointments are set up for the incoming family with landlords, real estate agents or homeowners.
After the new residents arrival, welcome services are directed to the new resident that gives discount coupons and free services to the newcomers.
A new residents support group is alerted and they also make an initial contact to offer assistance with those who may have children in school. The family continues to receive a weekly new resident newsletter to keep them abreast of social events. They are called at least four times a year to follow up on their integration. The process of contact does not end until 18 months later.
Positively Pella is a streamlined effort that is repeatable and quantifiable to the supporting corporations.
It is successful, albeit busy, with only two full time employees. The service is free to the public and no charge is administered to landlords who list their properties on the website. It is a well-received community service.
Since the April 2000 inception of the Positively Pella program, over 63 regional corporations and 640 individuals and families have been assisted.
The time in which to find housing locally has been reduced by over 35%, making it much less time-consuming and costly on the part of the new resident and the corporation.
Trailing spouses have found employment much sooner and employers are excited about the new pool of employees. Human resource recruitment time with a new employee has been cut in half, while effective communication has grown.
Staff of Positively Pella are invited participants in recruitment efforts at trade shows, job fairs and as guest speakers within the corporations and in other communities. They have implemented social activities for professional young singles. They are a vital link of information to all businesses concerning the needs of the incoming new residents.
Examples of the impact this program has had on the Pella community can be seen in the efforts of Positively Pella.
•Promotion of cultural diversity programs.
•Partnerships in forming a school mentoring program.
•Establishment of a new residents support group.
•Multi-county housing partnerships.
•Health care needs assessment of new residents.
•Surveys of new residents that affect business decisions.
•Information clearinghouse for City of Pella.
•Point of contact for spousal employment opportunities.
•Relocation support for all local corporations.
•Free public speaking and training opportunities for other communities and countries about the program.
•Partnerships within the community where they had never existed before.
•Immigration referral assistance.
Day to day activities that Positively Pella is involved in might be daunting to some, but is the standard for this unique program.
•Daily photograph new rentals or for sale by owner houses.
•Alert landlords to discrimination practices.
•Liaison between local service businesses and corporate human resource departments.
•Housing trend predictors.
•Surveys and focus groups for local businesses.
•Business location finder.
Some of the work Positively Pella does cannot be put into a detailed business plan but can be heard in the gratefulness of the voices of new residents.
I feel very fortunate that a free service like Positively Pella exists to help me find housing and information about the community. It definitely made the move easier for me and my family, said new resident D. King.
We arrived in a new country never expecting to make so many new friends so quickly. Positively Pella made the difference, said S. Rajpal. You are not just a service; you have shown you really care about us as you learn about our lives and our culture.
Positively Pella has made a strong impact on incoming new residents and has become their viable voice in the Pella community.
The original Kaizen effort was in July of 1999. Funding and approval of the program was drawn together in November. Remodeling and the gathering of necessary equipment was completed in March and the new manager began on April 10, 2000.
On that first day, eleven new residents walked in the door and the program was off to a fast start.
A web technician was hired three weeks later to assimilate the newly gathered information for the website which debuted on June 5, 2000.
The website averages 12,000 hits per month, mostly generated by word-of-mouth contacts.
As the idea for the much needed program spread, funding became more readily available. The State of Iowa issued a grant in the amount of $46,000 over a three-year period. The City of Pella, Vermeer Manufacturing and Pella Corporation then donated start-up money of about $25,000 each, which included Chamber renovations, office equipment, a vehicle, and website development.
The ongoing budget is funded from a yearly commitment of $10 per employee from nine of Pellas largest companies. The budget for 2002 is approximately $97,000 and pays for a program manager, a web technician, vehicle costs, social activities, continued training and website upkeep.
The budget is lean and well-managed. Additional funding is received from recruitment brochure advertising, web advertising and a yearly fundraiser.
A MODEL FOR COMMUNITIES
Positively Pella has answered every call in its quest to service regional corporations in this rural community as companies struggle to recruit and retain qualified employees. In the 18 months since inception, Positively Pella has surpassed all expectations and is fast becoming the standard for other communities.
Its use of today's technology combined with yesterdays human touch makes it a standout program for workforce development.
In today's job market, companies are forced to take a look at new initiatives in order to retain these valuable and highly qualified employees and are searching for innovative programs that will assist them in this endeavor. With new resident studies, partnerships and human resource recruiting input, programs such as Positively Pella will become the standard for corporations serious about employee retention.
This public-private partnership with the State of Iowa, the Chamber of Commerce and local corporations has proven that combined efforts are cost efficient and effective. Becoming a more hospitable community has its roots in partnering and it has made a difference to both new residents and established corporations. Efforts to welcome everyone of every race, religion, and social status have permeated the Positively Pella program and given both the community and newcomers a haven of comfort.
A program such as Positively Pella can be implemented in just a few short weeks. Free presentations and a step-by-step manual are available for communities that are interested in this innovative program.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR