With the economy growing — albeit slowly — business leaders from across the Marlborough area gathered last week at the city’s third annual Business Innovation Summit to discuss how companies can attract and retain top talent.
One of the participants, Andrea Pion, who works in marketing for the Davis Cos., a staffing company headquartered in Marlborough, said businesses in Central Massachusetts are starting to hire, and competition is heating up for the best employees.
“Good people are getting jobs quickly,” said Pion, whose company has hired about 20 employees this year, in addition to 30 last year. “If you find somebody good, you need to move on that. You can’t wait and see anymore.”
Attracting and keeping the best employees is about more than just salary, government officials and business leaders said during the summit, which was cosponsored by the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation and a regional law firm, Mirick O’Connell.
The state’s secretary of housing and economic development, Gregory Bialecki, who gave the keynote address at the gathering, said the downtown areas in cities and towns in Massachusetts should be a selling point to workers considering a move here.
“The quality of our communities, the character of our neighborhoods and our building stock, is really unmatched, and we need to take advantage of that,” he said.
Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeant said that when he met with members of the business community to listen to their concerns, he was surprised to hear them talk more about amenities for their employees, like walking and biking paths, than about tax rates and infrastructure. He vowed to support business growth in the city.
“As you’re expanding and growing, we want to make sure you’re doing it here in Marlborough,” Vigeant said.
While the down economy has led to a glut of job applicants, employers said it can be difficult to dig into a mountain of resumes and mine for gems.
“If you measure a recruitment problem by how many hairs fell out or turned gray, the biggest challenge would be sifting through that plethora of candidates,” said Lester Hensley, chief executive and president of EMSEAL Joint Systems Ltd. of Westborough, who spoke on a panel. “It’s shocking what we have to filter through in terms of how people represent themselves in cover letters and resumes.”
Although his company uses staffing agencies to hire factory workers and sometimes looks for job applicants online through websites like Craigslist and Monster.com, Hensley said, he has increasingly relied on his existing employees reaching out to their social media networks.
“Retention is, for us, centered around working very hard to create a culture that people want to be in and want to stay in,” said Hensley, whose company makes and designs construction products. “Our people are our most effective recruiting tool.”
Tom Clay, another panelist and chief executive of Marlborough-based custom metal alloy designer Xtalic, said his company tried to “grow our own” high-performing employees by bringing people up through co-op or internship programs.
“If they’re really great, you get first dibs on at least trying to make them an offer,” he said.
Cheryl Gallant, human resources director for a Fitchburg-based plastics manufacturer, Micron Products Inc., said that while her company could not afford to give raises during the economic downturn, it increased the number of personal days for employees in an effort to retain them.