Hello West Michigan works to attract top talent to area


In 2007, a group of chief information officers began a series of conversations regarding the disconnect they were witnessing between talent and job availability in West Michigan. The CIOs worried there wasn’t a large enough pipeline, particularly of information technology students and graduates, to fill the current and future job needs within their growing companies.

As a result, in January 2010, Hello West Michigan was launched. The membership-driven nonprofit organization was developed to service three purposes: to promote West Michigan as a place where business thrives and people want to live and work; to increase the rate of success member companies have in their efforts to recruit top talent; and to collaborate with organizations across the region to help new residents find their fit in West Michigan.

Today, Cindy Brown, executive director for HWM, said the organization has been successful in increasing awareness of opportunities available within the region.

The organization has 40 member companies, which include the likes of Amway, Bissell, Davenport University, Grand Valley State University, Gordon Food Services, Haworth, Herman Miller, Meijer and Wolverine Worldwide. It also collaborates with more than a dozen partner organizations — chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, county governments and nonprofits.

The HWM website serves as the primary tool to attract potential relocation candidates.

“The site helps in showcasing all the good stuff that is going on in all the different areas,” Brown said. “Everybody that is doing great things — all the convention bureaus, chambers, arts and culture — this helps get it all in one place so people can really take a look.”

The website provides visitors with information on arts, culture and entertainment, community involvement opportunities, multicultural resources, neighborhood information, child-care options, education, sports, leisure and water activities, and weather and travel information.

Additionally, the site includes a job board that lists current opportunities from all its member organizations. All member positions are compiled so that job seekers can easily go from researching the area to applying for an open position without leaving the website.

HWM also uses Career Builder as an aggregator and is able to send emails directly to anyone using the job site that indicates a willingness to relocate to West Michigan.

“It allows us to send emails daily to people who have said that they would relocate to the West Michigan or Michigan area,” Brown said. “We can filter and reach out to those people and say, ‘Have you ever looked at West Michigan as an opportunity and as a place to live? Here are our jobs that we have available.’ It is creating a lot of awareness.”

Two key demographics that HWM hopes to reach are soon-to-be and recent college graduates and former West Michigan residents who have left the region but might be interested in returning.

To help attract college students, the organization partners with colleges and other educational groups to reach out to students and share the professional and personal opportunities West Michigan has to offer.

The day the Grand Rapids Business Journal spoke with Brown, she was getting ready to spend the afternoon with a group of soon-to-graduate Western Michigan University engineering students on a tour of regional job opportunities. Her mission was to help the students see the potential the area could offer them.

“Whatever we can do to help promote the area, we are going to get involved with, whether it is partnering with the MEDC, The Right Place or others, or partnering directly with the colleges and universities from out of the area. We are going to be there to help sell the area.”

HWM also works with its member companies to develop meaningful internship opportunities. Brown pointed out there are 70,000 students each year attending college or university in the West Michigan area. Internship programs benefit both the employer and the students by providing the experience necessary to land and fill jobs in the community.

Employers have come to recognize that a key factor in keeping new recruits is making sure their significant other also finds his or her place within the community. HWM provides them with services to help them acclimate to the community.

“The candidate is going to have their friends — they are going to get that network, but what about that trailing significant other? They don’t have that set of resources right away.”

HWM provides a contact form for spouses on its homepage. The form allows the organization to connect each person with the resources they are looking for, whether it’s job opportunities, volunteer options or even hobbies.

“We also have some training and sessions for the trailing significant other,” Brown said. “We had sessions last year where there were networking opportunities (and) they could network with our recruiters. We had one on résumé writing, one with a panel of people talking about how to network in West Michigan, different events to attend and other things.”

Brown said challenges remain. She mentioned one example everyone can help to remedy: Stop complaining about Michigan winters!

“If we see a new person that comes to the area and maybe we see a California license, we say, ‘Oh, my gosh, have you been through a winter?’ … We’ve all done it. If we showcase all the positives (instead) … we are here, we all have a reason why we are here and staying.”

Another challenge the organization is working on is to make interested job seekers aware the region doesn’t just have one isolated opportunity but rather a plethora of companies within an expanse of industries all full of jobs and advancement potential.

“It’s not, ‘If I get recruited over here and I don’t like it, I have to leave,’” Brown said. “There are a lot of different employers here industry-wise as well as out of their industry — maybe the same skill sets that they are looking for — so you can continue to have a great career here. And that is what we are working toward.”

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