If a company is only as excellent and innovative as its people, then finding the best people, attracting them, and keeping them happy should be among your top priorities. Ask any state about their talent, and they’re likely to tell you that they’re home to the best of the best. They’re biased, of course, and may also be wrong.
If you’re expanding or relocating your company, you will want to seek satisfying answers to these seven questions. They will help you determine if a place is not only ripe with talent but primed to keep producing and engaging it. For a best-in-class example of this, let’s take a look at what’s being done around talent in our nation’s smallest state: Rhode Island.
What are the statewide education initiatives like? Look closely at what a state is doing to educate its youngest residents — as they will be vital to your company’s future. Rhode Island has become the fourth state in the nation to make community college free, and Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) is among the most comprehensive statewide computer science initiatives in the country. Further, its Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) initiative forges long-term partnerships between high schools, colleges, industry associations, and businesses.
What’s the existing college and university footprint? You want to look not only at the quality and quantity of college-level institutions inside a state, but at those within driving distance. Rhode Island companies will choose their next hires from the more than 100,000 students graduating from colleges and universities within an hour drive of Providence. While quick and easy access to both Boston and New York further expands the state’s world-class talent network, local companies also draw heavily upon the eleven world-class colleges and universities packed into state, including Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, Johnson & Wales University, Bryant University, and the University of Rhode Island. In speaking about his talent pipeline, David Osborne, CEO of Virgin Pulse, which opened its global headquarters in Providence last year, has said, “There’s great talent here. We have a front row recruiting seat.”
Are there talent retention incentives? Beyond growing great talent, a state needs to put in the work to make sure it sticks around. Look for the existence of programs like Rhode Island’s Wavemaker Fellowship, which awards graduates working in STEM and design jobs in Rhode Island with a refundable tax credit that can cover student loan payments up to $6,000 per year for up to four years.
Have innovation-sparking investments been made? As home of the Industrial Revolution, innovation is baked into the DNA of Rhode Island, but what’s more important is that the state is still actively cultivating creativity. To turn academic research into new commercial products, businesses and jobs, it is uniting academia and industry on the Innovation Campus now being built with the University of Rhode Island. Additionally, Rhode Island’s Innovation Voucher program allows companies with fewer than 500 employees to receive grants of up to $50,000 to fund R&D assistance from a local university, research center or medical center, and its Industry Cluster Grants encourage companies in a sector to work together to solve problems, exchange ideas and develop talent.
How’s quality of life? In any state, look for the qualities that your employees will be seeking outside of their work lives—for example, affordable homes, natural resources, buzzing energy and cultural breadth. Joe Gebbia, cofounder of Airbnb, recently said, “The culture of Rhode Island is one that’s ripe to attract companies like ours, and part of that is [because of] the talent pool.” Named “America’s coolest city” by GQ, Providence has proven to be especially attractive to millennials.
Is its wealth of talent old news? When companies flock to trending American cities, the talent pool in those cities inevitably grows shallower. Instead of the usual suspects, look at those states where talent hasn’t yet been oversampled. Steve Wrenn, Johnson & Johnson’s global vice president, calls Providence an “unknown gem.” The company has opened a technology center in the state’s capital city.
Is there a buddy system? Finally, look for opportunities for your company to enjoy ongoing collaboration with a state’s local chambers of commerce, its educators and its institutions, and both the startups and companies that have called it home for generations. When you’re the new kid in town and looking to build a strong talent pipeline, the value of being able to quickly forge mutually beneficial partnerships and connections cannot be overstated.