Can Minnesota Lure Transplants To The State?

Can Minnesota Lure Transplants To The State?

Corporations, Greater MSP and individuals are deploying new strategies to entice recruits to build lives and careers in Minnesota.

It’s winter 11 months of the year.

You want me to move where?

Those are some of the responses that job recruiters hear when they first ask out-of-state talent to consider relocating to Minnesota.

Educating them about the state and the Twin Cities is fairly easy. Recruiters can rattle off a litany of things that make Minnesota a great place to live and work: 16 Fortune 500 companies, a vibrant technology sector, a strong economy, top-notch schools, well-run cities, relatively easy commutes, clean air and water, professional sports teams with new stadiums, a thriving arts, entertainment and restaurant scene, and loads of year-’round outdoor activities.

Companies and recruiters must also work to understand the things that make life difficult in a candidate’s current location, and demonstrate how living in Minnesota could help solve those problems, according to Brian Carlson, president of Minneapolis executive search and staffing firm Ambrion.

The Twin Cities offer “huge quality-of-life opportunities” to recruits from the East and West coasts who are accustomed to smaller and more expensive homes, long commutes, dirty air, and spending exorbitant amounts for entertainment and the arts, adds Libby Doran, a principal of the LymanDoran executive search and consulting firm in Minneapolis.

“You regain a whole lot of time,” Doran says. “You gain more space in where you can live. You gain easier access to cultural activities.”

If the job is attractive enough, the weather may not even be much of a deterrent, especially for younger workers looking for career advancement and adventure. ThreeBridge Solutions, Minneapolis, brings younger workers in as consultants to Fortune 500 companies. They are drawn to the possibility of moving among Target, 3M or Medtronic for six-month or one-year stints, according to Charlie Anderson, ThreeBridge chief marketing officer.

“They see consulting as kind of an MBA that you get paid for,” Anderson says. “The variety and challenge of changing clients is good for them, attractive to them.”

Libby Doran, LymanDoran
Charlie Anderson, ThreeBridge Solutions

For older workers, change may not seem as exciting, or even worthwhile. The issues that might hamper relocating anywhere come into play, such as finding a job for a spouse or partner, having high-school-age children who balk at moving, or needing to stay in place to care for aging parents.

“The family dynamic comes into play because it’s not just the person making the decision for themselves. It’s for their entire family,” says Steve Yakesh, executive vice president of Versique Search & Consulting, St. Louis Park. “There’s a lot more research and education that needs to go into the process to make sure that they’re comfortable and that it’s the right decision for the family.”

Making relocations work for spouses

Helping spouses or partners make connections, whether for work or social reasons, can be crucial to recruitment and retention. Minnesota must succeed at both in order to fill the projected 100,000 jobs that will open up by 2020 due to baby boomer retirements and a robust economy.

Network Careers, Minneapolis, helps relocating spouses build a professional network in the Twin Cities after recruits accept jobs with major employers such as Cargill, Ecolab, General Mills, Land O’ Lakes and Target.

“My clients understand that if the spouse doesn’t get engaged, then their new hire isn’t going to stay,” says Network Careers principal and owner Moira Grosbard, who combined her professional experience as a human resources/management development professional with her personal experience of having moved here as the spouse of a relocating executive.

“Coming here is particularly hard because the locals don’t need new friends, and it can be extremely hard and isolating to be the spouse,” she adds. “If you pay attention to the partner, significant other, spouse—whoever is attached to the recruit you hire—you’re going to increase the odds of retaining that talent.”

The internet has improved matters for relocating spouses to look for work or keep their old job and work remotely, but the latter group may not consider how isolating it is to work in their new basement without a professional network.

“They don’t have contacts,” Grosbard says. “They need those person-to-person contacts.” Even after they land a job, many newcomers have a hard time making friends with native Minnesotans. Call it Minnesota (N)ice or even the Land of 10,000 Fakes. They smile and nod, but never follow through with an invitation to the cabin, even after describing another fabulous weekend up at the lake.

It’s not that Minnesotans aren’t actually nice. Those who were born and raised here just don’t need new social relationships, explains Bill Dubbs, president of Williams Executive Search in Bloomington.

“People here have their high school and college friends and their church friends and neighbors,” adds Janice Guler, vice president of talent acquisition for U.S. Bank and herself a transplant. “At times, it’s hard to fit in, so you really have to be outgoing and make those connections and put in an effort, whereas in some cities it might not be as hard.”

Diverse newcomers

As difficult as it is for white professionals and spouses to make new connections in the Twin Cities, it’s even harder for people of color. Sixty percent of diverse transplants who participated in focus groups organized by economic development organization Greater MSP last year indicated they planned to leave in the next three to five years. A more recent survey of 1,200 professionals of color revealed that lack of diversity and cultural awareness are spurring their planned departures.

In partnership with the Bush Foundation and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater MSP has spent a couple of years researching the Twin Cities’ looming lack of workers.

Last year, Greater MSP launched Make It. MSP, which attracted more than 100 organizations to its mission of making the Twin Cities a friendlier place for transplants. In February 2016, Make It. MSP joined the Saint Paul Hello team, Knight Foundation, Minnesota History Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to launch an effort called MSP Hello. This initiative is designed to increase Make It. MSP’s online presence, hold quarterly “welcome events” and create guides and toolkits for newcomers.

Melanie Allen, Welcome Matters

Doran, Grosbard, and Melanie Allen, president of Welcome Matters, Edina, volunteer with Greater MSP’s recruiting and retention efforts. Allen’s company contracts with employers to help diverse candidates and their families—pre-placement but post-job-offer—make connections to establish personal networks in the Twin Cities.

Someone from Welcome Matters accompanies the job candidate and/or their spouse and introduces them to people in the organizations that matter most to them, such as a house of worship, alumni society, trade organization or social group. Allen, who is African-American, describes the service as the warm hug that follows the firm handshake of the job offer and often helps seal the deal.

“We come up next to the company and we offer the hug and we say, ‘It’s going to be OK. We’ll walk through this journey with you,’” she says. “You can just hear the sigh in their voice over the phone. The last guy I worked with was like, ‘Ah, my wife is going to be so glad.’ ”

Transplants of all ethnicities and cultures have difficulty fitting in and committing to Tier 2 cities, according to Allen, who is also an environmental health and safety consultant. The East Texas native relocated to the Twin Cities to work for 3M, and met her husband, a Cargill employee. Each was on their third move for work. Aside from their relationship, social connections here just didn’t gel for the couple.

“We were both like, ‘I love you, let’s run away,’ ” Allen says. “We got engaged and we moved to Philly.”

He was from Philadelphia, but she hated it. They returned to the Twin Cities in 2001, vowing to work harder at making friends and getting involved in the community. They helped found a church in North Minneapolis, and became active with local chapters of multiple organizations. Their friends, however, continued to leave. Allen vowed to put the systematic approach she used in industrial occupational safety to work giving transplants of color reasons to stay.

“There’s no secret, confidential stuff to it,” Allen says. “It’s just about being very intentional and looking at the acclimation process objectively.”

Inclusive corporate cultures

All the hand-holding in a transplant’s personal life isn’t going to keep them in the Twin Cities if the corporate culture is not inclusive and open to ideas from newcomers, Allen says. Corporations that invest a lot of money and time in their transplants may have to take a few more steps to promote retention.

Managers at U.S. Bank host team events to boost engagement. The bank also has business resource groups to help employees of different cultures feel like they belong, Guler says.

“The most important thing is we want people to stick,” she says. “We don’t want them to come here and be unhappy and leave after 18 months.”

Allen also recruits those whom she’s helped settle in the Twin Cities to become part of the solution.

“I have this welcome team of every persuasion, color, belief, origin, you name it, and because they’re typically transplants, they’re so sensitive to making it easy for other people,” she says. “They’re willing to tell their acclimation stories in their own vernacular.”

Relocation to the Twin Cities isn’t that difficult for everyone. Those who once lived here or have family here are more eager to relocate, recruiters say.

Kurt Rakos of SkyWater Search Partners, Minnetonka, says he recently relocated a successful couple who wanted to have children but didn’t want to raise them in New York City. They chose Minneapolis over Denver because the woman had family within driving distance in Iowa. Another professional who had relocated three or four times in his career chose the Twin Cities because he had enjoyed living here 15 years ago, Rakos says.

“We’re very careful about finding people who want to come to the Twin Cities for reasons other than work, such as family here, the Upper Midwest experience, a set of values that matches well here,” adds Doran. “That digs into understanding a candidate as a whole person, not just a professional, so it’s a little bit of matchmaking.”

The good news is transplants who make the right professional and personal connections usually make the Twin Cities their last relocation stop. The Twin Cities ranks No. 1 in retention among U.S. cities, notes Peter Frosch, vice president of strategic partnerships at Greater MSP. The American Community Survey data showed a net positive migration of 1,719 millennials to the Twin Cities in 2015.

“If we can improve by 500, that’s a massive scale improvement that’s going to show up in demographic data,” Frosch says. “We’re not trying to trick anybody. We’re just trying to get the word out to people about how great it is to be here.”

Nancy Crotti is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and editor.