Retention, Recruitment and Investment

As a young, up-and-coming professional, I have learned that there are two types of networking events: events dominated by people my age and those by people older than me. At events where I am on the younger side of the crowd, older (as in anyone over 30) professionals often seem eager to share their pearls of wisdom and pass along a business card. It’s as if karma is telling them to give back for whatever career achievements they’ve happened upon; feeling lucky to be out of my position, they owe it to some higher power to offer me help wherever they can. People my age are less interested in hearing about my career objectives and more interested in finding someone who can land them a job in a year (unless this person is some single guy, because then he’s usually willing to chat for a bit and request a business card with contact information. Social reality: young professionals aren’t just looking for career opportunities).

Last night I found myself at an event that awkwardly landed in between. It attracted mostly fellow interns who cliqued together like middle school friends but was sprinkled with established professionals. Since I didn’t know anyone, I stayed away from guarded groups and gravitated toward outgoing individuals. However, these socially savvy attendees, while friendly enough, were really looking for business cards from those established professionals; I could see their eyes glaze over once I said that I’m an intern. But after finding a couple established professionals for myself, I realized I was probably not the type of person they wanted to talk to either.

You see, this event was hosted by a group called Fuel Milwaukee, a group for young professionals in the Milwaukee region. And I learned quickly that this group was excited to be working in the city. Events like this are meant to connect people who are living in the area, not for those eager to leave it. Thus, when people asked about my goals and I’d mention a career in the District or a one-way flight to Europe, it would create a little tension. Some people I talked to had lived in Milwaukee their entire lives, some relocated recently. But the underlying commonality was that everyone there was in Milwaukee for a job and building a social circle.

I’ve been accused of using this blog as a soapbox to project my desire to relocate to anywhere. While this accusation is likely warranted, don’t get me wrong: Milwaukee (especially downtown) is an exciting area with interesting people. For example, while at this event I met an MBA student who taught English in Ethiopia followed by a stint of freelance writing in the Middle East. He represents, in my opinion, the exact type of talent that the city should want to attract.

In light of this, I offer a marketing suggestion for Milwaukee: instead of focusing too much on retaining talent already here, increase focus on recruiting talent from elsewhere. I have found among my peers that my desire to leave home is not uncommon. So, don’t fight that tendency. Let students like me from Milwaukee move to wherever (should they want to), and convince people from wherever else that they should want to relocate to Milwaukee. In order to do this, Milwaukee and Wisconsin at-large need to make sure we are investing in the most supportive business climate possible –for Bucyrus, for Harley Davidson, for anyone really. Attracting businesses means creating jobs, which means attracting professionals from all over. And ultimately, with a thriving economy and enticing culture, students like me could be driven right back to Milwaukee or even persuaded to stay in the first place.

– lb


~ by Lindsay Bembenek on July 22, 2010.

One Response to “Retention, Recruitment and Investment”

  1. Great post, Lindsay.

    I do wonder, however, what sorts of changes would have to be made to create this business climate you speak of. Would more tax breaks be required? If this is the case, would these tax breaks lead to higher taxes in other areas, like income taxes and property taxes? As we all know too well, taxes have to come from somewhere. Should this be the reality of the situation, wouldn’t that actually drive some more cost savvy young professionals away? Oh economics…

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