One aspect of a city’s economic development strategy is local employment. In particular, local employers must be able to grow their employee base as business success necessitates.
In the technology industry, a significant segment of the employee base has a professional background, and specifically technical expertise. Thus, finding the employee with the right combination of technical skills and soft skills can be a challenge. When presented with a job requisition, I have observed that corporate recruiters begin by exhausting their own network before approaching alternate resources (e.g. job boards, third-party recruiters, etc.) The reason is that candidates sourced from an existing network often results in better quality (not to mention faster and less costly) placements. In fact, based upon this phenomena, many employers have established referral programs that incentivize their own employees to make recommendations from their respective professional networks. After all, employees are generally excellent judges of a potential coworker’s technical skill, and furthermore would not recommend someone who couldn’t pull their own weight or was difficult to work with. Thus, corporate recruiting efforts benefit from well-networked employees.
In the Door64 community here in Austin, many human resource managers have encouraged employees to participate so that the effective hiring network reach for the entire company expands. It’s a win-win scenario: each technology professional builds his/her own network of local colleagues which provides additional career security, and the company gains a premium qualified referral base for hiring the best talent.
Cities should encourage the creation of grass-roots niche communities so as to foster these professional networks so local businesses can efficiently find the talent they need to succeed.
Intrinsically I think we understand the value a community can bring to its own members. Can certain communities also create value to the greater region in which they reside?
Here in Austin, Texas, the Door64 community creates value for its members. However, while growing this community, I realized it also substantially benefits our city and state from an economic development perspective. Economic development is often concerned with employment, local retention, and entrepreneurial growth; the Door64 community happens to address all three:
Employment: Networking is arguably one of the best methods to navigate ones career, and even gain some semblance of security in uncertain times. Communities naturally help people of like background or interest congregate, and in the case of Door64, we attract professionals of similar high-tech expertise & employment backgrounds. Providing opportunities for networking within the community allows predictably unpredictable introductions and interactions to occur, yielding new career opportunities for engaged members.
Local Retention: When individuals are isolated or without connections in the geographic area where they reside, they may feel unattached to it. However, as members of a community interact with other members, personal connections are developed. In the Door64 community, because we are focused on Central Texas, the vast majority of our membership is geographically concentrated. Most online connections fostered are local, and thus over time growing the network enables members to feel more tied to our area. When considering relocation, realizing there is a professional network to be left behind is a compelling reason to stay.
Entrepreneurial Growth: Since communities often bring together people of like backgrounds, interests, or expertise, there is potential for organic collaboration. Moreover, when a community possesses a significant local presence, there is greater likelihood that members will meet in person and talk shop about their common interests and ideas. This kind of interaction is conducive to entrepreneurship. With the Door64 community, in the past couple months I observed a group of technology professionals form spontaneously who were (a) unemployed, and (b) interested in doing something productive while not hitting the job search. Nicknamed the “Door64 Start-up Gang”, they decided to see how their various talents could be used together to create a product or service and generate some income.
As a community leader, understanding this value external to the community allows you to position it to make a greater impact where the members reside. Within geographic regions, encouraging and fostering communities that aggregate people of similar backgrounds (especially from an employment perspective) can uniquely and creatively address local economic development initiatives.