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TeamKC helps Silicon Prairie attract top talent

Nearly 5,000 interns are part of InternKC

Selling Silicon Prairie

There’s a war for tech talent and hiring can be particularly difficult for smaller cities. But Kansas City tech recruiters have a leg up on some other cities of their size. TeamKC, a private nonprofit, works to attract companies and people to the two-state region of Kansas City with incredible perks and a lot of local charm.

Potential employees, especially millennials, “pick a city to live before they pick a job,” Jessica Nelson, the managing director of TeamKC, told us. The city’s tech companies, which includes Lexmark, Sprint, and Cerner, a healthcare IT company, know that the top tech talent they are vying for are receiving offers from Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley. Silicon Prairie might not be the first city that comes to mind when programmers and engineers are looking for a job, but TeamKC believes they can convince them to live there–and love it. Many of the 500 recruiters they work with agree.

“We have never stopped hiring for tech talent,” Jennifer Mehnert, Garmin’s HR manager told us. Garmin made 900 hires last year, 70% were in tech. A portion of those hires are former interns. With TeamKC’s help, the company’s interns get a taste of the city through various events and activities.

By the time their internships are finished, many interns are sold on the benefits of living in Kansas City and accept offers for full-time positions from Garmin, said Mehnert. It doesn’t hurt that Garmin offers employees cool perks like paying for pilot school and flight training.

The InternKC program is made up of nearly 5,000 interns from 60 area employers. With guidance and suggestions from the interns, TeamKC organizes events like this weekend’s Pub to Pitch– interns start at a local bar and are bussed to watch a Sporting Kansas City major league soccer game. InternKC is “essentially a recruiting strategy. All of these interns have an opportunity to explore the city,” said Nelson.

When Sungevity, a Oakland-based provider of residential solar, was looking for a Midwest or East Coast location, TeamKC helped convince them to choose Kansas City. Then TeamKC helped sell those Sungevity employees making the move from the West Coast on the advantages of Kansas City.

There was “a bit of Bay Area snobbery,” admitted Susan Hollingshead the chief people officer at Sungevity, who helped open and staff the Kansas City office. But after visiting, many employees found that there was better music (CrossroadsKC is a local favorite for outdoor music concerts), and plenty of restaurants and bars, thanks to TeamKC’s suggestions. “We call it the epiphany of the visit,” said Nelson.

“The town checks all the boxes that someone between 25-35 is looking for,” Hollingshead told us. It’s a very livable, affordable, urban city, she said. The city’s selling points help her staff her the Kansas City office, for which the company often hires entry level tech employees. It’s also helpful that the city is surrounded by universities like Kansas State University, University of Kansas, Park University, and University of Missouri, said Hollingshead. Many of her hires are recent grads.

Hollingshead calls the move “a very mutual success.”

For higher-level candidates, Nelson often assembles personalized packages of information and itineraries, which she relays to the recruiting companies. These packages might include a cost of living comparison. A job applicant coming from Manhattan (the one in New York, not Manhattan, KS) can expect an 80% decrease in housing costs, for example. If the applicant wants to check out the dining scene, Nelson might connect the company to Extra Virgin, a Mediterranean spot in the city helmed by a James Beard-award winning chef, or Char Bar a modern BBQ with outdoor games like Ping-Pong.

Nelson has also used her network to find knitting groups, soccer teams, and ethnic groceries, for would-be employees. Basically, her job includes anything that makes “sure Kansas City is the easiest part of the process,” she said.

Nelson is often called upon to help trailing spouses (those spouses coming to KC without a job) find opportunities. She’ll call on her network of local employers for help.

Although many companies here are competing for the same candidates, there’s a sense of comradery among the human resource teams, said Nelson. Helping to make Kansas City a tech center that candidates will flock to will help everyone.

“I think it’s really unique to Kansas City that collaborative mentality,” said Nelson. “I’m not sure you could do that in another city.”

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