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Talking Talent Strategies with Mike Pennington

February 6, 2018

As a continuation of our work with the Global Cities Initiative, the Upstate Global Competitiveness Council (GCC) was formed in July 2017 to implement the strategies and tactics named in the Upstate Regional Export and Foreign-Direct Investment Plans. This area of work relies upon collaboration and communication between public and private sector investors and economic development stakeholders, with working groups led by private sector representatives. Through this Q&A series, we can learn more about these leaders and how their day jobs align with the GCC. 

Name: Mike Pennington
Job: Business Development Manager

Company: Young Office

Global Competitiveness Council Role: Talent Strategies Working Group Leader
Tell us a little about your background: I grew up in Greenville, attending Greenville High and The University of South Carolina. While a student, I worked as an equipment manager for the football team the last year of Lou Holtz and the first three years of Steve Spurrier. It was an incredible experience to learn the inner operations of a football team, travel with the team and witness the growth and evolution of the program.
I graduated in 2008 with a front row seat to the economic downturn. I went to work for my father, who owned a small concession food service business after school. The company also was hit hard by the recession and I was furloughed for about five months until the parks opened back up in the warmer season. At the time, we serviced one waterpark and a few ball park facilities. Fortunately, the county recreation department had plans to expand and we partnered to provide their concession operations. Over the next seven years, we grew the business from $250,000/year to over $1 million in sales with 85 part-time employees, serving five waterparks and a dozen baseball, soccer and community facilities. 
During that time, I joined the Greenville Chamber of Commerce’s young professional organization, Pulse and started to get involved in the business community. I served on the board and lead the organization in 2015, which hosted more than 50 events a year with a membership of over 750 young professionals. 
My father and I both knew that I wouldn’t be in food service forever, so in 2016, we put together a plan for me to transition out. I wanted to work in the business and real estate sector. My sister, Janell Pennington, with Find Great People, helped connect me to the business development position with Young Office. My primary role with Young Office is to build relationships with architecture and design firms, economic development organizations and commercial real estate professionals in the Upstate— a great fit for both my interests and community involvement. 
I think people would find it interesting to know how much time and energy go into designing a work environment. We take into consideration: sight lines, natural light, color patterns, company culture, work styles and habits, job flow, how far are you from coffee and bathrooms, visual and acoustic privacy. It’s a very complex process, and I had no idea until I joined the team. 

How long have you been in your current job? I have been with Young Office for one year. Prior, I operated Rhino Concessions for eight years. 
Why did you decide to become involved with the Global Competitiveness Council? I’ve never been one to sit on the sideline. Over the past year, I have really enjoyed getting to know the Upstate Alliance team and believe in their mission. I took interest in the GCC, specifically talent strategies, because of my background in the young professional community and feel I can help bridge a connection between the business community and our growing YP base.  
How does your job relate to the objectives of the Global Competitiveness Council?
With our current unemployment rate pushing under 4 percent, employers are battling for good talent. They are looking for next generation leaders to take their companies to new levels. Young Office works across the spectrum from small businesses to global manufacturers to design and furnish inspiring places to work, learn and heal. We understand the challenges companies have, and our team works closely with their leadership to implement new strategies for technology integration, employee engagement and talent attraction and retention. 
Studies show there is a direct correlation between workplace engagement and job satisfaction, but with four generations now in the workforce – many companies struggle to unite their employees – and old cubicle farms do more harm than good. But the open office layout is only as good as the ability for workers to focus and find privacy. We are space consultants and workplace advisors. 
In brief, what are the objectives of your area of work in the GCC? The Upstate is a great place to live, work, and play and the role of the Talent Strategies Working Group is to help build that reputation. Right now the group is working on developing content for a website that will be used to showcase what the region has to offer for professionals looking to relocate to the Upstate.
Why would you encourage others to become involved? I would encourage others to be involved in the Talent Strategies if they are interested in partnering with local businesses, building relationships, making the upstate a better place to not only work but live. We can’t sit on the sidelines just because #yeahTHATgreenville is ranked the fastest growing city east of the Mississippi. We are here today because of the vision and implementation of the generation before us. It’s our turn to step up and lead, or we will be left behind. We need to build on the success and foundation of our strong business friendly community, preserve our natural resources and grow thoughtfully. 
TOPICS: Existing Industry, Global Cities Initiative, Global Competitiveness, International