Talking Talent with HTIFebruary 14, 2019
Nearly two decades ago, Herb Dew, CEO of Human Technologies, Inc., started a company with the hope of creating an “all-encompassing, holistic solution to labor management.” In the years since, Dew has seen Greenville-based HTI grow into a 14-office, mid-sized firm providing professional services across the Southeast and Midwest. As part of our #TeamUpstate storytelling, he recently reflected on the role HTI plays as an Alliance investor and a member of the area’s thriving business community.
On the Upstate’s strengths:
“One of the most attractive features of our region is we’re really investing in and understanding the need for skilled people in both professional as well as industrial and skilled-trade positions across multiple sectors. That sets us apart from other markets across the Southeast especially.
Our region’s collaborations with the technical college system and Clemson University underscore this. We recognize that there is a labor shortage, an acute one, but we’re doing more than asking what to do. The Upstate is getting in front of this problem, so it doesn’t hinder our ability to attract growth.
Every region HTI serves faces this same issue, every industry and level of position. Medical, manufacturing, skilled hourly, degreed engineers, warehouses looking for shipping and receiving. Each company is seeking a more highly trained candidate with skills that are more modern and highly technical. Pushing that down into the public-school system, designing an ongoing solution that provides consistent, work-ready labor force keeps us out in front of our competitors.
HTI works in nine states, and in each one we hear complaints about labor shortages. The Upstate, however, is pairing technical colleges, economic developers and public schools to actively do something about it. Apprenticeship programs, for instance, aren’t happening in many of the other states we serve, and our region is incentivizing them.
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, I was supporting a facility recently and met someone from the city’s chamber. He told me he’d recently been to Greenville to study our economic model. It felt wonderful – but it wasn’t surprising – to hear other regions want to emulate us. Areas of similar size see what’s happening here and ask, ‘How are they making it work?’”
On the universal need for qualified labor:
“Any time a company is looking to come to the Upstate, after they get through site decisions and tax credits, very quickly the choice comes down to finding the right people to be successful in this location. That’s our wheelhouse at HTI. It’s not unusual for economic development groups like the Alliance to seek our input or involvement when helping businesses compare us to another location.
It thrills us to be a part of that. Whatever industry comes in, labor is going to factor into their discussion. It’s a natural part of the process, and having a hand in providing solutions for them is quite fulfilling. We want to do our part to win business and grow the economy of our area.”
On the power of the middle market:
“Sixty-five percent of our revenue comes from small or medium-sized companies. Everyone hears about bigger names, but let me tell you that most job growth over the last decade has been from a small company becoming a mid-sized firm, or becoming a larger mid-sized firm. Typically, the businesses needing the most help to grow are those in that classification.
Economic development wins that make the newspaper are usually big names coming from abroad, but we believe serving the companies that are already here and providing them the expertise and infrastructure to grow is every bit as powerful. A small business needs a hand getting the labor required to take the next step, and that’s where we come in. Happily.
I am passionate about mid-sized companies in particular because I find they’re open to new ideas, which is exciting. The Upstate is attractive to that kind of company; we have a large market share that is in the range of 200 to 500 employees.
We certainly work with and applaud marquee names. I think big companies are sexy because they give the Upstate a name other companies recognize. That’s worth celebrating. Big companies drive other small and mid-sized vendors who plant themselves nearby, and those numbers add up for our region in investment and jobs.
I also love that a number of great ideas have come from our region and grown a small business into a mid-sized one. Southern Tide has a wonderful story. And Kentwool, with facilities in downtown Greenville and Pickens County, makes the world’s most popular golf sock.
I say we should celebrate them all, whatever a business’ size may be. What’s alluring about this region is that marquee names and entrepreneurs alike feel that the Upstate makes a good home.”
On what makes the Upstate balanced and beguiling:
“What we have here, which I don’t see in my travels elsewhere, is a strong sense of balance. We attract people wanting to raise families, those retiring, a small business hoping to spark growth, a mid-sized scaling to becoming something larger. You can stay right here in Greenville and do that start to finish. We have the resources, both human and natural, to draw people and businesses in and give them just what they need.
I’m privileged to serve in more than a dozen markets, and I can say with confidence that what we have is what everyone else wants to have. That’s why they look at us, why the Upstate’s name comes up when I’m in Illinois or Oklahoma. There’s strong infrastructure, quality education, vibrant downtowns, affordable housing; you can live all across the Upstate and be fulfilled professionally and personally.”
On redefining the Upstate’s economy:
“Our area was a textile-centric region for years, and as that went off-shore, we lost our center of gravity for manufacturing. The Upstate was scrappy, though. We fought back, reinvented and adjusted.
We’re doing that even now with our automotive sector. It’s a strength of ours, but it is critical not to be dependent on any one industry. We’re attracting Arthrex, medical companies, other industries. We’re getting a full picture of what brings a company here, not because vertically they like an industry we niche into. The Upstate is presenting itself as a strong choice regardless of what sector you’re in.
Although not native to this region, I have watched this area for 35 years. I am honored and proud to see that evolution, where the Upstate lifted itself, pulled together and reinvented who we are to be successful long term.”
On staying fresh and keeping in touch with the market:
“Constantly changing and reinventing isn’t exclusive to regions. As professionals, we need to do the same to provide our clients the very best. Part of my weekly schedule still includes sitting down with people, talking about their job goals.
I want to stay fresh and not lose sight – I don’t want to be a CEO who forgets what it’s like to find a job. That’s the core of what I do, and staying connected allows me to continuing doing it well. There’s tremendous satisfaction in sitting down with someone coming out of high school or college and discerning what their direction is. It’s a ground-floor view of the next generation of our workforce.”
On what comes next for businesses seeking top talent:
“One thing I’ve been really paying attention to is the younger workforce. What drives workers who are 22 to 35? I find they want to feel connected to their company’s mission. They want to connect home and work more than their parents did, and this is where small to mid-sized firms have a real advantage. They can really be involved in the community, create a culture of connectedness. Larger companies have more layers, and this can make it more challenging to define what you stand for as a company.
In this labor market, becoming a company people want to go work for requires more than money or titles, particularly for this generation. Baby boomers have been loyal and may have stayed for 35 years, their children may have been motivated by money or materialism, staying put if you paid them well, but this generation cares about time off, community involvement and a holistic mission.
If you’re a smart company, you’re looking at that and asking, ‘How can we be a company that connects to this current workforce?’ Mid-sized companies in particular are jumping at this differentiator, providing flex hours, charitable hour exchanges, anything to connect their business to that mindset. It comes down to talent retention, and it’s well worth the effort.
Once you attract your ideal candidate, this generation can be very loyal and unlikely to leave if you connect with them. Authenticity and a well-defined mission make that happen.
More than anywhere else I’ve traveled, I find the young professionals in the Upstate to be deeply driven and connected to their community. The PULSE organization in particular is the best of its kind in any city I do business in. I was a mentor for several years, and I found their meetings to be highly attended and effective; it demonstrates the energy of younger workers.
In the years to come, we’ll see young leaders continue to emerge across the Upstate, and our smartest companies will be working hard to retain and develop them. Our community is doing that well, far better than other Southeastern regions of our size.”
On growing the Upstate economy collaboratively:
“We have so many things going on that we’re doing well and collaborating to do them just makes sense. If you grow the Upstate 10 percent, everyone benefits. Education, tax revenues, medical care, manufacturing jobs, the service sector – everyone.
If the community understands that we’re shooting for growth and aiming to be unselfish in that intent, everyone is going to benefit. It’s a win all around, and it feels like we understand that quite well.”