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40 Under 40 Honorees on Recruiting and Retaining Talent

5 min read

How can businesses attract and retain employees? It’s one of the biggest questions that businesses across Arkansas face.

So at a luncheon June 11 in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas Business Editor Hunter Field and Publisher Mitch Bettis asked this year’s class of 40 Under 40 honorees for their thoughts on the matter.

A selection of their responses, edited for length and clarity, is below.

Steve Colley, founder & principal consultant, Waypoint College Consulting LLC

“I work with a lot of young professionals, college students, and one of the things that folks are looking for is not just a transaction with their future employer. They’re looking for an experience. And I think that experience comes with affordable housing, good school districts — you know, a place to experience festivals and culture and, you know, good urban amenities while also having the small-town feel that Arkansas provides.

The good thing is that Arkansas has a lot of this stuff, and we should leverage the strengths that Arkansas has, like it’s great outdoors, it’s tight-knit communities. But I think we can do a lot more investments to attract that type of talent, because I got a lot of friends that come to Arkansas and they say, ‘Gosh, this is a hidden gem.’ We need to stop making it a hidden gem and make it a beacon of prosperity for future young professionals.”

Gretchen Conger, chief of staff, Office of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders

“I would agree we have to attract more people to Arkansas, and certainly that’s something that under Gov. Sanders we’re extremely focused on. I think once we get ’em here, from an employer perspective, being innovative about the experience that you’re giving your employees, it’s not just about the paycheck. Of course that matters and it plays a huge part, but giving them other parts of that overall experience.

And one that comes to mind that we have started to model at the state level, is something we call families at work. Obviously, we know child care is very expensive. It’s often very difficult for young parents to go back to work and afford childcare at the same time. So we’ve explored having children come into the office, and I know it sounds kind of crazy, but it’s an incredible experience both for the parent and for the other employees in the office. And just thinking of how we can be more welcoming and allowing businesses to solve those problems on their own. I think innovative solutions are what is gonna help attract and retain those employees.”

Adam Curtwright, vice president, Centennial Bank

“I think it begins with positive leadership, a style of leadership that truly invest in its employees. Someone that pours into them, someone that shares with them the lessons that they learned to become leaders, and to get to the places that they’ve gotten. To share the stories — the good stories and the bad stories, as well. Teach them that their failures don’t define them, and give them the tools, the resources, and the opportunity to stand back up and try it again. If we do this and it takes root, I believe what happens is we develop a more positive and purpose-driven work culture where people outside start looking at what we’re doing and they say, ‘They’re doing that well,’ and they wanna be a part of it. And so I think that retention is the key thing there, and we let retention be our attraction.”

Will Davis, president of site services, David’s Burgers

“I am very thankful to work for a company that believes and wants their employees to be successful. I believe that it starts in the interview process. Whenever we can sit ’em down and we can tell them the expectations, so that whenever they’re coming in, they know exactly what to do. But also we get to explain to them why their role within the organization is so important. Once we get ’em in the door, I believe it’s being able to provide an atmosphere and a culture that they can get behind and really buy into. And it gets ’em excited every day. And also being able to see a group of people that buy into those same principles and values helps, too.”

Bo Diamond, co-founder & managing partner, Capital Partners

“So I’m a commercial real estate investor. We have fewer direct employees, so like every good politician, I’m going to pivot this question a little bit and talk about partnerships.

“People may know that our industry has experienced a little bit of a blip, due not in small part to what’s going on in the economy. But keeping partnerships together through downturns is incredibly challenging. It’s about communication. It is about doing what you said you were going to do despite outcomes, setting intentions up front and following through. And at the end of the day, ultimately doing what is right. Handshakes are often more powerful than contracts, although we do know that there are tons of lawyers in the room who can help us with those. They like a good contract.”

Derrick D. Dixon, assistant dean of student administration, NYITCOM at Arkansas State University

“So Arkansas is going through a phase of growth. There’s a lot of growth that’s happening. And then when you couple that with the fact that it’s a great place to start your career and work and bring your family, it’s really important that it creates an environment where people want to be a part of it. And so when you get those individuals in your organization, because we know that growth is prevalent, we gotta create an environment where we allow people to create and grow.

“And so how do we allow them to advance? Because when we give individuals space to have that ownership of ‘this is what I created and this is what I did to help support the organization,’ there’s a deeper level of commitment to that space. But with that also comes the responsibility as leaders to say, ‘We gotta give you a space to make mistakes.’ Because if we don’t give individuals a space to make mistakes, they’re not going to grow and they’re not gonna develop.

“And so with that mistake also comes the reality that they’re going to be able to take your organization to the next level because they’re gonna learn from that and they’re gonna be able to build and move through that challenge.”

Nichola Driver, associate professor & executive director of the Office of Field Service, UA Clinton School of Public Service

“Beyond your typical compensation and benefits, I think that employers should focus on two things to attract and retain a good workforce. The first thing is a focus on social responsibility. So I may be biased, but I spend my time with some amazing students, and whether it’s a focus on sustainability or DEI or public health, I think today’s young employees really want to know that they’re working for organizations that care about the world and wanna make a positive social impact.

“The second thing is to provide flexible work arrangements. I think that giving employees the ability to give their best at work, but also be able to give their best at home and in their personal lives and in their community, that really is the new ideal. It’s especially attractive to employees with families.”



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