“It’s all about lifestyle and quality of life,” Jessica Nelson says about attracting millennials to work in the Kansas City area. She’s managing director of TeamKC: Life+Talent, an initiative that acts as a collaborative recruitment tool to expose out-of-town recruits to the benefits of living and working in this area. Nelson has an office at Union Station; the gift box on the left was created by Made in KC and is placed in hotel rooms for recruits. Allison Long | along@kcstar.com

TeamKC initiative works to attract young professionals to the area

The Power & Light District draws crowds for big sporting events, and it attracts millennials thinking about moving to Kansas City, according to the folks at TeamKC. File photo by Allison Long | along@kcstar.com
Our streetcar is a big draw for younger workers trying to decide whether to take jobs in Kansas City. File photo by Keith Myers | kmyers@kcstar.com

Advanced materials engineer Diane McLendon was frankly nervous about taking a job in Olathe.

She was living in Boulder, Colo., loving the mountains, the foodie culture, the healthy outdoor lifestyle.

“Thinking about Kansas…” she trailed off, making it clear that relocating to the Kansas City area was going to be a tough sale.

But after successful recruitment by Garmin, McLendon is settled with her family in Lenexa. They’re in a house they couldn’t have afforded in Boulder, enjoying a friendly neighborhood. Her husband has found mountain biking opportunities in the area, and she’s relishing a 15-minute commute instead of her former 75-minute route to work.

Credit partly goes to TeamKC: Life+Talent, an initiative of the Kansas City Area Development Council.

The area’s economic development team, along with companies in hot competition for young professional talent, have a collaborative recruitment tool that exposes out-of-town recruits to anything they could possibly want to know about the area’s business, cultural and economic assets.

“It’s all about lifestyle and quality of life,” said Jessica Nelson, managing director of TeamKC, who works with about 250 corporate members of KCADC, to “tell the real Kansas City story.”

That story has been convincing. Not only do corporate recruiters think they’re winning more recruits, they say those who move here are more likely to plant roots.

“Kansas City just doesn’t promote itself enough,” McLendon said recently. “Even if I were to leave Garmin, I’d try my hardest to stay here.”

McLendon personifies the challenges and opportunities in recruiting millennial workers to move to the Kansas City area. No mountains. No oceans. And plenty of flat cowtown misperceptions can make it hard to persuade sought-after talent to move from the coasts or major cities.

But Kansas City has been listed on several national “best of” or “hot” city lists in recent months. That’s helping spread the word among young professionals, Nelson said, but “telling our story is more important than ever because we’re competing with other great cities.”

Garmin is among dozens of area organizations that use the TeamKC public relations package and then dig deeper to find what truly drives decisions by the millennial generation, the age group that one day will lead the area’s business community, said Garmin’s senior technical recruiter Michelle Cormack.

“A lot (of recruits) may not know about all the living options in the area or that we’re as cool as we really are,” Cormack said. “But it really comes down to finding out what each candidate needs.”

Carolyn Walters, director of talent acquisition at H&R Block, said that inquiry is crucial.

“We listen to what’s important to a candidate,” Walters said. “If they’re sports fans, we highlight the teams. We can talk about entertainment, restaurants, whatever their interests,” using copious information compiled by TeamKC that’s then customized to the candidate.

Why all the bother?

It’s expensive for companies to move new hires to the area from elsewhere, so they don’t want to make a mistake. That’s why companies using TeamKC send prepared resources, such as the KC Options magazine, and cost-of-living comparisons (a Kansas City plus) to job candidates. They also provide a “trailing spouse” or significant other with job-hunting resources.

“You have to please the spouse,” Garmin’s Carmack emphasized. “Relocation often isn’t just a one-person decision.”

Amen to that, said Regan Carrizales, who in 2015 founded a company, Locale, that helps client companies sell the Kansas City area to recruits.

Part of Locale’s service takes recruits and their spouses, if applicable, on a tailor-designed windshield tour of the area.

“You can tell by whoever sits in the front seat with me who is driving the decision,” Carrizales said. “It’s not always the candidate.”

Carrizales started offering her tours in connection with the TeamKC initiative when she repeatedly heard from corporate recruiters that candidates from out of town “couldn’t wrap their heads around what life would be like in Kansas City.”

Her customized tours, almost always paid for by her client companies, are designed in response to questionnaires to learn about recruits’ lifestyle interests and concerns.

“I will admit that we’re not without problems here, but after going to school and living on the East Coast, I found the life I aspired to back here in my hometown,” Carrizales said. “I want to find out what resonates with (the recruits), whether it’s the arts and culture scene, the quality of life, the cost of living. And I can tell them, ‘You can choose your personal life here.’ ”

After giving Locale tours for AMC Theatres, Cerner, Hallmark Cards, UMB Bank, Children’s Mercy Hospital & Clinics, Russell Stover Candies, HCA Midwest Health and Henderson Engineers, Carrizales said she’s accumulated a list of most-frequent questions or responses from millennial recruits, especially those from the coasts:

Do you have Uber here? Are rents really that low? Could I really buy that house for that? Is this really rush hour? Where is the traffic?

“They can’t believe we have so many living options and that they can be anywhere in the metro area in half an hour,” Carrizales said.

“People are interested in our way of life as much as the job,” said Abby Ventrillo, associate director of technical recruiting at the Kansas City-based advertising and marketing firm of VML. “If we have someone interested in snowshoeing, or kayaking, or being close to farmers’ markets or good coffee, we help them find those resources.”

Typically, though, “cost of of living is a big win for us,” Ventrillo said. “We show that you can get a lot more for your money.”

Matt Smith, who moved to Prairie Village from Las Vegas to join VML last year, said getting value for the money was good. More important, though, was relocating his young family to a city that seemed like “a big town with a small town feel” and plenty of friendly people.

“I also read a lot of the research about Kansas City and its resurrection over the last 10 years,” said Smith, an account supervisor who represents Wendy’s restaurants. “I wanted to be a part of that movement,” citing VML’s growing reputation in the national advertising world.

VML recruiter Ventrillo and other corporate recruiters who have joined the TeamKC advisory board said the collaborative recruiting efforts have produced an interesting dynamic that they don’t see duplicated in any other metro area.

“Even though we’re competing with each other for talent — and even stealing that talent from each other — we win as a city,” Ventrillo said. “We get the talent here, and by showing that there are other forward-thinking companies here, the talent wins, too. They see that even if the initial job doesn’t work out, they have other good places to go in Kansas City. Keeping them here is part of the deal, too.”

It also helps to be honest in the recruitment. Garmin, for example, now sends ice scrapers to new hires who move from places that don’t usually get snow or ice. It’s a small, amusing gesture to ease relocations so that others won’t have to scrape windshields with a credit card, as one recruit was seen doing.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford