West Michigan employers form Quaeris to attract and retain talent by improving area's image

By Sharon Hanks

A group of nearly 25 well-known local employers are re-thinking the way the West Michigan presents itself to young bright professionals and the top talent they hope to recruit in the future.

It's time, they believe, West Michigan gets more creative.

A wide range of companies headquartered in cities such as Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Grand Rapids are getting ready boost the region's image. Starting with an initial meeting set for Tuesday, Jan. 26 in Holland, they hope to work on creating a fresh, exciting and more accurate portrayal of what it's really like to live and work here.

Calling the effort "Quaeris"-- Latin for "to seek" -- the group wants to bring greater awareness of the region's diverse opportunities in employment, education, culture, lifestyle choices and overall community attractiveness, says Ann Harten, one of the organization's organizers and vice president of global information systems and human resources at Haworth Inc.  in Holland.

Employers are welcome to join the meeting at One Haworth Center at 4 p.m., but space is limited so registration is required by going to its website: www.hellowestmichigan.com.

Harten herself moved to West Michigan from Chicago about four years ago. "Once I got here, it became obvious that the region was not well presented," she recalls. "There are great chambers in the cities and economic development groups," but no lively campaign that presents the whole picture of life in West Michigan.

"It's important to note that this initiative has been under way for a couple of years," says Harten, calling the effort a "long-term strategic plan."

"About a month ago, we wondered if we should move forward with it," she says in acknowledging the thousands of professionals already struggling to find work in Michigan.

But leaders are optimistic that the economy will improve. When that time comes, the region's employers want to hit the ground running with an enticing marketing story to retain and attract top talent. "The candidates we're specifically targeting are those with higher skills, higher education," Harten says. "Those people have a lot of options as to where they live and work."

"The first question you'll want to answer is: 'Where is my spouse going to work'?" Harten says. "The second question is: 'If this doesn't work out, where will I be in five years'? The third question is: 'Where do my kids go to school and what are the higher education opportunities'?"

West Michigan's attractiveness is a big secret right now. "Everyone that I've had here to visit is always pleasantly surprised at the variety of what West Michigan has to offer," she adds.

Kevin Stotts, vice president of community leadership for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, is confident Quaeris "will change how West Michigan talks about West Michigan and how those outside the region view us. Everyone can play a part in putting our region on the map."

Among the backers of Quaeris are Spectrum Health, Amway, Meijer, Michigan State University Medical School, Perrigo, Priority Health, Trinity Health of West Michigan, Progressive AE, Herman Miller, Van Andel Institute, Varnum, Warner, Norcross & Judd and Wolverine World Wide.

Sources: Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce; Ann Harten, vice president of Haworth's global information systems and human resources in Holland.

Sharon Hanks is the innovation and jobs news editor at Rapid Growth Media. She can be reached at [email protected]

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