Talent pool? Business leaders discuss hiring

Leaders from a wide cross section of Asheville businesses discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the region’s talent pool at a panel discussion Wednesday hosted by Leadership Asheville.

The panel was the third and final event from Leadership Asheville’s “Buzz Summer Breakfast Series,” and featured representatives from skincare brand CoCoChi (maker of SkinFare), key card manufacturer PLI, IT provider Epsilon Inc. and the NOAA National Climatic Data Center. Topics included innovation, rewarding achievement and hiring.

Peter Krauss, chief sales and marketing officer at PLI, said as their business has grown exponentially, his company has had a harder time finding the right talent in Asheville. He said in the last year and a half alone, PLI has hired 100 new people, bringing their total number of employees to 310.

“We’re looking for hungry, assertive people,” said Krauss, adding that they had begun looking outside of Asheville to fill some positions. “As more of us [medium- to big-size businesses] grow, the talent pool has thinned. … I think that is a challenge.”

Eric Oelschlaeger, president of Epsilon Inc., noted that people are “willing to relocate to Asheville,” but that he’d also run into the same challenge hiring locally. Since 2009, Epsilon has grown to employ about 90 people countrywide.

Oelschlaeger said he looks to bring in people from different backgrounds when recruiting, noting a lot of good ideas had come from his administrative staff. He described them as “your usual Asheville English-major types,” eliciting laughter from the crowd of about 100. Oelschlaeger quickly added that he, too, had been an English major, as had fellow panelist Kara Errikson, CEO of CocoChi skincare products.

Errikson said her small business had only been going for two years, so she’s still in the startup phase. Yet she believes that which sector a business is in influences its perception of the market here. She said Asheville has a wealth of talent in the form of holistic practitioners, farmers and its agricultural community. This makes it easier for a company like hers, which makes organic skincare products in biodegradable packaging.

“We’re not hiring; we’re collaborating,” said Errikson of her partnerships with like-minded businesses. 

Another panelist, Climatologist Karsten Shein of the NOAA National Climatic Data Center, said working for the federal government, he had relatively little say in hiring decisions — most hiring is done through Virginia using the online system USAjobs.gov. However, Shein said the data center’s location in Asheville has fostered a diverse talent pool of meteorologists and IT professionals.

“If you want to start a weather business, you want to be here,” said Shein. He noted that partnering with higher education institutions like UNCA had resulted in finding local talent to fill jobs.

Krauss reiterated that PLI had been in Asheville for 25 years and appreciated the “homegrown business” environment Asheville fosters. However, Krauss added, “not all medium- and big-size businesses are bad and we need to embrace them.” He said this will in turn attract more diverse businesses to the region and more jobs.


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3 thoughts on “Talent pool? Business leaders discuss hiring

  1. Lamont Cranston

    It’s time to put away our false beliefs that those that have been unemployed for over a year or more aren’t good workers as well as the big fat myth about workers over 50 years of age. It appears that many reports show that those over 50 make for better employees and also mentor and nurture those who are already employed and younger. Older workers have a mature work ethic and also work harder a their jobs due to their maturity of having been in the workforce many years already. They also do not cost employes more for health care issues as that has been debunked as well. Big deal if it takes a day, or a week to bring those that have been out of work in their field back up to speed… It’s not like they never knew that material or procedures or concepts ever before.

    There are plenty of workers here in and around Asheville waiting for employment, it’s just those with the ignorance of the facts are the ones that are in the way, and are the ones that are lacking professional skills to understand the facts and also are the ones that do the bulk of the hiring as well.

  2. Big Al

    Employers want young workers willing to work for entry-level wages, which most 50-year-olds will not accept, and for those positions more appropriate for older, experienced workers, they want recent work experience. It is not ignorance, just the market trying to get its’ moneys’ worth. That’s Capitalism, baby. If you don’t like it, move to Cuba (or hang around here for about 20 more years, the Socialist Worker’s Paradise is just around the corner).

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