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.