Task force seeks to connect local employers, former hometown graduates

WILLMAR -- Like many Kandiyohi County employers, Torry Norling is always on the lookout for potential workers who grew up in the area, left town and are candidates for being lured back.

WILLMAR -- Like many Kandiyohi County employers, Torry Norling is always on the lookout for potential workers who grew up in the area, left town and are candidates for being lured back.

These people "have two great things going for them: They have the Midwestern work ethic and family ties that may help ground them here for the long term," said Norling, who is the human resources director for Life-Science Innovations and its affiliates.

The challenge: connecting them with local employers in search of workers.

A new project by the Bring Them Back Home task force of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission seeks to bridge this gap and bring "homers" and employers together.

The task force is developing a database of people who grew up in Kandiyohi County and are interested in moving back or have already moved back.


"As employers are looking for people, we have a special group of people that may meet their needs," said Bob Haines, task force co-chairman.

Task force members started collecting names this past year and have about 200 entries so far in the confidential database, which is being maintained by the Economic Development Commission.

Local employers are interested in any qualified new worker, regardless of where he or she grew up, Haines said.

Tapping into people's hometown connections, however, has been shown to be a particularly successful practice in numerous cities across the United States.

Often these people are more likely to consider moving back to their hometown, and they often do so permanently.

"We've seen many folks who, after going elsewhere for employment, have realized that they're missing out on a great quality of life here. So all that's left to do is match them up with the right job back here at home," Norling said.

Organizers believe the effort also can help showcase career opportunities that workers might otherwise not know existed -- particularly for positions that aren't widely advertised.

Another benefit: helping search out opportunities for spouses of workers moving to the area.


This is often a big challenge in recruiting two-career households to Kandiyohi County, Haines said. Indeed, at a focus group last year of local employers, it was identified as a key concern.

"One of their top issues was suitable employment for a spouse. We heard loud and clear it was a big issue," Haines said. "I think this project can help with that. It would be another route for people. It's another tool in the toolbox."

Organizers with the Bring Them Back Home task force have tackled several avenues to help build and expand their database.

At a reunion last year of what have been dubbed "homers," about 80 names were gathered. Organizers are hosting the second annual homer get-together on Thursday and hope to sign up more entries for the database.

Around 30 names were collected this summer at several class reunions, an effort that will be continued next year.

Graduates from 10, 20 and even 40 years ago are being targeted, said Cameron Macht of the Bring Them Back Home task force. "We're casting the widest net possible," he said.

The Bring Them Back Home task force also has a Web site hosted by the Economic Development Commission at , where former hometown residents can sign up online to join the database. The task force publishes a quarterly newsletter, "Closer to Home," as well.

By next year, the task force hopes the registry of names will be large enough to begin promoting to area employers as a source of qualified workers. Task force members believe it will be especially valuable for specialized fields such as health care, technology or engineering.


Haines said it's a long-term project that could take many years to pay off.

"We're not going to bring in the people our employers need overnight," he said. "But we want to be that meeting place. Employers like the concept. It's another niche of applicants for them."

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