President’s Message/Growing Talent in the New North

A college is many things. Most obviously, it’s an institution of higher learning. But it’s also a cultural center. A research generator. A restaurateur and hotelier. An athletics hub. A faith community.

And it’s a business – a big business, in fact. With some 600 employees, St. Norbert College is one of the largest employers in Brown County, and as we steward our 2,100 students we have a substantial economic impact on our region. A few years ago, two of our most respected faculty, Sandra Odorzynski and David Wegge, calculated that the college annually generates approximately $122 million for Brown County.

A high percentage of St. Norbert’s employees would be classified as professionals – many of those being faculty, as you’d expect, but more yet being administrators and staff whose jobs require a bachelor’s degree at minimum, and often an advanced degree. They are accountants and psychologists, ministers and computer programmers, admission counselors and catering managers.

Thus we face the same personnel pressures that any other business confronts to survive and thrive. And one of the biggest is, how do you recruit and keep top talent?

Not long ago that was a focus of the New North Summit, and I was invited to be part of the conversation.

Most of our job searches at St. Norbert College – certainly all faculty and key management positions – are national in scope. And as our job candidates consider whether to join us, they are weighing the same factors they do at your organization, be it a Fortune 500 or a regional nonprofit.

Perhaps the most crucial factor is our reputation in the industry. Talent draws talent, and we know that people in the academy want to work at engaged colleges they feel are on the move. (It turns out that construction cranes are great recruiting billboards for employees as well as for prospective students!) And this is a synergistic dynamic. In hiring strong faculty and staff, we better serve our students, which draws stronger students, who in turn help us lure top faculty and staff.

Competitive pay and attractive benefits are important, naturally, but so, too, are SNC’s mission and values. We look for people who want to join us for the right reasons, and we are assertive about that in our recruiting. And once you do hire these talented people, you have to keep them challenged, with opportunities for professional development and personal growth.

Still, at the end of the day, there’s only so much any employer can do itself to attract and keep talent. The rest of the formula is up to the wider community – which is why this must be a true regional priority.

Fortunately, when we think of De Pere, greater Green Bay and all of northeast Wisconsin, many of these “intangibles” are highly positive.

Consider our overall quality of life, our fine schools, the affordable housing and attractive cost of living, a family-friendly environment, relatively low crime rates, and a bounteous playground for outdoors enthusiasts. Nor does it hurt that Wisconsin is simply beautiful.

Having said that, we still have much work to do to make our home a genuine magnet for creative people.

We lack too much of what young professionals require to work and live. We need more entertainment and cultural options, from theaters that actually show movies without explosions to more restaurants venturing beyond great burgers and fish fries. We must cultivate the kinds of tech-oriented business clusters that are just starting to form in Green Bay and Oshkosh, as well as more urban-style residential options. And we must be far more intentional in making this area a truly comfortable environment for non-whites and those in the LGBT community.

Whatever the challenges, we all have our parts to play in ensuring the long-term vitality of the New North region. Here at SNC, we are trying to step up in a variety of ways, from a revitalized STEM commitment to our partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin, from the new MBA program to our Big Ideas initiative.

After all, we don’t just work here. We live here.

April 17, 2015