Attracting Talent to the City With No Limits: Q&A with Jon Nordby of the Greater Houston Partnership

I sat down with Jon Nordby, the new director of Talent Attraction and Marketing for the Greater Houston Partnership. They are about to start on a new phase of the Houston: City With No Limits campaign. This time, there is a renewed focus on attracting skilled professionals to the Houston region.

Jon is new to the job, but he already has a plan in place. He was gracious enough to sit down with us and talk about the campaign, the GHP’s goals, and what to expect going forward.

JR: What is the Greater Houston Partnership?

JN: The Greater Houston Partnership is a partnership of different organizations. It’s the chamber of commerce and and economic development corporation for Houston. We’re all about bringing business to the region, supporting businesses that are here, making sure they have the people they need to fill their roles, and just making sure that they’re successful. Creating economic prosperity throughout the 11 county region.

JR: And it’s been around for about 30 years?

JN: The partnership was formed about 25 years ago. The chamber of commerce was originally formed back in the 1800s. So they’ve been around for substantially longer.

JR: Your role as the Director of Talent Attraction and Marketing for the partnership – that’s a new role?

JN: It is new. I started three weeks ago. The initiative was kicked off in the middle of last year as they identified this need to have someone come in and run the program, and change the perception of what Houston is to the external audience.

JR: That’s a noble task. So what exactly do you do as the Director of Talent Attraction?

JN: There’s a couple facets to it. We have a plan that’s in place now that’s actually just been a approved by our committee. It’s going to act as a skeleton for where we want this program to go. It’s got parts to it. First is the external outreach. We’re trying to judge ourselves on how many people we can convince to move to the Houston area. We know that, externally, Houston does not have the best perception to a job seeker, so that’s what we want to change. Part of this is a marketing campaign to change those perceptions, and the other part is trying to create real value for job seekers that are looking to come to the region, as well as recruiters in the region who are looking for talent. So creating tools to make those connections happen a little more fluidly.

JR: And you currently have an outline proposal to the board?

JN: Yes.

JR: When are you looking to hear back?

JN: We formed a task force back in October. They met five times and they put that plan together, and they’ve approved that plan. So that’s gone to the executive committee today. So they’re seeing it for the first time this morning, and the board will hear about it this afternoon. But everything has already been signed off and approved. We’re starting to move into the execution phase of the plan, which is forming another committee to carry out the work, recruiting people to be part of the several working groups that will support the plan.

JR: That’s excellent. So we’ll start to see some movement from all this campaign activity very soon.

JN: Yes, very soon.

JR: What are some of those external perception issues that you’re combatting?

JN: That’s a great question, and depending on who you ask, you’re going to get a different answer. We enlisted the help of a consulting firm that went out and did some studies for us, and they didn’t ask specifically what the perception issues were, just how favorable the region is. For the most part, people that live here, or have been here for a few years, have a really great perception of the area from a quality of life perspective, cost of living, culturally – they love the area. Externally, though, we rated much, much lower than we did internally. So that tells us there’s a gap there between what people really understand about Houston. We love it because we see both sides of it. We see things like being able to go to the rodeo and live in those real Texas roots, but then go to Montrose and eat at Underbelly. We get it because we live here, but externally, people just don’t see that. I think, historically, there hasn’t been a unified campaign or movement to go out and really spread that word. Houston has always been a very prosperous city. We were the first city to recover all of our jobs after the downturn in 2009. We have a really strong economy and people just naturally came here. They were attracted to this city. But if you’re talking to someone who has an option to move to Houston, Chicago, or LA, Houston’s probably going to at the bottom of that list if they’re not here because they just don’t understand what we have.

JR: The workforce that we’re attracting is a high-skilled, high-paid workforce. It’s a white-collar workforce. Tell me a little more about the two-body problem, meaning you attract a worker of a particular skill set, and they have a spouse that has a particular skill set, but isn’t working in the energy or healthcare industries. What has the GHP done to market to families?

JN: That’s a great question, and that’s a big issue that came out of conversations with the HR community. We have trouble with bringing in, let’s say a petroleum engineer with one of the big E&P’s, and a spouse that, let’s say, is a veterinarian. The recruiting department at one of these oil and gas companies has no idea what opportunities are available for a veterinarian. So that becomes an issue. Historically, there hasn’t been a tool or a resource outside of what the organizations do independently to connect them to other recruiters or other resources in the area. That is a big problem that this talent attraction initiative is going to address by creating tools to make some of that information more available. When someone does come in to interview with a company or recruiter, we want to give that recruiter tools to go back and give to that candidate and say, if your spouse is moving, here’s a list of tools that will help them. We’re building in social profiles too, so they can see if they have friends of friends who work in the region. We’re trying to create more connections to make the process a little easier.

JR: If somebody wants to follow along with this campaign, how can they get in contact with you? Where can they expect to see updates?

JN: We’re still working through some of the content. As of now, the majority of it is on – that’s our image campaign that we’ve been running for the last six months. That image campaign is going to run nationally beginning April 1. A lot of what the image campaign does really overlaps with the talent attraction piece. So while they are focused on getting out the good message of Houston to everybody, talent attraction is really focused on the candidate that would be looking to relocate. But there is a lot of overlap. A lot of what we do will live on the City With No Limits site. A lot of the tools that we’re talking about will be linked from that site. And a lot of the resources for recruiters and the local HR community are going to be housed there as well.

JR: That’s fantastic. So that’s

JN: Yes.

JR: Awesome. Well, thanks for coming in Jon. I appreciate your time.

JN: Thanks, Jeff. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Reichman

Jeff is passionate about data. He founded January Advisors, and serves on the board of two Houston nonprofits. Read his full bio on LinkedIn.