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Greenville Business Magazine

Labor Pains

By John Jeter

In the ad, you see a bartender drop a carton of Heineken. Bottles crash in slo-mo, setting off a disturbance that ripples worldwide. Somewhere out there, a boxer’s flattened in a mysterious, momentary distraction. Elsewhere, a surgeon looks up from his operating table, baffled. In yet another place, a bedded couple experiences beerus-interruptus. “What’s wrong?” she asks when her lover pulls away. “I don’t know,” he says, “all of a sudden I feel really sad.”

Ken Ratcliffe isn’t sad. The co-creator of that award-winning spot, “Disturbance,” moved here in December to become the executive creative director at 3Fold, a Greenville agency. Before that, he wrote for Jimmy Kimmel, handled such accounts as Bud Light and TD Bank, and worked all over the world.

He also lives in a new economic geography—a world that hasn’t seen the unemployment rate this low since he was born 50 years ago: 3.1 percent in Greenville, 3.7 percent in the U.S.  Recruiters say that makes Ratcliffe-level rock stars hard to come by here.

“I’ve been in business almost 28 years, and this is the toughest market I’ve been in—and it has been for the last couple of years,” says Debbie Varner, CEO of Recruiting Solutions in Greenville. 

To become an “employer of choice,” she says you need sweeteners: an attractive benefits package, location or corporate culture. 

Michelle Malone, in-house recruiter for Kopis, checks off those boxes when she combs through some 50 resumes a month looking for super-skilled employees who can work and play well with the custom software development company’s 35 others.

“It’s been a crunch,” she says in the NEXT offices of the firm marking its 20th anniversary. “Technical people have always been in demand. Their skill sets are always changing and we’re always looking to the next technology.”

Today’s job-seekers can be picky, too.

“Those folks are working,” Malone says, “and those folks are paid well for what they do. It’s hard to find ones that are sitting around on the street looking for jobs.”

Unlike major corporations, smaller high-end white-collar firms, such as Kopis and 3Fold, face pressures ranging from wages to “time-to-hire,” the latter a key recruiting measurement.

In up-to-date data, Workable, an online recruiter, reports an average of 51 days to hire an IT/design staffer and 50 days to snag a marketing/advertising/creative type. In 2016, Glassdoor says, the average job opening lasted 28.1 days, up from 19.3 in 2001-2003.

Malone recalls pre-Y2K when hiring was “more of a take-what-you-can-get.” Today, she says, “Six to eight weeks isn’t uncommon from the time we post a job opening until we find the right person and bring them onboard.”

Ratcliffe says 3Fold’s hiring process took about three months. He moved here because he was tired of Boston’s weather and wanted a job “less corporately devastating.”

“Here’s this little tiny 20-person agency in the South that needed creative leadership, and I go, ‘Ah, that sounds like fun,’” he says. “I could kinda teach a little and get a little bit of the Southern culture on me and try to grow something from scratch rather than go to a place that’s been running for 40 years on Madison Avenue.” 

His boss Tim Joiner, who founded 3Fold in 2009, agrees that while recruiting currently faces disturbances, he sees workers’ needs changing.

“It’s getting easier to recruit in that people are starting to think about something beyond just a paycheck, and that’s where I can win,” he says. “It’s a tight labor market for sure, but we recruit with things beyond just dollars and cents.”

A firm like Joiner’s couldn’t possibly match the salary of a Hill Holliday or Publicis Worldwide—Ratcliffe’s previous employers—but, he says, “I do believe we Americans are waking up to the quality-of-life thing. I went to high school in France so I learned pretty early on that a glass of wine, a nice crunchy baguette, and a chunk of cheese goes a long, long way.”

Then he hits the sweet spot Upstate recruiters and job seekers alike are aiming for: “I have the quality of life here in Greenville with a 9-to-5 gig as the ECD of a very special little place.”