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How Important is Quality of Life?

As competition for talent becomes more intense, this hard-to-define concept may have more significant impact on future location decisions.

Dec/Jan 08
As competition for talent becomes more intense, this hard-to-define concept may have more significant impact on future location decisions.

The majority of the widely publicized lists are intended for use by the general public, particularly by individuals who are thinking about moving. No two lists are alike due to differences in methodologies and emphasis, which makes comparisons difficult. Companies seeking new locations generally don't pay much attention to any of them because they're busy compiling their own lists based on site selection factors specific to their needs

However, cities and regions that find themselves at or near the top of these rankings lists do have an advantage in attracting new businesses to their communities, not necessarily because they made the list but because they have the infrastructure, quality of life, and positive economic factors that got them onto the list to begin with. In today's mobile society, if an area is successful in attracting people, it will attract businesses as well, since it is more likely to meet one of the top criteria of almost any site search - availability of labor.

Usually a secondary consideration in corporate location decisions, quality of life is an elusive concept, impossible to precisely define and measure. Not only does it include the abstract "feel" or perceived public image of an area, it also encompasses a vast array of measurable factors that vary in importance depending on individual preferences and lifestyles. But despite its ambiguities, since it directly influences the numbers and types of people who choose to live in an area - and therefore the composition of the labor force - quality of life is actually a primary element in the site selection equation.

Current economic uncertainties, from the cost of gasoline to the mortgage crisis, have put cost-of-living issues ahead of other quality of life factors such as climate, cultural attractions, and even crime rate statistics. Meanwhile, competition for qualified talent - a growing challenge faced by companies throughout the world - magnifies the importance of quality of life factors, because talented people tend to gravitate toward the places where they want to live.

Qualified Talent
Since different people have very different opinions about their ideal place to live, a company's location choice should take into account the profile of the people that it will be hiring.

In Fort Worth, Texas, for example, Wisconsin-based Credit Union of North America (CUNA) opened a new 108,000-square-foot financial services call center in April 2007 that today employs about 500 and is expected to increase its work force to 830 by the end of 2008. According to Joseph Taricano, CUNA's vice president of operations, who was in charge of the site search, the decision "was really all about labor." Availability of labor and cost of labor were the top two criteria.

"We chose the Fort Worth market because we knew that we could get the type of people with the background and experience we need," he says. "There were a lot of people that worked in operations and customer service functions, and we were obviously quite taken with just the whole Texas environment. Fort Worth in particular is very business-friendly." Availability and cost of land was also a factor, but qualified talent was the most important. The site chosen by CUNA - literally across the street from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport - was found to be the hottest location on a map of where prospective employees lived.

Taricano, who transferred from Madison, Wisconsin, was one of only two people relocated to the new facility, with all other hires being local. He describes the Fort Worth work force as a "melting pot," noting that in the suburb where he lives now, one next-door neighbor is from Brooklyn, New York; another is from Minnesota; and the people across the street are from Youngstown, Ohio. Because the company is still in hiring mode, groups of new employees are starting every week, and Taricano says that "when I meet new employees, I always ask how many Texans are in the room, and typically only 25 to 30 percent are Texan.

"People move to this market out of choice because there's something about it that they like," says Taricano. "It's a destination because it's a big market. There are opportunities, and it's growing." He also praises the quality of the public schools, and he predicts prosperity for the city over the next decade due to natural gas resources now being tapped, which will further increase Fort Worth's quality of life. "Happy people equate to happy customers," he says.

Fort Worth ranked first in the large markets category in the 2007 Best Cities for Relocating Families list compiled by Worldwide ERC and Primacy Relocation. Taricano recalls that his wife, a California native, was "thrilled" when she found out that they were moving from Wisconsin to the warmer climate of Texas. On the other hand, a friend of his in Princeton, New Jersey, he says, "would never fathom living in Texas."

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