By James Grunke

“If you don’t like it here, go work someplace else!” How many times have you heard that? The answer should be “Never.” Sadly, most of us have heard those words shouted at either ourselves or at a co-worker by a former employer.

Emphasis on “former” employer, since that’s what happens when a company treats its workers poorly: high turnover, lower productivity, ever-larger expenditures on recruitment, a notable lack of vision.

And that’s a significant economic development issue.

The good news in Missoula is that more than 100 local business leaders gathered earlier this month for a Job Service Employers Council seminar on how to become an employer of choice.

The even better news is that a number of local businesses have already achieved that milestone – Montana Rail Link, ALPS, ATG, Ecology Project, YMCA and Missoula Federal Credit Union – and shared their success stories with seminar attendees.

I had the honor of addressing the group as well, talking about the Missoula Economic Partnership’s work to grow our economy and the importance of employers of choice to our economic development efforts.

In fact, Missoula’s biggest limiting factor for economic growth today is workforce.

As the region’s economic development leader, MEP helps companies expand their footprint and mission – from launching startups to attracting new businesses and industries to our community.

We have ambitious goals for the next five years, including the creation of 3,000 new jobs in eight target sectors: information technology, life sciences, advanced manufacturing, professional services, back office, warehousing/distribution, finance and insurance, and creative industries.

When the Missoula Economic Partnership was formed in 2010/2011, workforce development and attraction was not part of our mission. Today, it’s a cornerstone of our efforts.

Missoula cannot be successful without well-trained, reliable, productive workers who meet our employers’ needs.

That’s where the Job Service’s June seminar comes in: Part of the way we attract the workforce Missoula needs is to become a community of employers of choice.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of working at the “cool” mega-companies – Facebook, Google, Apple and the like. But that same culture is possible at even the smallest of local businesses.

Becoming an employer of choice means that a company’s leaders have carefully thought about creating an environment where people want to work – and stay. It means creating a workplace that offers the whole experience: compensation, benefits, perks, opportunities, development and purpose.

As you can imagine, there’s been a good deal of research into what makes a workplace click for both a business and its employees. Here are a few of the strategies that I offered to this month’s gathering of Missoula businesses:

  • Provide meaningful work. Your employees want to know what is important to the company and how those principles align with their personal values. They also want to know where they fit into the company’s big picture, or vision. They want opportunities to collaborate, flexible work schedules and job duties, personal growth, and meaningful community and social outreach.
  • Provide training and development. Fortune’s top 100 best employers offer more training and development than do other companies, with the top 10 employers providing 32 to 135 hours of training per employee per year.
  • Reward employees with fair and competitive compensation and benefits. Simply put, compensation is the basic foundation for a productive, happy workforce. You’ve got to get it right. So collect data and find out where you match up against your market, and ask employees what benefits they want and need.
  • Inspire employees with great managers and leaders. Most employees do not leave a company. They quit their manager. Invest the time in hiring and training great managers. In turn, they’ll develop great employees. Your senior managers must be great communicators and leaders who are representative of your workforce.
  • Create the corporate culture you want. In most companies, the corporate culture just happens. At employers of choice, managers build and nurture a culture that values and motivates all employees. A satisfied workforce produces solid results, which in turn allows the business to expand and grow.

Missoula must become a community of employers of choice. It’s not just the way to grow our economy, it’s the way to create the kind of workplaces where we all want to enjoy full, meaningful and productive careers.

James Grunke is president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership.