Take 5: What Comes First, Talent or Business?

By: Paul Vachon

In the wake of Detroit’s failed bid to host Amazon’s second world headquarters, how much of a factor was Detroit’s talent pool? Many business leaders believe if Amazon came to Detroit, talent would follow. However, Amazon cited a lack of existing talent in Detroit as a key factor in being left off the final list.

So, which is it? Does talent follow business or does business invest in locations with an existing talent pool?

National economic experts say its both while also noting the importance of investing local infrastructure to retain homegrown talent and positively impact their quality of life. Urban expert Richard Florida of the University of Toronto correlates the linkage between areas with mass transit lines, quality educational facilities, and public green spaces with strong economic growth.

As the region’s leaders work together to position Detroit as a contender for the next major investment, here is what some leaders in education, economic development, city government and business had to say:

David DeMuth, CEO, Doner Company

“Attracting talent can’t wait. If you’re running a business which relies on talent, you must compete on a national basis. You need to attract talent from some of the nation’s greatest cities, like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago — as well as emerging places like Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tenn. We can’t wait for the infrastructure to be upgraded. We must outline a compelling opportunity to a candidate using the assts we already have to make the argument. Talent waits for no one.”

Dan Ngoyi, Director, Talent Acquisition, Quicken Loans Family of Companies

“I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game. One priority does not have to precede the other. After Quicken Loans first moved downtown, and after Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy, some infrastructure enhancements occurred. As more companies arrived, the resulting talent surge drove additional improvements, such as the QLine. So, the two priorities can certainly feed off each other, and develop simultaneously.

Justin Robinson, Vice President, Business Attraction, Detroit Regional Chamber

“The first piece is to understand what infrastructure assets we have now as a differentiator. This will allow for employers to make a strong business case to potential employees. But then the region does need to pause and address the issue of “placemaking,” which is fundamental to our long-term success. Most people still choose job over place, but our research suggests they’re pretty close as prospective workers weigh their options.

M. Roy Wilson, President, Wayne State University

“We have to approach the challenge of talent attraction and retention from all angles. Having said that, I do believe that we are losing potential talent to other cities with more advanced infrastructure. People are drawn to places for different reasons, and Southeast Michigan is attractive in many ways. The availability of excellent higher education opportunities and health care, a city in the midst of an impressive rebound, and outstanding cultural and other entertainment offerings are among the many attractions. Yet, without better infrastructure, particularly roads and public transit, it will become increasingly difficult to compete with locations such as Chicago, Boston, Denver and Pittsburgh — all places that have made substantial infrastructure investments in the recent past.”

“Certainly, some talent follows companies but more often, companies will follow talent. Studies by renowned economists have proven this theory. The unemployment rate is under 4 percent, which is extremely low; IT and engineering positions are below 2 percent. Clearly the talent pool in the United States is in a crisis. Michigan has some of the finest universities in the country but is being challenged with retaining talent. We are making strides to change this paradigm via the Marshall Plan for Talent and ChooseMichigan.org initiative.”

Ronia Kruse
President and CEO, OpTech

Jeff Donofrio, Director, Workforce Development, City of Detroit

“When a major company is looking at locating in Detroit, the first thing that they ask us about is the talent pool. This is why we are focused on building and developing the talent of Detroiters. Our goal is to increase the talent pool with our existing residents to advance our competitiveness in attracting new business investment.”

Paul Vachon is a metro Detroit freelance writer.

Talent All-Stars

By: Dawson Bell

The competition to retain existing talent while recruiting new talent is increasingly fierce. When it comes to luring the best and brightest, companies across the region are thinking outside the box — from innovative apprenticeship programs to offering tuition reimbursement programs and investing millions in renovated office space. The Detroiter is celebrating the people behind the efforts of small, medium, and large-size companies that are changing their culture and improving perceptions among employees every day.

Nicole Kiefer, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer 

Company: Credential Check Corp. 

Location: Troy 

Number of Employees: 36 

Claim to Fame: Credential Check is an Inc. magazine “5,000 Fastest-Growing Company” and multiple winner of Crain’s Detroit Business’s annual “Cool Places to Work.”   

“Employers need to constantly evaluate their needs and their culture (in order to) have an understanding of how a prospective employee will fit in. If you’re looking to put just a warm body in the seat, you’ll be filling it again in six months. There are jobs out there for everybody. But not every job is for everybody. It’s so easy to apply for employment online that some applicants don’t even understand what the job requires. Companies need to be specific. Because there is a cost involved in making mistakes.” 

Credential Check is an Inc. magazine “5,000 Fastest-Growing Company” and multiple winner of Crain’s Detroit Business’s annual “Cool Places to Work.” Kiefer said helping clients attract and retain employees is at the core of the company’s business as providers of background screening. 


Ronia Kruse, Co-founder, President and CEO 

Company: OpTech 

Location: Troy 

Number of Employees: Nearly 350 

Claim to Fame: Nine-time recipient of “Metropolitan Detroit’s Best and Brightest Company to Work For” by the National Association for Business Resources. 

“Companies need to build strategies for short-, mid-term and long-term growth.” 

OpTech LLC, an award-winning talent solution and development firm, specializes in identifying and connecting IT talent, engineers and other professionals with employers in need.  

Part of OpTech’s strategy is a partnership with the state of Michigan and its Marshall Plan for Talent. The company also works jointly with educational institutions to increase participation in STEM programs and build connections between employers and the employee pool of the future. 

Kruse said social media is essential to connect job seekers with information about a company’s culture and values, including attributes beyond job description and compensation. Young people “want great opportunities, flexibility .. and to feel purpose driven.”  


Tammy Forney, Director, People Services 

Company: Wade Trim 

Location: Detroit 

Number of Employees: Nearly 500 

Claim to Fame: Recipient of more than 130 local, state and national awards; Named one of “Metropolitan Detroit’s Best and Brightest Company to Work For” by the National Association for Business Resources. 

“Networking through professional associations, universities and social media has been our No. 1 recruiting source. When the people who already work here are proud of where they are and what they are doing, it’s a huge advantage.” 

Forney said finding talent with “specialized skill sets’’ for complex engineering projects is a growing challenge. 

Providing employees growth opportunities, advancement and cross training is also key. Wade Trim’s “young professionals group” helps associates expand their skills by preparing mock project proposals and visiting job sites outside their discipline. Under development is a mentoring program that will pair experts across three generations: veteran, mid-career and entry level. 


Julie Lodge-Jarrett, Chief Talent Officer, Global Talent Management 

Company: Ford Motor Company 

Location: Dearborn, Detroit 

Number of Employees: 202,000 

Claim to Fame: Investing $740 million to revamp Michigan Central Station in Detroit and $1.2 billion to redevelop company facilities in Dearborn. 

 “We emphasize our capacity to provide exciting and meaningful work … in a cooperative culture. Potential employees realize they will have the ability not just to innovate, but to impact the world.” 

Ford has some innate advantages when it comes to attracting high-end talent. For starters, a globally recognized brand and a global workforce with more than 3,000 job openings for technical, product development, finance and IT. 

Lodge-Jarrett said the company’s success in landing top-tier engineering, design and creative candidates relies on the transformation from traditional manufacturer to a comprehensive mobility company. 

Having the wherewithal to invest $740 million in Michigan Central Station and $1.2 billion to redevelop facilities in Dearborn sets Ford apart, she said.  


Dan Ngoyi 

Director, Talent Acquisition, Quicken Loans Family of Companies 

“For a company to be great, it must do good, and that’s what we do best at Quicken Loans and the Rock Family of Companies. We’re a ‘for-more-than-profit’ company that understands ‘doing well’ and ‘doing good’ aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. We attract and retain high-level talent by creating purpose behind everything we do. At the end of the day, that’s what attracts top talent – the opportunity to take part in something bigger than yourself.” 

As one of the region’s largest employers, Quicken Loans is innately focused on cultivating homegrown talent. Employees spend countless hours at local universities meeting with their future workforce. The company culture reflects a “purpose drives productivity” philosophy that focuses on helping others while producing results.

Dawson Bell is a metro Detroit freelance writer.