Greenville, with its vibrant economy, can attract jobs but part of filling those jobs is whether it can attract new college graduates with the lifestyle it offers.The city often flies beneath the radar, with students — even those who intern in Greenville — seeing the attractions of cities like Atlanta and Charlotte but missing those offered by the smaller city, said Tammy Johnson, chair of Pulse 2012, an organization of about 950 young professionals sponsored by the Greenville Chamber.The Greenville Chamber has identified talent retention as a critical need. That is part of Pulse’s goal — to offer leadership activities and growth for young professionals so they will be more likely to stay in Greenville.Because of the youth and leadership potential of its members, “we were constantly being asked, ‘What is Pulse doing to retain talent in Greenville?’” Johnson said.An intern survey taken at a Pulse event last summer did not provide good news, Johnson said.“An astounding percent said ‘no’ to whether they would consider Greenville for a job,” she said.Nearly 29 percent of the small number surveyed said they wouldn’t consider Greenville or didn’t know if they would. One respondent said Greenville is “too much in the country.”Pulse “wants to change that,” Johnson said.A survey of area college students by Greenville Forward over the past few years echoed the informal Pulse survey — 27 percent said they would consider staying in Greenville after graduation, with 33 percent saying they probably would move out of state. Also, the Upstate is 73 percent more likely to lose black graduates than similar sized cities.“There are a number of students that may not consider Greenville when they graduate,” said Hank Hyatt, vice president of economic development for the Greenville Chamber. “We need to keep Greenville in the forefront of their minds as an opportunity.”Pulse decided to adopt a project to change that outlook among area interns, some of whom are from out of state.“The goal is to get these students interested in what Greenville has to offer outside the workplace,” said Hank Holseberg, the Pulse Talent chairman.
Plans are to make the program, which will cost $35 each, an annual event, Johnson said.Holseberg said about eight programs are planned, including an opening session on May 30 at the Upcountry History Museum, a walking tour of downtown, a luncheon at Embassy Suites, a Greenville Drive game and four joint Pulse-intern events.The idea is to introduce Greenville — its music, art and culture scenes and its beauty — to the 50 or so interns in the program, Johnson said.Pulse is marketing Pulse Talent primarily to companies that are Chamber members, but interns at companies that are not Chamber members are welcome. Interns can register by visiting www.greenvillechamber. org and clicking on the registration link.The program will bring the interns together, allowing them to form friendships with each other as well as Pulse members. It also will free companies from feeling they must provide entertainment opportunities for their interns.Even if a student or intern wants to take that first job in a big city like Chicago or New York, they might consider the city when it’s time to move on if they had a good experience here, Hyatt said.“Internships are crucial,” Johnson said, adding that Liquid Highway, her marketing and events planning company, will have two unpaid interns this summer.Hyatt agreed: “I think it is getting more and more important.”He said he sees an internship as a courtship — an intern can decide if the company fits and the company can do the same with an intern.“I want it to be a fantastic experience,” Johnson said. “I don’t want it to be just grunt work. They’ll be making cold calls and working events.”August Darnell, internship coordinator with Crawford Strategy, said the firm created a formal internship program because “we recognize the gap between the classroom and the real world is very wide.” The agency sees a value in giving students information about real working conditions in a formalized program.Crawford Strategy, which has about 20 employees, has hired two of its entry-level employees from the ranks of its unpaid interns, she said.
“It’s a great investment for us,” Darnell said. “We lean on our interns very heavily.”Internships are important when it comes to hiring decisions, Johnson said. “I look for someone who has had an internship.”Currently, her business has two full-time employees, which includes herself, and 30 to 40 part-timers who work on events. The interns will be doing work that she doesn’t have time to do but that needs to be done.Interns can land at any kind of company.The companies at NEXT Innovation Center put together a program last year and continued it this year, planning to hire more than 20 interns this summer. Available positions included software developer, graphic designer, online marketer, marketing/even support specialist, health care researcher/grant writer and social media specialist.The program, created because the small NEXT companies found it difficult to attract attention, was marketed to regional colleges and select high schools, said Brenda Laasko, Chamber vice president of NEXT. The students who applied were invited to an interview night and underwent “speed interviewing” with two to five chief executive officers of NEXT companies.“These companies are hoping to groom talent,” she said. Not only do they want to hire interns, they would like to hire some of them eventually as permanent employees.Engenius, a web design, mobile apps and online marketing firm for small businesses, is participating in the intern program for the second year.“Experience is such a key in today’s job market,” said Chris Manley, Engenius managing partner. “We are excited to offer opportunities for local students to gain professional experience and show them all that Greenville has to offer.”The Upstate has been experiencing a “brain drain” for years, he said, and technology jobs are needed to help the Upstate raise its quality of life and per capita income.A Greenville Chamber report estimated that if Greenville’s per capita income can be raised to the level of the United States, the community would have $1.4 billion more in spendable personal income annually.Darnall said many of Crawford Strategy’s interns, most of whom come from Furman and Clemson universities with some from the University of South Carolina, are interested in staying in Greenville. They know the area from having lived here while in college.Hyatt said he doesn’t have much information about young professionals who remain in Greenville once they’re here. But he also thinks that situation is on the upswing.Laasko said she has met young professionals in their 20s who left the Upstate but are already returning.“Something is attracting them back here,” she said.Greenville “is a place that is open to new individuals, new ideas,” Hyatt said. “It provides opportunities to get engaged. We’re getting the message out that Greenville is seeking a new generation of leadership.”Young professionals who feel they can make a difference in their community often are more likely to remain there, he said.