Nine years ago, Denise Stephens worked for aviation\n behemoth Boeing, at one of its divisions in St. Louis, a city\n that consistently tops the list for having one of the highest\n crime rates in the country. She often wondered if there was a\n better spot to raise her family. Then the Washington Savannah\n River Co., a $300 million firm that manages a nuclear materials\n site for the U.S. Department of Energy, convinced her that\n Aiken, S.C., beat St. Louis by a country mile. \u201cI got\n recruited to come down here, and they toured me around,\u201d\n says Stephens, now the company\u2019s CIO. \u201cI love\n horses, so they showed me all the farms and hooked me up with a\n real estate agent who specializes in equestrian properties.\n There wasn\u2019t any traffic, and it was a better place to\n raise my kids. That\u2019s how they got me here, and now, when\n I\u2019m trying to recruit others, I do so in turn.\u201dBut for Stephens and her mid-market peers who are located\n outside traditional IT talent hotbeds, luring recruits takes\n creative work and planning\u2014especially for lower-level\n jobs where companies can\u2019t roll out the red carpet like\n they do for potential C-level candidates.Just ask Jeff Roggensack, VP of IS and technology for Alere\n Medical, a $65 million company that implements remote patient\n monitoring systems, based in Reno, Nev.\u2014a town known more\n for its gambling and legalized prostitution than for\n cultivating hotshot programmers. When he served as CIO for\n United HealthCare of Illinois (based in Chicago) and later\n RehabCare Group in St. Louis, he never had to search high and\n low for talent. \u201cThere were people to be had,\u201d he\n says. But once he joined Alere in late 2004, he had to\n prioritize recruiting work with local area colleges and reach\n out to people who had tired of the nearby San Francisco\n area.Despite the hurdles, Stephens and Roggensack have built\n strong IT departments. Better still, they\u2019ve implemented\n measures to ensure that once they have the people they want,\n they can prevent them from being seduced by the sexiness of\n cities like Boston and San Francisco and the big-money firms\n found there. Here\u2019s a look at what\u2019s working now\n for CIOs in Idaho, North Dakota and places in between.\n\n Make Smart College Connections\n Though it\u2019s tempting to try to pluck talent away from\n the big guys, mid-market IT departments find it more effective\n to keep a steady dialogue with local universities, and\n encourage new grads to stay in the area. This takes more than\n just the proverbial job posting or phone call to the college\n counseling office.United Heritage Life Insurance has made its home in\n Meridian, Idaho, (just outside Boise) since 1934 and likes the\n talent it finds there. The $76 million company happens to be\n surrounded by colleges that contribute to the pool of some\n 60,000 IT professionals who live in the area, says Mick Ware,\n VP and CTO of United Heritage Financial Group and Life\n Insurance. As you might expect, Ware works with his HR\n department to get jobs posted at colleges like nearby Boise\n State and Albertson\u2019s College. But he suggests going a\n step further and visiting the schools personally, as he does,\n giving presentations to business and IT classes.While a campus visit from a senior-level exec like Ware can\n have a positive impact on recruiting, many CIOs believe\n it\u2019s even more effective to send employees who have\n recently graduated to visit their alma maters and encourage\n their former classmates to apply for work. At Washington\n Savannah River, for instance, Stephens says she\u2019s been\n able to draw upon the talent she\u2019s already hired to find\n reliable candidates. \u201cWe\u2019ve got three new college\n hires this past year and they were all friends up at Clemson\n [University],\u201d she says.At Amcat, a call center software maker based in Oklahoma\n City, CTO Jim Texter puts a premium on local talent for a\n simple reason. \u201cWe have not had a lot of success at\n trying to draw people from outside of the area to\n Oklahoma,\u201d he says. \u201cUnfortunately, we\u2019re not\n known as a high-tech area. A lot of people fear by moving here\n they\u2019d hinder their career more than help it.\u201d He\n recruits heavily from Oklahoma State University.Still, he says, don\u2019t put all your eggs in the local\n college basket, because college counseling offices and academic\n departments have a fair amount of churn. \u201cWe\u2019ve\n seen enough turnover in the departments [at the colleges] that\n it\u2019s hard to keep a relationship going with them,\u201d\n he says. \u201cAs we find good candidates, we ask them for\n their friends and acquaintances. We usually find a sharp\n software engineer usually hangs out with other sharp software\n engineers. So if we get one, we can play into their network and\n get some others.\u201d\n\n Tout Growth Opportunities\n Nobody wants to work at an organization where he feels as\n though he can\u2019t move up the ranks\u2014an impression\n some candidates might have after visiting a mid-market company.\n Before a company can even sell its relaxed culture and all the\n other niche benefits that go along with it, candidates\n (especially those coming out of the college ranks) want to feel\n as though they aren\u2019t hitting a dead end if they take a\n job with you.Amcat\u2019s Texter hears this concern from some recruits\n as well as from some staffers hitting about the two-year mark\n with the firm. \u201cThey say, OK, I\u2019m hired on here,\n but I might want to grow into management, but I can\u2019t\n because the team isn\u2019t big enough.\u201dUnited Heritage\u2019s Ware says that he tries to argue the\n opposite to potential hires\u2014at larger organizations,\n you\u2019ll have more difficulty moving up because\n you\u2019ll be lost in the crowd.\u201cSome people are looking for a large organization\n where they think they can move up quickly,\u201d he says.\n \u201cBut it\u2019s probably the reverse; they find\n it\u2019s difficult to move up because there is a lot of\n competition. I think at a smaller organization you can move up\n quickly when you have the talent.\u201dAlso, in addition to offering the usual promotions, bonuses\n and incentives, it\u2019s important to make candidates feel\n they can have a specialty at the organization, rather than\n having to wear too many hats to compensate for a smaller IT\n staff, says Alere\u2019s Roggensack. \u201cIn some cases,\n when you get to the real small company, you become a jack of\n all trades,\u201d he says. \u201cAt the mid-market, we have\n more specialists.\u201dEven so, many mid-market employees will have to juggle\n multiple functions\u2014and you can tell recruits that\u2019s\n not necessarily a bad thing, since IT workers who get trained\n in multiple areas tend to have better job security, says\n Washington Savannah River\u2019s Stephens. \u201cThere is\n more opportunity to get involved with different types of things\n than there is with a larger company,\u201d she says.\n \u201cThere, they know they can get more pigeonholed into a\n certain function within IT.\u201d\n\n Sell the Simple Pleasures\n If your mid-market company\u2019s CEO doesn\u2019t keep a\n petty-cash box under his desk, odds are you\u2019re going to\n be outbid on salary. Suzanne Fairlie, president of IT search\n firm Prosearch, says mid-market companies in more remote\n locations should not fear this disadvantage but rather,\n research the stunning differences in cost of living. When you\n crunch the numbers, she argues, you might be able to show that\n whatever the giant company is offering isn\u2019t so great\n after all. Plus, remind candidates that big-city jobs mean\n big-city hours. \u201cWhen you\u2019re in New York or Boston,\n it\u2019s not at all unusual to be working 60-to-70-hour\n weeks,\u201d she says. \u201cSo, you can equate it to people,\n Yes, you\u2019re making more money in New York, but\n you\u2019re really working two jobs.\u201dIn North Dakota, Mark Molesworth, enterprise project manager\n for the state of North Dakota IT department, says IT workers in\n his hometown of Bismarck (the state capital) want a better\n quality of life\u2014including a lower crime rate, stronger\n schools for their children and more access to outdoor\n activities\u2014things you just can\u2019t find in many\n cites. \u201cI live on the northwest edge of town, but I have\n three stop lights between me and work and it takes six minutes\n to get here,\u201d he says. \u201cAnd if I go in the other\n direction for less than five minutes, I\u2019m on the shore of\n the Missouri river.\u201d After work, he\u2019s already\n fishing while the guys in Chicago sit on the expressway.Money magazine rated Boise, Idaho, as the eighth best place\n to live in 2006, a factor that Ware knows plays in his favor.\n Access to outdoor activities\u2014including downhill and\n cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, water skiing, fishing, bird\n and big game hunting, kayaking, white-water rafting, hiking,\n camping and mountain biking\u2014is nearby. \u201cThese\n activities can all be done within a 30-minute drive from\n downtown Boise,\u201d he says. \u201cAnd there are so many\n other things that make this a community that people want to\n stay in, such as the low crime rate, excellent education\n system, four distinct seasons and progressive cultural\n events.\u201dEven in Reno, which might be known more for its vices than\n anything else, a close proximity to Lake Tahoe has enabled\n Rog\u00adgen\u00adsack to attract a few candidates from the San\n Fran\u00adcisco area. \u201cWhen we advertise, there are people\n from the Bay Area that are tired of traffic and the cost of\n living,\u201d he says. \u201cReno is close to Tahoe, and\n there\u2019s no state income tax. That kind of expands the\n talent pool. We don\u2019t pay as much as the Bay Area, but it\n doesn\u2019t cost as much.\u201d You might also want to\n convince new recruits that your team likes to play together as\n well as work together. In the more remote areas especially,\n Stephens says, it\u2019s important to set up times for your\n younger employees to network. \u201cThere isn\u2019t exactly\n a huge night life here in Aiken,\u201d she says,\n chuckling.\n\n Demonstrate Use of New Technologies\n People coming out of college or switching from a big company\n to the mid-market want to feel as though they aren\u2019t\n missing out on up-and-coming technologies. While your budget\n might not allow you to roll out the newest piece of software or\n equip everyone with the newest handheld gadget, it\u2019s\n critical that a candidate feels as though you\u2019re not too\n far behind. \u201cWe try to stay on the leading edge of\n technology and give them some excitement and motivation for\n staying with the company,\u201d says Ware. \u201cI think\n that\u2019s better for those types of individuals that are new\n to the workforce.\u201dYou need to stay reasonably current, says Amcat\u2019s\n Texter. \u201cI believe smaller development shops can move\n faster than large companies in adopting new technologies. In\n fact this is one advantage I believe smaller companies have\n over larger ones. Small development companies can take on new\n technologies, evaluate them and determine their feasibility\n before larger companies even decide to evaluate them,\u201d\n Texter says. \u201cWe try to stay on the leading edge of\n technology without falling over to the bleeding edge,\u201d he\n says. \u201cWe evaluate technologies constantly. We look at\n what we think will stick.\u201dAs an example, Texter recently let his engineers start using\n Ajax programming techniques to help in their software\n development. In addition, he says, he always welcomes an\n employee\u2019s input when someone comes forward with a new\n technology that could help the business. You can tout this as\n an advantage to potential hires, he notes. Being more nimble,\n he says, his company can respond better to technology\n suggestions from the ranks. \u201cI can move a lot quicker\n than the big organizations,\u201d he says. \u201cWe\n don\u2019t have quite the red tape and hierarchy\n structure.\u201d\n\n Once You\u2019ve Got \u2019Em, Keep\n \u2019Em\n In some cases, if a candidate is happy with the location and\n the work environment is low-pressure yet prosperous, retention\n will take care of itself. But people get restless and\n mid-market companies are acutely aware of that fact. With a\n little more meat on their bones than small boutiques or\n startups, mid-market IT departments can ensure promotions and\n raises from time to time. But you can do much more than that to\n retain your staff.When business conditions cripple your ability to promote\n staffers, move people around occasionally, even if a true\n promotion isn\u2019t immediately available, Prosearch\u2019s\n Fairlie suggests. \u201cIt\u2019s a great way to keep people,\n because they don\u2019t get bored,\u201d she says.\n Alere\u2019s Roggensack has employed this strategy by\n encouraging some employees to move to other areas of the\n business.When this occurs, however, ensure a healthy give-and-take of\n talent, Roggensack advises. \u201cAs we have lost good people\n to other areas of the company, our positions have been filled\n by people from other areas,\u201d he says. \u201cFor example,\n a key user in one of the [business side] operational areas was\n promoted to IT as a junior business analyst since they knew\n both the operation and the system.\u201dAt Amcat, regardless of whether times are good or bad,\n Texter also employs this strategy because he wants to be\n cautious that his employees don\u2019t burn out. \u201cIf you\n leave them on the same thing, day in and day out, year after\n year, they are going to get tired and they are going to get\n bored,\u201d he says.Also, work with your HR team to regularly evaluate employee\n benefits. Strong healthcare and 401(k) benefits, for example,\n can compensate for sluggish growth in salaries, especially for\n older workers, says Washington Savannah River\u2019s\n Stephens.Don\u2019t forget the value of your travel budget. While\n people may bask in the small-town life, most value the chance\n to have new experiences, says Texter. Have your team members\n travel on the company dollar occasionally, and you can not only\n quell the restlessness of living in a more remote area but also\n improve their professional growth, he says. Amcat frequently\n sends its software engineers on business trips to interact with\n end users of the company\u2019s software products in both the\n United States and Europe. The engineers get to see new cities\n and meet new people while learning new ways they might better\n serve customers.\u201cAs you develop a system, you\u2019re putting your\n heart and soul into it and there\u2019s nothing more\n satisfying than to go out and have the users praise\n what\u2019s going on or find out what\u2019s not working\n quite as right,\u201d says Stephens.For others on your team, your out-of-the-way locale\u2019s\n calm environment and sense of community may be just the factor\n that keeps them around. As Molesworth says, \u201cIn New York,\n when you walk down the street, nobody makes eye contact,\u201d\n he says. \u201cIn North Dakota, you walk down the street and\n people smile and wonder how you\u2019re doing. I think that\n carries over in the business environment.\u201dReach Associate Staff Writer C.G. Lynch at\n email@example.com.