Across the state, employers are struggling to fill open positions in a variety of roles. A growing concierge-style program created by the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce is delivering impressive results in both attracting and retaining talent in their community—and is inspiring similar programs around the state.
The initiative, called First Friend Newcomer Connection Program, provides a community concierge resource for local employers to welcome job candidates they are considering from outside the community. The concierge gets to know the prospective employee and makes connections for them that can include everything from schools and housing to places of worship, child care, hobbies and interests—in short, anything that’s important to them. Additional support can include settle-in services to ease transition for hired candidates, career support for an accompanying partner, and longer-term integration services to help retain new employees.
Since the program kicked off in 2019, Beth Franklin, the program’s community concierge, has assisted more than 330 clients—nearly 215 who were referred as candidates and more than 115 new hires arriving in the community. “We work with virtually all of the La Crosse area’s largest employers, with 20 companies having tapped into the program so far,” Franklin says. “As a result, almost 180 First Friend clients, and more than 400 people in total including their families, have moved to the La Crosse area.” Employers select First Friend services from a simple menu of affordably priced options.
Perhaps most impressive is the power of First Friend to make local employers more competitive when recruiting talent. “For clients who participate in First Friend, 7 out of 10 accept job offers when extended,” Franklin adds. “And of those who have moved here, 94% have stayed in our community!” Inspired by the La Crosse example, the Eau Claire and Green Bay chambers of commerce have implemented their own concierge programs.
Local employers sing the program’s praises. Chet Doering, director of recruitment and talent strategy for Gundersen Health System, noted, “The First Friend team is instrumental for our overall recruitment process, using their expertise and abilities to showcase the natural beauty and benefits of our La Crosse community. Candidates immediately feel their warmth and genuineness, allowing an authentic, high-quality experience that is customized to the individual’s needs.”
Another major area employer, Kwik Trip, leans heavily on the program too. “Kwik Trip has benefited immensely from the First Friend program,” says Stephanie Cormican, recruiting manager for Kwik Trip. “We have sent multiple candidates on tours of the area with Beth. Each one of them has commented on how knowledgeable she was and how helpful it was to hear about the area, schools and activities related to their personal hobbies. Beyond that, the follow-up that is given to our new hires to assist them with settling into the area and even meeting people with similar interests has aided in retaining hires by helping them adapt quicker than they would on their own.”