Columbia Businesses Retaining Young Employees

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COLUMBIA - Kelsey Meyer didn't plan on staying in Columbia after she graduated from MU.  But now as a 24-year-old, she is co-founder and president of up-and-coming Columbia company, Influence and Co.

"Unlike a traditional PR company that would have articles written about you," Meyer said. "We help the clients create content that we get published on to online publications that educate and engage their specific target audience."

Influence & Co.'s average age of their full-time employees is a little more than 26 years old. The company was recently ranked 72nd on Forbes' "America's Most Promising Companies." It was the only company in the top 100 from Missouri.

"We've been able to establish a good culture here," Meyer said. "People, you know, get excited when they're interning here and they want to learn more. And we challenge them, which really enables us to grow quickly."

Brooke Hofer graduated from MU in December 2013. She said she's already grown to appreciate Influence and Co.'s unique atmosphere.

"I've only been here since August, so it'd be hard for me to leave even though I've been here a short time," Hofer said.

Columbia businesses continue to grow, as the city was recognized as the top ranked best-performing small city of 2013, according to the Milken Institute. Also, in 2013, Forbes ranked Columbia as the 20th "Best Small Places for Business and Careers." However, it isn't necessarily easy for workplaces to retain young workers.

Anne Williams is president and owner of Job Finders Employment Service in Columbia. She said some nearby cities have larger paychecks too enticing to pass up.

 "Columbia's not known for our very high wages," Williams said. "So if you have a background as a web designer, for example, and you start the entry level job at fifteen dollars an hour, you get two to three, four years under your belt, then you can go into St. Louis, Kansas City or Chicago and command a whole lot more money."

Williams has a daughter that worked for her at JobFinders, before she took a job in Texas at a price Williams couldn't match.

"It really does boil down to the dollar," Williams said. "And I think that Columbia companies, not just Columbia companies, but all companies need to be really aware of that."

Williams said companies being flexible enough to allow their employees to advance in they company can remedy employees leaving early.

"If you don't have a growth plan for them, they will leave," Williams said. "If the people can grow, they will stay."

Some companies like Lift Division, an online marketing firm, are letting their employees do just that. The company recently moved into a bigger building to accomdate its growing staff.

"We went from 10, 15 employees to 20 or 25 employees, and it's very hard to work in a co-working environment being that size," Lift Division CEO Rusty Brett said.

Lift Division Chief Strategy Officer Josh Burrell credits the type of jobs the company offers as a reason for it being able to retain the younger employees.

"The industry that we're in is very appealing to the younger generation," Burrell said. "When an employee comes in and they're very well educated, but still very moldable and excited to learn more, that's kind of the ideal client for us."

Lift Division SEO Project Manager Tony Patrick has been growing alongside Lift Division since he got to the company while still in school. He went from an unpaid intern to a paid staff member to now, a project manager.

"I love the fact that I can continue to learn what I do and get better at it every day," Patrick said.