Finger-Lickin' Good

The Job Market

If you live anywhere else, Lexington, Kentucky, might seem far off the map. That perception can be a problem in attracting bodies and minds to an employee-starved company. And it is just a perception: Lexington is a day's drive from 70 percent of the continental United States. And a number of Midwestern and Southern cities are within a few hours' drive: Cincinnati; Indianapolis; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Louisville, Kentucky.

Still, Randall Stevens, CEO of ArchVision, a company that builds software and constructs computer models of buildings, is a little worried. ArchVision cleared just less than $1 million in 2000 sales; by the end of this year, it could be much more-if Stevens can hire the team he wants. "It's been fine while we've been hiring [one or two people at a time], but if you kick into gear and start adding 30, 40, 50 people in a year, then you've got a real challenge," says Stevens, 33.

First, there's the hackneyed image strangers have of the area: "They know of Kentucky Fried Chicken," chuckles Stevens, "and whatever stereotypes they've gotten from television, and that's about it. But once they see that we actually do wear shoes, and that Lexington is a 'normal' place, I don't think it'll be a huge challenge to get out of those stereotypes."

"Our labor market is probably just as tight as, if not tighter than, the rest of the country," confirms Edelen. "We have between 300,000 and 350,000 people in Lexington, and unemployment is less than 2 percent. This causes some problems. But the bonus is that you have 11 institutions of higher education within the region. We're gradu-ating something like 9,000 degree-holding graduates per year. About one-third of our population has college degrees, which is amazing. We're able to leverage that kind of brain power into supporting the knowledge-based new economy. We have a strong work force. We're trying to strengthen it even more, and we're producing a large number of people who are ready to take jobs driven by mental capital."

While Lexington may have a tight labor market, Stevens bets he'd be worse off in a bigger city. "The sword cuts both ways in talent pools," he says. "When you're in an area with lots of talent, then you're fighting for the same talent, and you stand the chance of other companies luring your talent away. Here, we don't have that kind of competition for employees."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Finger-Lickin' Good.

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