Amazon chooses Nashville to bring 5,000 jobs to downtown
Nashville recruiters have this advice for local tech employers in the wake of Amazon’s announcement of 5,000 new jobs in city: Prepare for poaching.
The Seattle-based tech giant announced Tuesday it would bring at least 5,000 jobs to Nashville as it opens its Operations Center of Excellence. Within the same hour, accounting firm EY, formerly Ernst & Young, said it would expand its Nashville presence with 600 new workers. Both companies have said tech hires will be a large component of their local workforce.
“A tight job market is going to get tighter,” said Craig Buffkin, managing partner of Brentwood-based recruiting firm Buffkin Baker. “There will be quite a few employers who will end up losing people to that new group. It’s sexy and new and a shiny new object.”
In Nashville, the unemployment rate is 2.9 percent. Jeff Haithcoat, a director of Brentwood recruiting firm Vaco, described the local tech unemployment rate at “effectively zero percent,” as every local sector now needs highly skilled tech employees. The Nashville Technology Council is among local groups that have launched initiatives and training programs to build the local pipeline of talent and boost recruitment efforts.
Amazon strengthens Nashville’s tech brand
Nashville tech leaders and company officials acknowledged that there may be some retention challenges for local firms, but emphasized the Amazon presence is a significant win for expanding the city’s tech talent.
For years, they have pointed to the lack of a flagship tech business in Nashville as limiting that sector’s growth. While Amazon did not choose Nashville as a site for its new headquarters, the city now will host a significant presence for a globally recognized brand.
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“Just bringing a company with the name and reputation of Amazon in with a Center of Excellence is going to ratchet up Nashville’s image within the tech community significantly,” Nashville Technology Council CEO Brian Moyer said. “The tech community as a whole should see this as a huge win. The rising tide is going to lift all businesses.”
Moyer said he didn’t think employers should be worried about losing talent.
“Any losses are going to be short-term,” Moyer said. “Being able to recruit new talent in Nashville is going to more than make up for any short-term losses we might see.”
John Wark, founder of the Nashville Software School, has helped train more than 700 entry-level software developers and data scientists for local employers since 2012, and he sees firsthand the local appetite for tech talent. A week after the latest class of web developers graduated, 60 percent have found jobs.
“Amazon will collect people like a magnet,” Wark said. “Yeah, sure, it creates another demand element in the tech economy; there’s yet another big employer that will soak up talent, but these name-brand adds to the employer pool in Nashville are going to make it even easier to recruit people than we’ve seen, which will ultimately contribute to deepening the tech pool here.”
Local talent base has grown
EY will open its new office in August that will specialize in tech-enabled tax services, software development, design and testing. The company will hire 200 tech workers and 400 accounting professionals, in addition to its existing 300 workers in Nashville. Positions will range from entry-level to senior management.
Amazon officials said the company will hire for management and tech positions, including software developers and computer scientists, at its new Nashville site. The average salary will be $150,000, more than double Nashville’s average annual income of $63,856.
Amazon officials said it plans to hiring locally first, but added that Nashville’s ability to attract people from other cities made it an appealing location.
“It’s a place that folks are eager to move to,” Amazon executive Jay Carney said. “We start local everywhere we go.”
The Nashville tech sector has gained meaningful momentum in recent years. Tech jobs in Nashville have increased by 30 percent since 2012, double the city’s overall rate of job growth, according to a recent Nashville Technology Council study.
Asurion executive Todd Chretien said the Nashville-based tech support company has witnessed that growth during the past 15 years and the competition for talent has grown with it. Amazon will have a positive impact on the competitive landscape by bringing in more highly skilled workers for its own positions but also by attracting people to Nashville in general, he said.
“Nashville on its own has a great brand and a great reputation,” Chretien said. “Adding the likes of Amazon and other great tech companies to the Nashville landscape only bolsters that.”
When someone is looking to move to Nashville from a more tech-heavy city, they appreciate knowing that other job opportunities exist beyond the position they are being recruited for. Amazon’s presence in Nashville will further illustrate the additional possibilities people have once they are here, he said.
Especially for startup companies, which offer less long-term security than established firms, the Amazon and EY offices help build the Nashville tech and business brand.
“It really validates and adds credibility to Tennessee’s business-friendly environment and the talent that is here,” said Launch Tennessee CEO Margaret Dolan. “When people evaluate whether they are willing to go with a startup, which inherently carries more risk with it, knowing there is wide variety of backup options should that not work out, would be appealing. Those sorts of opportunities are just going to attract more and more people.”
Haithcoat said the Amazon presence will help diversify Nashville’s tech brand beyond health care, where many of those jobs exist now. Rather than be concerned about retention, employers should be excited about the Amazon gain, he said.
“A lot of the talent we are going to bring from out of the market, and it is going to continue to raise the level of talent for Nashville,” Haithcoat said. “Those individuals might work at Amazon for several years and then move to another employer existing in town.”
Preventing employee attrition
Dan Shomo, a recruiter at Robert Half in Nashville, encouraged employers to be proactive to retain top workers.
“When you are bringing 5,000 jobs into any company with the name recognition Amazon has, it’s certainly going to have an effect,” Shomo said. “It’s important to start asking employees what’s important.”
Some employees may prioritize a more flexible schedule or remote work opportunities, while others might be focused on how to best climb the corporate ladder. Finding out what is most important to each employee is key to keeping them when other employers reach out or post similar jobs.
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“If you don’t know what is motivating each individual to be able to tailor it to that employee, you are likely to get some employees poached,” Shomo said. “There’s never been a better job market from an employee perspective.”
Buffkin advised company officials to take the time to chart out growth paths with employees and let them know their value to a company. When it comes to pay raises, Buffkin expects companies to be more reactive with counter-offers than proactive, and he cautioned that Amazon has more cash on hand than most companies.
“There are employers in Nashville that don’t pay market (rate),” Buffkin said. “They have gotten way with that for a long time. Those days are probably getting few and far between.”
Reach Jamie McGee at 615-259-8071 and on Twitter @JamieMcGee_.
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