Participants in Tuesday's CEO Roundtable on technology in Northern Colorado included, from left to right, Russ Henninger, Hub International; Mike Freeman, CEO, Innosphere; Kent Bejcek, president/CEO, Squarei Technologies Inc.; Jon Thompson, partner, Blue Margin; Chris Otto, EKS&H; Brent Peterson, EKS&H; Rick Gardner, director, EWI Colorado; Scott Warner, vice president of sales, Connecting Point; Jim Sampson, Hub International; Scott Kunze, president/CEO, DataSplice LLC; Kelly Peters, executive director, The Warehouse Business Accelerator; Matt Morgan, CEO, Paradigm Research Optics; Bob Vomaske, CEO, Vista Solutions Corp.; Ken Salazar, president/CEO, SilverEdge. (Joshua Lindenstein/BizWest)

Tech CEOs: Talent tough to come by despite NoCo being ‘on the map’

FORT COLLINS — Go to just about any city in America, and tech firms will lament the availability of tech workers at their disposal. But certain areas — think Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, Denver/Boulder — at least have some tech-hub cachet attached to their names to help get them on potential hires’ radar.

Despite a general feeling that Fort Collins “is on the map” as a rising center for tech itself, several local tech leaders gathered Tuesday said they often have to do some extra selling to land top talent in Northern Colorado in such a competitive hiring landscape.

“If you look at it today, we are just begging to try and find good talent to come in and scale and grow,” said Ken Salazar, president and CEO of SilverEdge, a Loveland firm that helps small and medium-sized businesses incorporate the latest point-of-sale payment technologies.

Salazar was one of 10 executives participating in BizWest’s CEO Roundtable on technology in Northern Colorado, an event sponsored by EKS&H and Hub International.

Scott Warner, vice president of sales at Greeley information technology and managed services provider Connecting Point, echoed Salazar’s sentiments. The lifelong Greeley resident said the issue is pronounced in his community, which has a different regional reputation than many towns along the Front Range.

“We even have a hard time drawing people (from other cities in Northern Colorado) to Greeley,” Warner said, noting that Connecting Point has gotten more targeted with its hiring process, often looking outside the region or the state and spending three to five months on the hiring process for each open position to make sure that when someone new is brought onboard, it’s the right person.

Of course, Salazar, Warner and others admitted that it’s not all doom and gloom. If companies can get candidates interested in their firms, Northern Colorado becomes a much easier sell than most places.

Many said lifestyle and company culture are often the determining factor in landing the new hires they want. Scott Kunze, president and CEO of software development firm DataSplice, said he’s having to pay new hires more than 10 or 15 years ago to be competitive. But the need for a strong financial package to be there is a given.

“Really, it’s culture that sells,” Kunze said. “Smart people want to work with other smart people and have those same kinds of cultural desires.”

Salazar joked that Google ruined hiring for the rest of the tech world by creating an expectation that working at a tech company means beanbag chairs in your office, ping-pong tables in the break room and company bikes to zip across campus. But he said it’s not just young people driving the cultural shift and looking for flexible work schedules and community-minded firms.

“Millennials are driving it, but traditional employees are adopting it,” Salazar said.

Jon Thompson, a partner at data analytics firm Blue Margin, said one recent compelling job candidate noted in an interview a blog on Blue Margin’s website about volunteer work company employees had done.

“They cued in on that more than anything else,” Thompson said.

Bob Vomaske, CEO at Vista Solutions Corp., said he makes no excuses about his business being in Fort Collins during the hiring process, carrying the location “as a badge of honor that we’re here and have a flexible enough business model” for continued success. Vomaske agreed that flexibility, from the employees’ side, is a big perk companies can provide, whether it’s time off to do community service or being able to arrange work around family or personal interests.

“It’s all about flexibility,” Vomaske said.

Mike Freeman, CEO at tech incubator Innosphere, said startups are one set of companies that are better than most established small businesses at recruiting because they’re spending more time doing it and, often, the employees startups are attracting are being attracted by equity in lieu of higher salaries. The flip side, he said, is that those startups often find it tougher to hire good sales people, who are often more cash-oriented in their desires.

CALLING EXPERIENCED ENTREPRENEURS 

Kelly Peters, executive director of The Warehouse Business Accelerator in Loveland — which aims to help post-startup tech and manufacturing firms scale up — said there seems to be a lack of experienced entrepreneurs locally who are willing to offer mentorship to companies at the stage The Warehouse targets. She said she believes those types of mentors are in Northern Colorado, but more needs to be done to get the word out that their knowledge is needed.

“Really, even if they can give four hours a month to a company,” it’s helpful, she said.

Matt Morgan, CEO of Paradigm Research Optics, a company that works with The Warehouse, said the accelerator’s resources and connections to mentorship have been important. His firm, he cited as an example, doesn’t yet have a chief financial officer.

“When we get to strategic-level financial questions, where do we go?” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we hooked up with The Warehouse.”

INNOVATION IN MANUFACTURING 

As nonprofit EWI establishes a center in Loveland to help local manufacturers improve their processes and increase competitiveness, Rick Gardner, who is leading the Colorado expansion, said the organization — which has presences in Ohio and New York — is capitalizing on timing as much as location.

While many companies spent the past few decades offshoring manufacturing, the tide is starting to turn as many firms bring manufacturing back to U.S. soil. For many products that became commodities, offshoring made sense, he said, thanks to the decreased costs. But Gardner said there were also many innovative products that shouldn’t have been offshored. As U.S. firms get more involved with their manufacturing again, he said they’re often finding that there’s been plenty of time spent on creating innovative products but not necessarily innovative ways to make them.

“Companies are realizing there’s a need there, and that’s why we’ve come to the Rocky Mountain region,” Gardner said.

Participants in Tuesday’s CEO Roundtable included: Kent Bejcek, president/CEO, Squarei Technologies Inc.; Mike Freeman, CEO, Innosphere; Rick Gardner, director, EWI Colorado; Scott Kunze, president/CEO, DataSplice LLC; Matt Morgan, CEO, Paradigm Research Optics; Kelly Peters, executive director, The Warehouse Business Accelerator; Ken Salazar, president/CEO, SilverEdge; Jon Thompson, partner, Blue Margin; Bob Vomaske, CEO, Vista Solutions Corp.; Scott Warner, vice president of sales, Connecting Point. Moderator: Christopher Wood, editor/co-publisher, BizWest. Sponsors: Chris Otto, EKS&H; Brent Peterson, EKS&H; Russ Henninger, Hub International; Jim Sampson, Hub International.

FORT COLLINS — Go to just about any city in America, and tech firms will lament the availability of tech workers at their disposal. But certain areas — think Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, Denver/Boulder — at least have some tech-hub cachet attached to their names to help get them on potential hires’ radar.

Despite a general feeling that Fort Collins “is on the map” as a rising center for tech itself, several local tech leaders gathered Tuesday said they often have to do some extra selling to land top talent in Northern Colorado in such a competitive hiring landscape.

“If you look at it today, we are just begging to try and find good talent to come in and scale and grow,” said Ken Salazar, president and CEO of SilverEdge, a Loveland firm that helps small and medium-sized businesses incorporate the latest point-of-sale payment technologies.

Salazar was one of 10 executives participating in BizWest’s CEO Roundtable on technology in Northern Colorado, an event sponsored by EKS&H and Hub International.

Scott Warner, vice president of sales at Greeley information technology and managed services provider Connecting Point, echoed Salazar’s sentiments. The lifelong Greeley resident said the issue is pronounced in his community, which has a different regional reputation than many towns along the Front Range.

“We even have a hard time drawing people (from other cities in Northern Colorado) to Greeley,” Warner said, noting that Connecting Point has gotten more targeted with its hiring process, often looking outside the region or the state and spending three to…