How Your Employer Brand Can Bring Talent to Your Small City

After my husband and I married in 2015, we, like most newlyweds, wanted to buy a house and start a family. For us, that meant a house with a yard big enough that we could adopt two dogs. At the time, we were living in the Washington, D.C. metro area. For our dream to become reality, we were faced with a choice between — money (buying closer to our jobs would be expensive) and time (buying farther away would add to our already long commutes). Instead, we opted to relocate and find new jobs in a city that could meet all of our needs with minimal sacrifice. We chose Richmond, Virginia as our new home even before we found job opportunities there. 

Why Richmond? There are many reasons, but mainly because it offers the culture — local restaurants and craft breweries, parks and outdoor spaces, and music and art venues — that we enjoy about big-city living, with a fraction of the commute time and cost. Fast-forward to the present day, we have our house, our dogs, and access to all the amenities of a capital city. 

I share my story because our exodus from the big city is not unique. Millennials are moving out of metropolises and heading to the suburbs and smaller cities at increasing rates. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows Dallas, Seattle, and Portland as the top cities with the highest net migration of Millennials (people between the ages of 20 and 34). Cities like Seattle have become synonymous with large employers like Amazon and Microsoft that attract Millennials because of the numerous job opportunities they bring to an area and the impact they make on local economic conditions. 

However, there is a tipping point. Eventually, the lure to work at these employers is drowned out by skyrocketing housing costs and increased traffic congestion. Conditions like these drive talent away (just look at Silicon Valley and San Francisco). As a result, talent flocks to smaller cities like Norfolk, Virginia, and Columbia, South Carolina, which are both climbing higher and higher on the list of places Millennials are calling home

So whether it’s for job opportunities, affordable housing, or improved quality of life, the fact remains — Millennials are on the move. How can you capitalize on their migration and position your company and the surrounding community as a place they can belong, contribute, and thrive?


  1. Partner with your neighbors 

If you’re having difficulty attracting talent to your smaller community, chances are other local employers are too. And while it may sound contrary to what’s best for business, partnering with your competition can make everyone stronger. After all, if you’ve built an authentic employer brand, your talent will be able to identify if your organization is a workplace they can find a sense of belonging. Start small by creating a Facebook group or regular Twitter chat that’s focused on #CommunityOverCompetition. Or, go all in with an advisory board or committee that brings talent acquisition professionals together to discuss hiring challenges and work on finding mutually-beneficial solutions.

Not ready to extend a handshake with your talent competitors? Explore what opportunities are available to partner with your local convention and visitors bureau (CVB) or universities and colleges. There may be partnerships or sponsorships available to help generate employer brand awareness for your organization and city. For example, this Northeast Wisconsin-based non-profit has a whole page dedicated to recruitment tools that local businesses can use to help bring talent to the area. Investing in your local community can strengthen bonds with its residents and lead to a pipeline of future talent. 

  1. Use housing costs to your advantage 

At exaqueo, we believe in research first, decision-making second. This not only applies to how we build employer brands, in this case, it also applies to candidates’ behavior throughout the candidate experience. Candidates are doing research on more than your company and the role. There are many things that go into one’s decision to take a new job, especially one that requires relocating. Truly understanding the things that matter to your candidates will take research. But one thing is for certain, candidates considering relocating will be looking at housing costs. 

Sites like Zillow offer data on median home value and residential rent prices. Create recruiter talking points and resources that compare housing values in the candidate’s current city and the city where you’re located. By sharing customized real estate data with candidates, recruiters will help them visualize the full benefit of moving to your area. If your organization has multiple locations, consider creating an internal mobility campaign that encourages employees to consider open positions in other locations. Don’t forget to highlight any relocation benefits, if available.  

  1. Recruit outside your region 

If you’re based in a small city, chances are can’t solely rely on local recruitment marketing tactics to get the candidate pipeline you need. You have to look beyond your region and target other locations, too. Don’t assume that an out-of-state candidate won’t be interested in relocating (on the company or their own dime). 

Go big by pursuing “Great Place to Work” awards or putting together an HR-PR campaign to propel your organization into the national spotlight. Find publicly available information to identify locations with high populations of your target candidate audience. Let’s say you need nurses. Create ads targeted to areas with high costs of living and high populations of employed RNs such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago ( Or identify trade schools and specialized colleges (nursing, engineering, or IT/Tech) that have programs aligned to your target talent segments with high graduation rates and focus recruitment efforts in these locations. Recruiting outside your region will require a bit of testing, evaluating, and iterating, but it will be worth it when those candidates start submitting applications.

  1. Promote local attractions and lifestyle 

In our exaqueo research, we use a model called The Whole Self. In short, we believe the employment experience is impacted by things both inside and outside of work. If you’re going to entice talent to come to your small city, you need to show them more than what work is like 9-5, Monday-Friday. Lean into what your local community has to offer and highlight the attractions and culture that make living there special. For example, Swedish Medical Health dedicates entire sections of its careers website to the various surrounding neighborhoods to help future caregivers imagine themselves living and working there. 

Consider the other aspects that your candidates and employees care about like learning and development, tuition reimbursement, or community service efforts. For example, if your small city is also a college town, tap into the educational opportunities available. Whether sponsoring local events, showing employees participating in fundraisers, or days of service, demonstrate your company’s values and purpose in action through community service. Promoting the life future employees’ can have outside of work will help build the case for their relocation. 

  1. Offer flexibility or create satellite offices 

So what if you’re recruiting in a large city like New York or San Francisco and are still struggling to bring talent to your city? The tips above will still mostly apply except using housing costs to your advantage (obviously). Whether recruiting in a small or large city, consider the many benefits of offering remote work options. 

While some positions can’t be remote due to the nature of the role, there may be some roles you can test remote if candidate pools are scarce. Investigate opportunities to open satellite offices near clients or in locations with high target candidate populations. Even offering a little bit of flexibility, whether that be in schedule or location, can ease recruiting challenges.

Above all, stay true to who you are as an employer and what your company offers in an employment experience. The goal is not to attract everyone, only those candidates who feel like they belong in your company and in your community. Authenticity and a feeling of belonging are essential for all employees, not just Millennials. 

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