The following is reposted from the Charleston Regional Business Journal (Apr. 18 – May 1, 2016; Volume 22, No. 9):

“If you want abundance, give it to other people.”

So launched the opening session of Lowcounty Local First’s Good Business Summit in a panel discussion titled “Better Together: Where Culture and Talent Meet Your Bottom Line” held at the Charleston Museum on August 27th, 2015 with a sold-out crowd. Panelist Steve Palmer, managing partner of Charleston-based Indigo Road Hospitality Group, with local restaurants including O-Ku, The Cocktail Club, The Macintosh, Indaco, and Oak Steakhouse, as well as several in other cities, described his deliberate approach to building company culture as being a living, breathing thing that takes ongoing effort and attention. Palmer cited how he treats people as the cornerstone of his business, emphasizing the importance of company culture on the bottom line, and explaining that when a restaurant culture is broken, costs go up, and profits go down.

The audience, full of primarily local business owners, was hungry for both high-level insights and tactical approaches to this critical aspect of running a successful business, no matter the size of the company. Palmer highlighted his company’s practice of employees reviewing managers as helpful, believing the way people feel about working for their leaders can say everything.

Based on our conversations with Good Business Summit attendees, this insight into company culture struck a chord. Culture in the business world is not a new topic, but remains elusive to many companies. As Palmer noted, bad company culture can easily result in negative operational and financial impacts. Employee turnover can cost up to 150 percent of the annual salary of the lost worker, according to Inc. Magazine.

And before culture and employee retention come into play, there are significant challenges associated with finding and hiring qualified workers.

Hiring and retaining qualified workers topped the list as the biggest challenge facing local, independent businesses in Lowcountry Local First’s 2015 annual survey of our membership, which consists of more than 500 companies across all industries, representing more than 16,000 workers.

To dig a little deeper on this subject, Lowcountry Local First interviewed local business owners in several different industries, sharing the first of the series here:

Christina Lock – CEO/Talent Recruiter, Catch Talent
Catch is a recruiting and employer brand agency that delivers talent attraction and marketing services to growing technology and engineering companies. 

David Thompson – Principal/Owner, David Thompson Architect
A full-service practice focusing on new construction, adaptive re-use and renovation for a variety of project types; restaurants, custom residential, light commercial construction, retail and office design.

Lee Deas – Founder/Grand Imaginator, Obviouslee Marketing
Marketing strategy, public relations, online branding, graphic and web design.


1) Please describe the challenge your business has faced or is facing with hiring qualified workers or retaining qualified workers:

Christina Lock – Catch Talent: In the technology industry, salaries, benefits, and options for career growth are often competitive across the board. Because of this, retention comes down to how well a candidate aligns with a company’s people and culture. The companies that deliver great places to work and provide both professional and personal fulfillment will retain the best people in the long run.

In terms of hiring qualified workers, there is simply a supply and demand issue.  The amount of technology jobs currently available versus the number of qualified engineers and developers to actually fill those roles, has a wide gap. The biggest challenge is that everyone is looking for the same skill set.

David Thompson – David Thompson Architect: In the last two years it has been a lengthy process to hire for available positions within our firm and our last four hires have come from out-of-state markets. Local candidates that were hungry for work a few years ago are now happily employed, as our construction market seems to have gotten healthier at a faster rate than other areas. I also think the memory of a tough job market is fresh enough in people’s minds that they are unwilling to take a risk and change jobs if they feel comfortable in their current position. By contrast, other areas in the country have not had as robust of a recovery and there is a lot of interest in moving to Charleston for the perceived quality of life. Retaining employees becomes difficult when the cost of living sets in and real estate becomes unaffordable. Additionally, I don’t think competitive wages for our industry in Charleston stack up to national averages whereas the cost of living exceeds other markets where you could make more money.

In terms of design, Charleston is a mixed bag and a very interesting place in terms of historic context and climate but has not been very supportive of a diverse range of architectural approaches.  I think between the wage gap and a difficult creative climate, it is difficult to attract the staff we want.

Lee Deas – Obviouslee Marketing: Due to the incredible quality of life in Charleston, we have been fortunate to recruit some great talent from other markets and to be able to retain our team. The biggest challenge we see in the next five years is in recruiting experienced web developers.

2) How have challenges with hiring/retaining workers impacted your operations and/or growth potential?

Christina Lock – Catch Talent: Hiring and retaining technical employees impacts all aspects of the organization. It affects our ability to deliver to our clients, meet deadlines, and even propose work for new business. Bottom line: All companies, no matter the industry, are in the people business. Their team members drive their revenue, future business, as well as day-to-day operations.

David Thompson – David Thompson Architect: We have had to pass on some projects that we did not have adequate staff for so opportunities have been missed in the last two years when we have been in between hires.

Lee Deas – Obviouslee Marketing: We have recently launched an Austin, Texas office and will probably be hiring part of our creative team, including designers and developers, in that market in order to have access to a larger pool of talent.


3) What policies, tools, programs, incentives, or changes would help your business address this issue?

Christina Lock – Catch Talent: At Catch, we consult with clients on how to best retain candidates with the use of employer branding (how candidates and employees view their organization), as well as referral campaigns. Referrals are, and will continue to remain, the number one source of hiring internally for companies. Talented people want to work with people of a similar mind-set and culture. What better way than to ask them who their friends are, and hire them into your organization? It’s not about “out-perking” the competition anymore, it’s about brand. If you want to attract and retain the best talent, you have to showcase that you are the best.

David Thompson – David Thompson Architect: The best incentive we can offer to prospective employees is to do great work. I think we pay competitive within our market and have a good company culture. That is as much as we can do internally.  In terms of policy, some of it is cultural within our industry that we need to raise our fees across the board and instill a sense of value in what we do so that we can pay our employees better. Changes to increase the availability of more moderately priced housing on the peninsula would be a big draw as well. 

Lee Deas – Obviouslee Marketing: Charleston Open Source is a great local initiative bringing together local developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and tech leaders to share all that’s amazing about working in technology in Charleston. As this movement continues to grow, we should see an increase the amount of talented developers and engineers in the area to match the current demand.

Jordan Amaker
Director of Marketing & Communications
Director of Marketing & Communications