Technology skills are fast emerging as essential in every kind of company, and across all sectors. These tech-savvy workers tend to cluster in metropolitan areas where they can live and work among others with similar skills and experiences.

In the second of TechPoint’s workforce reports, Defining the Demand—Tech Skills Central Indiana Companies Need to Grow, a truth is revealed that many local companies witness each day: Central Indiana employers continue to struggle when it comes to attracting the best candidates to fill open positions. Eighty-five percent of the surveyed companies said that they faced high or very high competition for qualified technical workers. While this situation is particularly acute in the tech sector, the broader business sector faces the same challenges albeit less dramatically.

Addressing the tech talent hiring challenges will require creative thinking and new strategies. In  this week’s interview with Gerry Dick, TechPoint CEO Mike Langellier says, “This is something that is going to require partnership among universities, private sector companies and even policy makers and the government.” At Katz, Sapper & Miller, we recognize the critical importance of being able to attract and retain world-class employees, and we see several straightforward steps that can benefit individual companies in their quest for top talent.

An Indiana connection makes all the difference

The region simply lacks appeal to recent college grads and other job seekers – unless they have the advantage of an Indiana connection, that is. More than 80% of business leaders surveyed by TechPoint reported that 8 out of 10 of their employees have a significant Indiana connection, whether that’s through family background, education or another linkage. According to Langellier, “The common denominator we found across the board is that a family connection is important.” To know Indy is to love it, or so the data would indicate.

Clearly, employers and recruiters should be making every effort possible to specifically target candidates with a connection to Indiana as they go after the best talent. In the era of big data and social media, finding and connecting with these Indy-aware jobseekers can be a simple matter of creating and mining a LinkedIn account. Leveraging the positive perceptions of this Indy-aware group is a clear path to hiring the skilled workers you want.

Put Indy tech salaries in context

While higher salaries in certain regions are inarguable, when examined in terms of cost of living, the real wages offered by central Indiana tech employers are quite competitive. For example, querying the popular website PayScale reveals that to match the buying power of a salary of $120K in San Jose, CA, a software engineer need earn only $73,155 in Indianapolis.

That’s quite a difference! It’s a message that is particularly likely to resonate with Indiana “expats.” The same people who were excited to leave the area for schooling or employment in other locations are among the most fervent and vocal supporters of Indianapolis and surrounding communities when they return older and wiser, with the added perspective of having lived elsewhere. They may not have cared about relative cost of living at the outset of their careers, but they are likely to be extremely interested in those comparisons after a stint in an expensive, shared apartment on either coast.

New college graduates and interns who have grown up in the region may be chomping at the bit, ready to take flight and explore new horizons. But for those businesses that target employees considering a return to the Hoosier State, they should be aggressive in educating job candidates about the true value of the company’s financial rewards in the context of an Indiana cost of living.

The case for a focus on “place marketing”

The allure of Indiana to those who have a personal connection to the state makes place marketing (marketing specific geographic areas) an important strategy for employers. As Langellier says, “Hallmarks of central Indiana include a great quality of life and an attractive place to raise a family. Those are the things we need to hone in on as we look nationally to attract talent.”

TechPoint is just one of many community and industry groups working to enhance Indiana’s quality of life and its reputation as a desirable place to live and work. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation, for example, has a number of statewide and geographically specific initiatives, such as the “A State that Works” campaign and the Regional Cities Initiative. Employ Indy, Visit Indy, IndyHub and other community and industry groups like VERGE and the Venture Club of Indiana are all playing a part as well.

Get involved with these groups to promote and market your region, if possible, and pay attention to the way they communicate what’s wonderful about the area. By communicating a consistent message about Indiana’s exceptional lifestyle amenities and strong business climate, recruiters can help distinguish the state.

Selling Indy to potential hires

By enhancing Indiana’s image through broad place marketing and more targeted efforts to recruit job candidates who are already familiar with the region, employers can attract and retain the elite, technologically sophisticated workforce they want. Don’t be shy about educating potential hires about the favorable cost of living, lifestyle advantages and many charms of your hometown, either. You love living here; and if they’re lucky enough to be hired, so will those skilled tech workers you need.

Tim DuVall is the partner-in-charge of Katz, Sapper & Miller’s Technology Industry Services Group and provides business, tax and accounting consulting services to many tech companies. Tim was formerly a CFO with a national technology and consulting firm, overseeing private equity investment, mergers of newly acquired companies, and integration of financial and business systems.

Erin Eberly is a director in Katz, Sapper & Miller’s Business Advisory Group and helps lead the firm’s Technology Industry Services Group. Erin has extensive experience in tax planning, tax compliance, financial statement analysis, and forecasts and projections. She also assists clients with growth opportunities and financing, including experience with merger and acquisition transactions.