Companies revamp workplaces to attract millennials

The search for top millennial talent has some companies revamping their workplaces and opening up offices in the downtowns of cities, panelists at a WEDA conference said.

That includes companies such as Johnson Controls, whose Adient automotive spinoff will be headquartered in a downtown Milwaukee building that’s still in the works. Northwestern Mutual is building an office tower downtown.

“If you have a cool workplace … you can now hire the cream of the crop,” said Lyle Landowski, a partner at the real estate consulting firm Colliers International.

Landowski spoke Friday at a Governor’s Conference on Economic Development panel, which focused on companies using real estate to attract talent.

Even just a few years ago, company leaders didn’t really consider talent attraction when they decided on relocating, said Shannon Full, the president and CEO of the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce.

But talent attraction is increasingly playing a key role in the process, she said, as companies look to attract millennials that prefer urban spaces.

“We’re hearing it firsthand as one of the top three decision-making factors,” Full said.

It even goes beyond the location, Landowski said. Company leaders also need to make sure the office looks modern on the inside, giving an example of a law firm that might have outdated furniture and private offices, as opposed to open spaces.

A recent Colliers International survey of southeastern Wisconsin millennials found 72.5 percent of them “value a workplace that promotes collaboration.”

“You might have a very progressive firm … but they’re saying, ‘Wow, these guys are stuck in the past. I’m not working for this kind of company,’” Landowski said.

Coleman Peiffer, a WEDC business development manager who’s part of Wausau’s E3 Young Professionals, noted communities also need to engage millennials in their cities and outside of them. His group started a few years ago to spread the word there was more to Wausau that “did not involve drinking.”

The group, for example, partners with NEWaukee to bring Milwaukee young professionals to Wausau for a weekend.

“[They] start to spread this message that Wausau actually has all these things to do,” he said. “There’s good restaurants, there’s good breweries, people are nice. We’re trying to change that image and perception.”

The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce has a similar program, in which they invite college students for an all-expenses-paid trip to the region.

The program, which started with WEDC funding, is now paid by companies that meet with those students, some of whom get hired for internships and jobs.

“It’s definitely working,” Full said. “Our companies are very happy.”

— By Polo Rocha,