I’m going to tell you a little story that countless students who’ve attended college in Central Minnesota know by heart. It goes a little something like this: Come to Central Minnesota for college. Leave for a job.

I can relate. When I was in the art program at St. Cloud State University, I, along with all of my classmates, assumed we would graduate and head off to the Twin Cities.

When I was a college senior, there was no less than 12 marketing agencies in the Greater St. Cloud area. Not to mention the numerous in-house marketing positions. And yet, I never questioned if I should stay here. Our class toured agencies in the Cities, we attended events in the Cities, and we talked incessantly about the Cities. Of course, I’d land in the Cities.

That changed for me when I got an internship at a local inbound marketing agency called Leighton Interactive. More on that in a moment.

First, I’d like address a problematic “blame game” scenario that’s become a reality in Central Minnesota and for business owners and new grads nationwide. One where employers blame the difficult hiring situation on unreliable, flaky Millenial and Gen Z workers. And then we, the Millenial and Gen Z workers, blame the employers for not “getting it”.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to take a moment to blame us both. Because the reality is that brain drain from Central Minnesota to the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area is a bummer for everyone. It’s a bummer for employers when the best talent slips through their fingers, and it’s a bummer for young professionals when they don’t realize the benefits of lower living costs and better advancement opportunities within the workplace in Greater St. Cloud.

Well, here’s my easier said than done solution: Employers need to give young people a reason to stay.

I realize this puts the onus on the employer, and it might make some business owners scoff. Work-from-home policies, project autonomy and ownership, flexible work hours, for some business owners these might seem unnecessary. But for many young professionals, these are things that matter.

If the career landscape is a market, then Millennial and Gen Z workers are the coveted consumers. And what do you have to do in a competitive market to attract consumers? You must compete. 

When I was six months into my first career out of college I was still on the fence about staying in St. Cloud. It was good timing for Dan Soldner, president of Leighton Interactive, to take me out to lunch and ask me what would keep me here.

Beyond being competitive with basic things like pay, benefits, and amenities, figuring out how to engage young talent is key. For me, Dan did this by encouraging me to start the St. Cloud branch of nonprofit service organization called Rotaract. Through this community connection, my husband and I have grown roots so deep in St. Cloud that we can’t imagine leaving. We became engaged in local issues and got to know a whole new group of people.

None of that would have happened if my employer hadn’t made room for me to take on a challenge that I would become passionate about. Not only did Leighton Interactive allow it, but they encouraged and supported it. This is just one way my employer has become competitive in the market.

Community service is a strong way to grow roots in a place, but there are lots of measures that every business owner can take to be competitive. The only way you will find the best measures for your business is by asking your young employees and being willing to change based on what you hear.

St. Cloud is a great place to live and work. It’s time to get the next generation of talent to live and work here, too.