Five Takeaways for Your Talent Program from Young Smart & Local 2023

November 29, 2023

In November 2023, more than 200 leaders in economic development, tourism, government, higher education and business gathered in New Orleans for the nation’s leading talent attraction, growth and retention conference, Young Smart & Local 

The three-day conference explored crucial topics such as reconnecting workers to downtown areas, AI’s impact on the future of work, and how cities and companies can bring underserved communities into the workforce. 

DCI had the opportunity to sponsor the conference and lead a keynote and panel discussion about the “path to purchase” for talent and how cities, regions and states can best attract and retain the talent they need. 

One thing is clear: we are all grappling with what the future talent landscape looks like and how we can play an active role in the attraction, retention and diversification of the workforce in our communities. 

Here are five key takeaways that stood out to us. 

1. The primacy of people is the new normal 

Black women in white shirt speaking into a microphone at a conference

In a panel discussion, “Our Work Lives Will Never Be The Same,” Chris Wink, Co-Founder and CEO at, spoke about how economic development strategies have shifted within the last decade from a focus on reeling in big-fish companies to a people-first approach. The HQ2 days of economic development are behind us – and economic development organizations must think about how their strategies appeal to people, the new currency. That means building and maintaining the kind of place where people want to live and work. 

Dominique Clarke, Director of Member and Alumni Experience at Tulsa Remote, spoke about how Tulsa Remote has maintained a 90% retention rate of first-year program participants due to the programming that she and her team offer to get people truly connected to their new city. When it comes to the discussion of remote and hybrid work, Perry Sholes, President at Progressive HR Strategies, spoke about how companies must tread a fine line between offering flexibility while ensuring the opportunity for talent to become embedded in a company culture, which can be difficult when remote. To that end, some companies that offer hybrid work require new employees to come to the office for the first six months or so to ensure that they feel connected to the company before they have the option to work remotely. 

2. Research is the key to attracting and retaining talent 

Two women and a man speaking at a conference panel

Any effective talent attraction and retention program starts with good data. In the panel, “How to Win the Talent War: The Path to Purchase for Relocating Talent,” Bree Burris, Director of Marketing and Communications at San Diego Regional EDC, and Wes Hudgens, Lead Project Manager at Florida Power & Light Office of Economic Development, discussed the strategies behind their successful talent attraction campaigns in San Diego and Florida, respectively. While the target audience and tactics for each campaign are unique, the common thread is that both were guided by research, and both underscored the importance of first understanding current perceptions of your community as a place to live and work and continually going back to this data to inform the strategy. 

3. Authenticity moves people – literally 

Woman with dark hai rin a green shirt waving out into a crowd

As you may have seen in the New York Times andBuzzFeed, an influencer in Peoria, IL, successfully attracted hundreds of new residents to her city through the power of TikTok. How did she do it? Angie Ostaszewski led with authenticity, intentionality and positivity. Her infectious energy and proven formula made for viral content that showcased the affordable homes in Peoria and ultimately built a community of more than 500 individuals who now call the city home. But it wasn’t just the inexpensive homes that attracted people; it was the promise of a growing community of like-minded individuals. Angie did not try to be all things to all people – she was highly targeted with who she was looking to reach and was upfront about the less positive aspects of living in her community. This unique combination of positivity and transparency made Angie the perfect recruiter for this region. Communities looking to work with influencers and content creators to attract talent must recognize that authenticity is what will be truly effective, so be intentional with these partnerships, avoid trying to script the message for them and, of course, compensate them for their work.  

4. Tourism has to be at the table 

Three people speaking at a breakout panel at a conference with dim lights and a big screen behind them.

According to the latest edition of DCI’s Talent Warsstudy, 14% of people relocated based on traveling to a location. There is no substitute for experiencing a place firsthand, so make sure that those charged with bringing people into your community through visitation are part of the conversation regarding talent attraction.  

For Kevin Ferguson, VP of External Affairs at New Orleans and Company, that means engaging with partners in business, economic development, higher education and other key groups. He urged the audience to ensure that the right people are at the table and taking a quality over quantity approach – because large groups with many stakeholders can slow things down. Who is actively involved in recruiting talent? Employers – so, start there. 

In Philly, talent stakeholders understand the importance of first looking inward to ensure that current residents are happy and engaged. As Angela Val, President and CEO of Visit Philly, put it, “Your residents are your megaphone.” For Visit Philly, a civic pride campaign was a crucial step to ensuring that the region’s residents were serving as ambassadors. 

5. AI is here to stay – embrace it 

Close up of a Black woman looking out into a crowd and speaking into a microphone at a conference.

Is AI going to take your job? Probably not, but it might make it easier. During the panel “AI’s Impact on the Future of Talent,” panelist Barbara Pender, Deputy Delivery Lead for Global Generative AI Solutions at Accenture, encouraged the audience to start experimenting with integrating AI into workflows now, as it’s not going anywhere. The panelists emphasized that AI isn’t magic; it requires critical thinking, experimentation and asking the right questions to get the results you want. The better you are at engaging with AI, the better the technology will help you. Employers and communities alike should consider this as we look to the future of the talent landscape. 

Looking to start or take your talent attraction and retention strategy to the next level? Learn more about how DCI can develop innovative ways to attract the best talent to your destination

Written by

Patience Fairbrother

Vice President, Talent Attraction