Photo: PAUL BUCKOWSKI, Albany Times Union
Many of the companies named 2018 Top Workplaces by the Times Union are hiring like crazy.
AAA Northway, the travel and motor car nonprofit based in Schenectady, hired 15 people over the past 12 months and is looking to hire 30 more employees.
Crisafulli Bros., the Albany-based plumbing, heating and air conditioning company, is also hiring, having brought on 50 new workers over the past year, with plans to bring on at least 10 in the following 12 months.
Autotask, the East Greenbush software company, hired 30 people this past year.
So it is the soaring national economy, fueled by the Trump tax cuts, higher corporate profits and rising consumer confidence? Or the fact that the Capital Region, anchored by state government and pushed upward by a growing technology sector, has one of the best-performing economies in the state?
It appears to be a combination of both, based on interviews with the Top Workplaces winners. And it doesn’t hurt to have a business that is “recession proof,” meaning one that isn’t subject to the ups and downs of the economy.
Just ask Andrea Crisafulli. She’s the owner and president of Crisafulli Bros., which was started by her family decades ago.
“The local economy has been very good and due to the relationships we have established over the years we have had our share of the construction in the region as well as a strong percentage of the residential plumbing, heating and cooling market,” Crisafulli said. “We are fortunate in that we are deeply rooted in the region, for almost 80 years now, so when the economy takes a downturn, the long standing relationships we have developed over the years continue to keep us busy.”
Of course, wanting to hire more people and getting that done in a cost-efficient manner doesn’t always go hand-in-hand, especially in the Capital Region, which has a labor shortage in key fields because of a lack of qualified workers, especially in areas engineering, software coding and manufacturing, all of which require specialized skills.
Even in contracting and plumbing, it’s not easy to find qualified candidates, says Crisafulli, although she says that the company will invest in training the right person as long as they have a “mechanical aptitude” and a positive attitude and are friendly, which is important for customer service.
“It’s no secret that there is a shortage of individuals entering the trades, couple that with the customer service standards we as an organization require and the pool shrinks even more,” Crisafulli said.
The company has worked hard to offer its workers training and a stable career path instead of just a job, and Crisafulli says trying to earn recognition like Top Workplaces is also important to attracting the best workers.
“Connecting and building real relationships with your team members is essential,” Crisafulli said. “Our employees are truly valued for their contributions and I think that is one of our greatest differentiators.”
Hiring is one of the most difficult tasks that a company is typically faced with. The latest release of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership’s Economic Index Community Survey last month found that while Saratoga County is one of the fastest growing economies and populations, with steady income growth and a high labor participation rate, employers aren’t rushing to create new jobs.
Forty-seven percent of the businesses questioned for the survey said they had created new jobs over the past 12 months, but only 41 percent thought they would create additional jobs over the next year. Creating jobs and filing existing job openings is different, with job creation adding new costs that a company didn’t have in the past, although job expansion can help a company meet an uptick in demand or get new customers, as with adding salespeople.
Technological advances, especially in the areas of software, artificial intelligence, online shopping and customer service, and connected smart devices, has reduced personnel costs for companies, allowing them to do more with less. So these days, companies may not need to hire as much during a robust economy or during a business expansion, which may account for the responses to the Saratoga County survey.
The survey also found that attracting talent was one of the biggest concerns of Saratoga County employers, only slightly behind local taxes, which Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership President Marty Vanags said was more of an issue of perception since local taxes are relatively low. Vanags said he was more concerns over hiring struggles.
“That seems to be an issue that continues to be a part of our economy,” Vanags said last month during a luncheon at Van Patten Golf Club in Clifton Park during which the figures were released. “But overall this economy is doing well. We’re fortunate to live in this community.”
Just south of Clifton Park on Century Hill Drive in Latham is one business that’s in rapid growth mode.
That would be the marketing and branding firm Elevation Ten Thousand and its sister company, Catseye USA, which is the marketing arm of Catseye Pest Control, the local extermination company.
Catseye, which markets itself as a high-end “white-glove” extermination service, did so well with “Caddie,” the animated cat character that appears in its commercials, that it spun out Elevation Ten Thousand as its own entity to do marketing and branding for other companies, such as the Maserati of Albany car dealership, Best Fire, a patio and hearth company, and the law firm of Martin, Harding & Mazzotti.
And because of the capabilities it needs to serve Catseye, Elevation Ten Thousand can do everything from commercials and video to uniforms and car wraps, all of which it does in-house.
Elevation Ten Thousand and Catseye USA combined have 94 employees between the headquarters in Latham and three other offices, including one in Boston.
They plan 28 more hires over the next year.
A lot of that growth is being fueled by the fact that Catseye Pest Control, the exterminator service, is getting ready to sell franchises for the first time in its history, a major expansion of the business that requires a lot of support on the marketing and customers service end. Catseye is owned by John Gagne, who started the company with his wife in East Greenbush in 1987.
David Miclette, the president of Elevation Ten Thousand, said the pest control business is fairly recession proof since people aren’t willing to live with rodents or other pests in their homes, even in down economic times.
“We have found that the (pest control) industry is recession proof, but yes, the surging economy has helped us to grow in both areas of the business,” Miclette said. “On the media and marketing side, companies are investing in growth strategies, digital marketing and advertising.”
But the Elevation Ten Thousand side of the business has carved out a nice client base that like Catseye sees itself as the “white glove” brand of its sector, like Maserati.
Elevation Ten Thousand’s offices in Latham are more akin to a Silicon Valley office, with an arcade and lots of colorful signs and video monitors. They created their own giant NCAA basketball tourney bracket on the wall where the winners were tracked in marker. Employees have a lot of fun there, and the parking lot is so full that the landlord is planning to build a new lot.
But the hardest thing is finding the right people to hire. To Miclette it’s all about whether a person will fit into the company’s culture of top-notch customer service, hard work and creativity. The company is currently seeking customer service, sales, search engine optimization, content creation, copywriters, technicians and field staff.
“When hiring, we look for charisma, personality, and strong work ethic,” Miclette said. “We hire for culture fits and those that add to our culture.”