Opening doors for spouses

Durango’s costs has firms helping candidates’ loved ones find jobs, too

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Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald

It was a conundrum many local businesses know well. Doug Lyon, dean of Fort Lewis College’s school of business administration was trying to hire a new professor in the school, and the candidate mentioned that if she took the job, her husband would be looking for work in the area, as well.

Lyon knew that her husband’s ability to find a job would affect the candidate’s decision to take the teaching position. So he started networking, asking friends and colleagues if they knew of any opportunities in the spouse’s field of expertise and handing out his résumé.

It was a classic example of the trailing-spouse phenomenon, Lyon said.

“(Employers) realize that if we can secure employment for the spouse of someone considering a job offer, it makes the transition easier and decision to relocate that much easier,” he said.

The concept of a trailing spouse may not worry employers in larger cities but is a concern among several of Durango’s businesses, especially those who recruit outside the area. The reason comes down to Durango’s high cost of living, which makes it important for an out-of-region candidate’s spouse to find a job, combined with the city’s small size, which makes it more challenging for a spouse to find a job in his or her field of expertise.

The trailing-spouse dilemma has affected hiring at StoneAge Waterblast Tools, as well, said company CEO Kerry Petranek Siggins.

“Many candidates pull themselves out of the running when they find out that their spouses may struggle to find a job here,” Siggins wrote in an email. “It makes paying 30 percent more for housing unfeasible.”

The company brings up the topic of spouse employment during the interview process because it doesn’t want there to be any surprises when the couple moves to Durango, Siggins said. But sometimes it costs the company a very qualified candidate. Last year, one such candidate backed out of a position because of concerns that his wife wouldn’t be able to find a job, which was necessary for the couple to afford the area’s high housing costs, she said.

Siggins, who also is chairwoman of La Plata Economic Development Alliance’s board of directors, said many alliance members have faced similar situations.

“As companies grow, they have a need for employees with specific skill sets. Skill sets that may not live here,” Siggins wrote. “Recruiting from outside the area is becoming more common. If we can’t recruit these types of people to the area, it could hinder growth.”

That logic has spurred the alliance to begin brainstorming ways to help businesses through a trailing-spouse program, or even a trailing-family program to help sell children on the benefits of moving here, as well.

Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the alliance, envisions the program as a network where companies would agree to give priority review to applications sent by spouses of candidates other companies in the group would like to hire.

If hiring managers at Mercury had their sights set on a candidate whose spouse had expertise in the medical field, Mercy Regional Medical Center would agree to put that spouse’s résumé at the top of the pile, Zalneraitis said.

The program would be available to alliance members.

The organization will consider the program as part of its 2013 strategy, which it will review early next month, Zalneraitis said.