Council launches new HR initiative: Target is small companies that have no administrator

March 28, 2005

Small-business owners who need help wading through myriad human resources issues now have another source to consider-the Indianapolis Private Industry Council Inc.

The 23-year-old IPIC, better known for overseeing the seven WorkOne career centers in Marion County, has leapt into the HR arena by partnering with a handful of professionals who have agreed to honor the agency's low-cost pledge.

Sixty thousand people walk through the doors of the centers each year looking for work. But many of their potential employers-many of which are small businesses-don't have an HR person to help make the transition into employment smoother, IPIC President Joanne Joyce said.

"We found that when we wanted to talk to the HR director, there would be no one," Joyce said. "We often would talk to the CEO or [chief operating officer]. They would say, 'We're not ready to hire someone in that area yet,' or 'We can't afford to hire someone.'"

She thought IPIC could help fill the void. Planning for the HR program, called the Business Services Initiative, began about a year ago. IPIC received a $300,000 grant from the state's Energize Indiana program and hired Jeanine Motsay to lead the initiative, which is now seeing its first clients.

The not-for-profit IPIC, which serves as the county's principal work-force development broker, currently operates on a $16 million annual budget. But that figure can vary depending upon the amounts of federal and state contributions. The funding allows IPIC to offer the services without having to worry about making a significant profit, Joyce said.

While she views the effort as a service that meets a need, an HR professional who is not involved in the project agreed-to an extent.

Karl Ahlrichs, director of business development at the Carmel office of Richmond-based Professional Staff Management Inc., said he is a "little uncomfortable" with IPIC using his tax dollars to compete with him.

"There's some question whether it's healthy that a government-subsidized organization is providing these services," he said. "But I recognize there's enough demand. Our business is way up."

Ahlrichs said HR managers and consultants are especially sought-after now, as companies look to ramp up their hiring after plodding through an economic downturn. With that comes a renewed focus on employee issues, he said.

IPIC staff, or its partners, can offer employers advice in three areas: recruitment, development of employees, and custom services that might include drafting an employee handbook.

Motsay produced a guide for Tony Gates, president of Commercial Food Systems Inc. in the Keystone Enterprise Park. The 21-year-old company with 18 employees distributes specialty foods such as dried fruits, baked nacho chips and healthy snacks to schools, hospitals and day-care centers.

As a small business with limited administrative resources, Gates said, the service really helped him out.

"You have a lot of policies in your head that aren't reduced to writing," he said. "As the owner of a small business, you don't have time to do that. Putting those in a handbook helps you to move to another level in the game."

Any small business can take advantage of the services, but Joyce is hoping to target startups in the life sciences and biotech industries. The city of Indianapolis and the central Indiana region have made the sectors a top priority in driving economic development. As the companies are launched, Joyce and Motsay think IPIC can assist them with growth issues they might have later.

"They might start out with one or two people, and then they grow to 20 to 25," said Motsay, who came to IPIC with 14 years of HR experience. "How do they adapt to that?"

In evaluating whether they could fill a void, IPIC officials partnered with the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce to survey its members about their needs. The Indy Partnership and Mayor Bart Peterson's office also assisted in formulating the concept, Joyce said.

IPIC has launched a marketing campaign, which began with its directors who work in the private sector. After nearly 25 years in existence, the agency has built a large network of partners.

The Central Indiana Small Business Development Center provides limited HR consulting services. If its clients need further guidance, the center could refer them to IPIC, Joyce said.

Conversely, IPIC is recruiting professionals from the Human Resources Association of Central Indiana who want to assist the agency. One of those who has become involved in the endeavor is Jim Patton, principal of locally based J Patton Consulting.

Once business owners exit the startup phase and begin hiring employees, he said, the dynamics change. Often, those in charge are ill-prepared to handle the growth.

"Many people get into business because they've got this great widget or passion for doing something," Patton said. "All of a sudden they have these strange animals called employees and they don't know what to do with them."

Although Patton is glad to assist IPIC in its new venture, he admitted he hopes the affiliation will net more work for him later, as the smaller companies mature into larger ones.

"It's not totally altruistic," he said of his participation.
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