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City of Winston-Salem ‘desperate’ to hire engineers

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The City of Winston-Salem is “desperate” to hire engineers as the private sector continues to draw some of the best candidates away.

To fight back, it’s using a tactic which proved successful when there was a shortage of a different kind.

“The city’s invested millions of dollars in infrastructure and parks and open space,” said Damon Dequenne, the City of Winston-Salem Assistant City Manager. “The backbone of achieving all of those improvements are the engineers and the staff behind that.”

Recent improvements, such as Hanes Park, Quarry Park and the revitalization of Union Station are all projects which caught the public eye.

“Monumental, historical places within the city that are now destinations,” Dequenne said.

But it’s the critical, everyday infrastructure that has him referring to engineers as “unsung heroes.” Everything from streets and sidewalks to water and sewer systems, all started in the minds of engineers.

However, the city is currently short at least six engineers and is changing its tactics to fill the void.

“While that doesn’t sound like a big number when you have a shop that basically consists of five or six people, we’re desperate,” Dequenne said. “It’s a large gap.”

The city will now turn to a strategy it used to help the police department improve recruitment numbers.

A few years ago, they started traveling to northern states, such as New York, to explain the benefits the city has to offer to future recruits.

“We talked about a better cost of living than some of our bigger cities up north where the weather is much better...,” said Ed McNeal, the City of Winston-Salem Marketing and Communications Director.

When talking with current officers who came to the city as a result of that initiative, McNeal says the cost of living was the main factor in convincing them to make the move south.

“An average home up there is $350,000. It's $150,000 here,” McNeal said.

City leaders believe they have the upper hand on the private sector in a crucial category.

“Probably one of the single biggest reasons to come and work for the city is we have a tremendous retirement program,” Dequenne said.

“What we’re offering is that opportunity to come work for a municipality where you get a second pension and you come into a community where you’re paying less to live,” McNeal said.

The city is also expanding the benefits for potential hires.

“We’re very interested in hearing from anyone who has an engineering degree, may have their engineer in training, their EIT, or their FE or their professional engineering license,” Dequenne said. “We’re willing to pay for people to achieve those things. So even if you don’t have those, and you’re on the road to doing that, we still want to talk to you.”

The city is also offering up to $5,000 in moving expenses.

Between the 2014 and 2018 bonds, Dequenne says there is more than $120 million worth of engineering projects that are incomplete, underway or planned for the near future.

“So there’s a tremendous amount of work, waiting for the right person to come in and do it,” Dequenne said.

The city says salaries will be based off of a candidate’s certifications and qualifications.

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