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Last year's boom in profits has translated into a booming market for job hunters in the agricultural industry this year. A successful year in the marketplace, coupled with unparalleled growth in the bio-fuels markets and a growing need for financial watchdogs has created a growth of positions to be filled in the agricultural workplace. Fueling the growth are the early wave of baby boomers who have begun retiring, leaving large companies with fewer qualified candidates to take over.

Dennis Bryant with DFBryant & Company, Kansas City, MO, said, "The agricultural marketing profession is tight with more opportunities than qualified people to fill the positions. Many employers are looking for those within the agricultural community and it's become increasingly difficult finding them from a hiring

For 23 years, Bryant has served an executive search agency specializing in the recruitment of advertising and marketing professionals for leading national advertising agencies and multi-national corporations.
Bryant said the employment market has shifted dramatically since 2001-2002 when the economic slow-down limited the creation of positions. "Now the budget is there for companies and there are generally better economic conditions. However, qualified people aren't always there to fill the positions needed," Bryant said.

Marty Albright, vice president of EFL Associates, also located in the Kansas City area, said the market for job hunters is overall fairly strong and noted that firms are seeking candidates who are able to jump right into a job without the need for further training. "Most of our clients are paying us to find someone with exact experience and functional knowledge," Albright said.

EFL Associates is the 39th largest national retained executive search firm with offices in Kansas City, Denver, Chicago and Boston. Founded in 1978, EFL is a general search firm for all industries filling senior leadership positions ranging from Fortune 50 conglomerates to not-for-profit entities. EFL maintains an international presence through its affiliation with TRANSEARCH International, a global network of independently owned executive search companies.
Albright said EFL targets the "passive" market, referring to executives who are not necessarily looking for opportunities. The firm keeps a database with contacts and resumes while proactively conducting new research for potential candidates.

Jim Leslie, senior vice president with Kincannon & Reed, Vienna, VA, said his firm typically fills the top two positions in smaller organizations and the top three positions for larger organizations. "The candidates must have a proven track record of accomplishment in whatever field they focus on, whether their field is sales and they are increasing revenue or a chief executive officer who is increasing the bottom line or stock price," he said. "Their in-depth knowledge in their area is what sets them apart."

Founded in 1981, Kincannon & Reed is an international executive search firm for businesses, trade associations, and non-profit organizations specializing in food, agribusiness and life sciences. They are often asked to fill the head of a department or fill a vacant presidency for a trade association.

Leslie said determining the specific needs of a company often times makes the difference when finding the right candidate. "We spend a lot of time up front with the client finding out what the company needs," Leslie said. "There is no cookie cutter scenario, every situation is different."

For instance, a trade association may be looking to fill a vacant president's seat, yet the solution may not lie within the industry it serves. A president from another trade association might be the best match, Leslie explained. "Their expertise is within the management of non-profit trade association, which is much different than a for-profit organization. We are asked to fill uncommon positions, when positions become difficult to fill, or the location is challenging. We are looking for a unique combination of experience and skills."

A re-emerging problem in the recruitment of candidates with adequate experience is they are normally deeply rooted to the area they live. "One trend is clear: people are becoming increasing reluctant to relocate," Leslie said. "The people we aim to recruit are 15 to 25 years into their career and have a family, perhaps children in school, and are not wanting to uproot."

AGRI-associates President Glenn Person, Kansas City, MO, said there has been a lot of activity in all areas of agriculture in the past six months. "Many agriculturally-based companies have had a good year and are increasing their budgets to include more positions in the whole area," he said.

Founded in 1969, AGRI-associates is the largest executive recruiting firm in the agricultural field with local, regional, national and international clients with 12 offices in the U.S. and nine international offices. While capable of recruiting from entry-level to CEOs, most of their work has been assisting clients fill middle to upper management positions.

The technical field has seen the greatest growth in the past year Person said. "There is a very good demand for experienced people, especially in technical fields such as engineering," he said. The demand for technical workers are needed in most industries, including feed, seed, grain and food processing. Particularly sought are mechanical engineers with a strong background in operations.

Part of the reason for such growth stems from the rise in bio-fuel plants. Person said the growth of the ethanol industry is unprecedented with extensive activity spurred by government aid. The rising cost of oil has placed more emphasis on bio energy and co-ops, in particular, have begun to discover ethanol profits that have been laying in wait.

"The ethanol industry is rapidly growing with new plants going up every week," Person said. "The demand for people is quite good and are drawing from other fields. Particularly from grain and feed industries because they can't find qualified people anywhere else since it is such a new industry."

The plants also need research and development teams and experienced salespeople to fill the void in the new industry. For these professions, the expected salary ranges from $50,000 to $75,000 for candidates with three to five years experience. The engineers, though, receive a bit of a bump with expected salaries for similar amount of experience ranging from $60,000 to $80,000.

Bryant said the strong economic surge last year has increased budgets for advertisers and he has seen a demand from companies seeking to generate more buzz and publicity about their products. Most positions are within marketing or communications departments with advertising agencies needing people to guide customers to their clients' products and services.

However, a potential problem is finding candidates who are aware of the agricultural market and have adequate experience in it, Bryant said. "Employers need people with category knowledge who speak the language of the farmer," he said. "They need to be able to relate to the farmer's needs."

For candidates with one or two years experience, the expected salary ranges from $25,000 to $35,000. At the senior level for a group supervisor, the expected salary is $80,000 to $100,000.

As a general search firm, EFL Associates has seen a variety of activity across the board. Within the agricultural market, though, the demand has been for experienced financial officers. With the ongoing court proceedings against Enron and WorldCom, companies want to ensure their finances remain sound. "There is a lot of activity in finance structure with the Enron scandal," Albright said. "Companies want to make sure their finance is absolutely secure. It's a hot area right now."

Albright said the demand within a particular field usually varies with experience, but the candidates sought are for the most part fairly experienced, middle level executives. These candidates are right on the cusp of their career and are ready to make the jump to a higher level. Salaries for an experienced, middle level financial executive are expected to be in excess of $100,000.

Leslie has found that sales and marketing department heads are always important and in demand due to its direct effect on profits, though, the qualifications for the candidates vary according to the size and needs of the company. "People with international exposure and experience are always in demand with large companies. Smaller companies are looking for people with a track record of building revenue with beginning companies," Leslie said.

Top executives from the baby boomer generation are beginning to retire as well, leaving positions not easily filled from within the company. "Baby boomers are retiring within the top three positions without replacements in mind from the company," Leslie said. "A lot of things are going on in agricultural arena. Companies need to bring new players and new ideas in an increasingly competitive market."

Typical salaries for department heads and executives recruited by Kincannon & Reed range from $150,000 to $250,000 per year. The large difference in potential salaries stems from the size of the organization, importance of position and scarcity of candidates.

The opportunity is there for the enthusiastic job seeker. Whether their field is within engineering, marketing, sales, advertising, finance, or public relations, economic growth has spurred companies to loosen their belts and add positions to further their ability to reach more potential clients. The retirement of many top executives has opened up a previously dormant market for experienced executives as well.

For a host of reasons, the agriculture employment market has grown considerably with qualified candidates becoming increasingly scarce. AM

Dan Kelley is a freelance writer based in Chesterfield, MO.

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