Make a Move – How to Keep Employees Onboard in a Major Relocation

Spillman Technologies faced a crucial turning point in 2005. Located in Logan, the growing company was finding it difficult to recruit skilled workers—the talent pool in Cache Valley was not big enough, and many potential hires just didn’t want to move to Logan.

The company also needed better access to the Salt Lake International Airport. Travel is a huge part of Spillman’s business—the company spends almost $1 million a year on travel—and the long drive from the airport to Logan was an added burden to employees and executives.

On top of all that, Spillman had outgrown its building. Needing to obtain new offices anyway, company leaders weighed the idea of relocating to the Salt Lake area.

But the three-decades-old company had nurtured an employee-centered business. Spillman Technologies considers its employees family, says CEO Lance Clark. So the challenge was moving the company from Logan to Salt Lake and retaining as many employees as possible.

“It’s all about the people,” says Clark. “Software is so intangible. It’s really the people. It was important that we kept the core group together: the software engineers who know the product inside and out, the support technicians who know the product, and the sales staff who know how to sell the product.”

Calm the Fears
The first step was presenting the idea to the team. “When we announced it, it was a big shock,” says Clark.

The company had selected a site in West Valley City to build a new facility. Company executives held an open house near the proposed site to present detailed plans and answer employee questions.              

“We wanted to give employees the vision,” says Clark. “It helped calm a lot of fears and got them excited about it.”

Ease the Financial Sting
Moving creates a lot of expenses—and Spillman resolved to eliminate as many as possible for employees. The company paid for moving expenses and living expenses, and took care of closing costs when employees sold and then bought new homes. “It was a hefty bill…close to $2 million,” says Clark.

Take on the Logistics
In addition to footing the bill, the company provided professional resources to help make the move painless for employees. Spillman retained a real estate agency that handled the home sales in Logan and then helped employees find new homes in the Salt Lake area. The real estate agency provided one-on-one consultations to the employees and showed homes in Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties.

Spillman also partnered with a title company to handle all the transactions and with a moving company, which parked a truck full of empty boxes in Spillman’s parking lot; employees could take boxes as they needed them for packing.

“The relocation effort was something that our company was not used to doing, so there was a lot of things we did to help partner with outside agencies to help us get to where we are today,” says Mike Smith, director of human resources.

Stay Flexible
Perhaps the key to the success of the relocation was the company’s flexible attitude. For a year, the company maintained both the Logan location and a temporary facility in West Valley (it took about a year to build the new headquarters). Employees had that entire year to make the transition from Logan to Salt Lake.

“Employees during that transition period could work here or up in Logan, so we made it a really easy transition until they sold their homes. We still have five or six people commute down from Logan. They live there and love it and don’t want to move,” says Clark.“We let the employees take their time—really as much time as they needed.”

Unfortunately, not all the employees wanted to make the change. At the time, Spillman had 136 employees, and about 100 of them made the move. But the company was as flexible and accommodating as possible for those who chose to leave.

“Over the period of about a year, they found other employment,” says Clark. “We retained them as long as possible, as long as they were needed.”

The Outcome
Overall, Spillman was able to retain a large majority of its employees. It now operates out of a brand-new building in the Lake Park Corporate Centre in West Valley. The company has been able to grow and has excellent access to the airport. In fact, Spillman now employs nearly 250 full- and part-time workers.

“Our revenues have grown by 66 percent since we moved down here. For a 30-year-old company, that’s huge. So it was definitely well worth the investment,” says Clark.

There have been some unexpected benefits for employees and executives alike, says Smith. Many enjoy the access to everything there is to do along the Wasatch Front: the cultural, recreational, shopping and dining opportunities that surpass what is available in Logan.

“Besides, it’s about 15 degrees warmer!” he adds.

Spillman was not able to take away all the pain of the relocation for employees. Some family members had difficulty adjusting to new schools or making new friends, and many don’t like the big-city atmosphere. “It was a little bit different getting used to I-15. Most of us only had one or two stoplights [on our commute],” says Smith.

But from the beginning of the process to the end, Spillman made employee retention its top priority. For companies considering a similar move, Clark says, “Do everything you can to retain employees, no matter how expensive it is. That’s critical.”