NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You've seen the news. Small-business optimism is improving; firms are considering hiring, if they aren't already; and this year we should see more jobs created.
After several years of downsizing, slowly but surely companies are preparing for growth and need the resources to back that up -- meaning people.
Small businesses contributed nearly half of the February private-sector jobs, most in services, according to the
National Employment Report.
The National Federation of Independent Business, which puts out a monthly confidence index of small businesses, said February's index reading was the third-best since the fourth quarter of 2009 -- when the economy was still expanding -- even with the economy tip-toeing forward.
Large and midmarket companies have already been hiring, and "now you've got small businesses that are starting to hire once again," says Jennifer Dunleavy, founder of The Accuro Group. "There is a high demand for talented people."
That being said, "companies of any size are being extremely conservative about the commitments they make, and in doing so it's taking a little bit longer to pull the trigger," Dunleavy says.
Mark Douglas, CEO of online advertising company
, is looking for employees, primarily specializing in technology, client services and sales and marketing. The hiring he and other firms do will have a trickle-down effect, he says.
"I think there is a pretty strong recovery coming in the job market across the board. It's just coming in different waves," Douglas says. "My cleaning staff has to clean the office more now because there are more people," and that could require the cleaning team to bring in more workers.
With such a large pool of unemployed workers to choose from, a logical assumption would be that any firm would have their pick of qualified applicants seeking jobs.
But that's not the reality.
While firms are hiring, many say they are looking for the "upper crust" of talent, such as highly skilled engineers who are most likely already employed. As a result, firms complain they're collecting applications mainly from unqualified workers.
Whether businesses are looking for 25 employees or one employee, here are 10 companies in hiring mode:
Looking to add:
35-50 positions by the end of 2011
SteelHouse provides online advertising services for e-retailers. The company was launched two years ago out of Douglas' loft and quickly moved into its open-layout offices in Culver City.
The idea for the company came from Douglas' time working at online dating site eHarmony, where he was vice president of technology. There he got an education in marketing from seeing how the dating site was able to discern how people of different age groups, sex and ethnicity were getting information and ultimately coming to the website.
"The idea to form this company came from that," says Douglas, who has previously worked at tech firms including
as well as smaller firms, one of which was acquired by
. "A lot of what we do for our customers is really understand" how people engage and respond differently to marketing.
From a revenue perspective, SteelHouse is growing fairly quickly. Though Douglas declined to talk about specific revenue numbers, expectations for this year are above $10 million.
The company needs more staff to help build out its products, as well as more staff in customer support and the sales and marketing departments. About half of the company's staff is targeted to be in product development, a quarter in client services and the rest to be sales and marketing.
"We need the people to support all the customers we're bringing on board," he says. "Our current plan is to end the year with about 60 people. We'll probably wind up closer to 70 or 80."
But the hiring process is proving challenging because there is high demand for talented workers, and most applicants are already employed and finding their choice of next jobs. "In the tech industry and advertising industry, hiring plans have been ramped up. There is a lot of business confidence," he says.
SteelHouse is looking to attract workers with not only full benefits packages, but a very appealing vacation policy. Employees can take as many vacation days as they want -- within reason. SteelHouse will also pay up to $2,000 for vacation expenses. Douglas also points to the firm's culture, which is communal and transparent, as another appealing aspect of the firm.
But none of that guarantees the company will get the workers it wants.
"Our problem is not making offers to people," Douglas adds. "Our problem is it's very competitive and difficult to find the right people. You have to move very quickly if you find someone,
in terms of hours -- days at most -- to hire them."
2. Halo Monitoring
Looking to add:
mission is to help senior citizens, via a medical alarm and detection product, stay in their homes instead of being forced to move in an assisted-living or nursing home.
The product, called myHalo, resembles the original Life Alert medical alarm system (known for the "I've fallen and I can't get up" TV commercials). While the Life Alert system required hurt users to push a button, though, myHalo detects when a person is hurt and automatically alerts emergency services and the primary caregiver. Caregivers can also log in to a website to check in on their loved one, says Chris Otto, chairman and CEO of Halo.
The company was launched in 2009 and spent most of last year on distribution channels, even though the product is sold to consumers either directly or through its network of dealers, Otto says.
Halo has 170 dealers in its network and is hoping to expand in every major U.S. city over the next two years. Otto expects to double the device's users over the next 12 months and increase by more than 10 times in the next two years.
"We're growing our subscriber base very quickly and expect 2011 to be strong, but we're also raising capital to scale up the business," Otto says.
Otto is looking for regional sales managers and people to build the company's marketing presence, particularly those well-versed in search engine optimization and technology support.
The company is looking for two employees in the near term in tech support and SEO marketing. It expects to double its staff by 2013.
"We've been extremely disciplined in hiring process. We've fought the tendency to hire, even though we probably needed to do so. That's worked to our advantage as a lean organization," he says.
Halo Monitoring is raising another round of capital, which it expects by midyear. At that point, the company says, it will ramp up hiring.
Looking to add:
Monica Nainsztein Rodríguez, owner of
, has been an entrepreneur for most of her life. After teaching English in Argentina when she was 15, she started her own company there doing subtitles.
Eventually moving to the U.S., she picked up where she left off and pitched her subtitle services in Hollywood, where she translated movies and TV series such as
into Spanish for Technicolor which does post-production business with
But she found being in the rapid-translation business difficult and stressful, "especially with having to fit onto the screen text that is so much longer" when translated, she says.
Finally in 2008, she launched SpanishOne, a boutique translation company. Her market includes public, private and nonprofit organizations, institutions and companies; the California state government is a major client. She works with some 3,000 vendors worldwide, she says, including translation agencies, marketing companies and research firms so she can offer her clients quality materials.
In June, she hired her first part-time employee -- a personal assistant -- but by August that employee went full time and has since been promoted to project coordinator.
Much the same could happen with the part-time employee she's seeking now while pondering the company's direction: expanding services to become a one-stop multi-ethnic outreach agency? Or, more likely, sticking to the core business and expanding geographically?
"We want to become the top Spanish-English translation company in the U.S.," she says. "Right now it's a two-woman show and it's not enough. And I am willing to invest, which is what I did last year, and I would like to do again."
She wants to take advantage of government programs, grants from nonprofits and help from such public companies as
OPEN for minority-owned businesses, but she doesn't have time to do the legwork. She says she is looking for someone to take care of that for her.
Nainsztein Rodríguez doesn't have an office. She and her employee work virtually, but she acknowledges that as the business grows, she will need a home base.
"I've already started thinking about it," she says.
4. MYCO Medical
Looking to add:
up to 15 positions
The Obama administration's health care reform may finally give
, a producer and seller of disposable surgical tools and devices, its day in the sun.
The company, launched in 1993, has been fighting for placement against large players in the surgical tools industry such as
Owens & Minor
"We are the little fish in the huge pond," says Zev Asch, MYCO's vice president of marketing and business development since joining the company two months ago. "Here we are, small little MYCO that comes in with high-quality products, and extremely competitive from a cost standpoint, trying to gain market share.""All of a sudden Obamacare comes around and people are paying attention to us," Asch says.
Whereas in the past doctors and surgeons typically made their own decisions on the surgical tools they preferred, now hospitals make those decisions.
"So the market conditions for us haven't really changed," Asch says. "We're still up against the big monster companies with heavy marketing. But the tide has started and it's working in our favor. Last year the growth was fairly rapid and we weren't prepared for it. This year, rather than wait for it, we're adding and expanding so we can plan for the growth when it happens."
The company has mostly hired temp workers and elevated them to full time.
The company is looking for marketing experts, procurement managers and warehouse employees. It is also hiring salespeople, preferably those comfortable working in hospitals and pitching products to doctors and nurses. The applicant need not be an expert in surgical devices.
"Our preference is
to find employees that are capable and have the basic skills and let them grow with us," he says.
5. Pipeline Deals
Looking to add:
builds online sales management software. One of its main competitors is
, just one bringing in annual revenues of more than $1 billion, co-founder J.P. Werlin says. "We think building this into a $20 million company in the next five years is not out of the realm of reality."
"The opportunity in this space is huge," Werlin says.
To do that, the 5-year-old company is looking for good employees who can provide excellent customer service and support.
"To me it's all about people,
both customers and the people we hire," Werlin says. "If we do those things right, the sky is the limit."
Pipeline has been hiring throughout the downturn and is looking to hire at least two employees now for its each of its main areas -- tech production and customer support. But hiring depends on the company growth.
"We're not sitting on a pool of venture capital that we have to go spend. We hire as revenue permits us," Werlin says.
Werlin doesn't care if his hires are already employed, but he's not posting on the major job boards. "I haven't found any value in a broadcast style way on the main aggregating job boards," he says.
Instead, he posts selectively on more specified job boards and websites "where I think people I am looking for are hanging out."
He's been surprised by how few inquiries are coming in.
"It was kind of surprising, because the reality wasn't matching the message in society that times are tough," he says.
6. J&J Construction of Illinois
Looking to add:
J&J Construction of Illinois
, a home design and remodeling company, recently started a second business focusing on window and door replacement.
Joseph Censullo, J&J's president, says the company is desperately looking for salespeople for the new division and having a hard time finding good people.
"It's a very a difficult environment to hire people, surprisingly," Censullo says. "We have a hard time finding qualified people within a reasonable price range. Salespeople are different because it's commissioned-based."
The applicants are primarily unemployed, which means they are probably even more sensitive to job security. Censullo says that some applicants are concerned about the company's size and the fact there is no base pay attached.
But the turnaround time for commissions to be paid out is very short, he says, and there is huge opportunity for the salespeople to do very well. Sales reps make 10% of each sale, and the average sale is around $10,000.
Reps don't need to have specific construction experience, but they do need to have sales experience, because windows and doors are typically sold in the home at the kitchen table, Censullo says.
Censullo says he's received so many resumes from unqualified applicants that the company put an initial filter in place -- when a resume is emailed, it is answered automatically with a five-question survey. "If you can't take 20 minutes to fill out five questions, then you're probably just throwing your resume in," he says.
"Ideally we'd like to see two to three
reps in sales this year for the windows and doors division. We plan to grow it quickly once we work out the bugs and kinks," he says. "The big issue right now would be generating leads. This all revolves around salespeople."
7. Next Big Sound
Looking to add:
co-founder and Chief Executive Alex White launched the online music data collector in the summer of 2009 after seeing a need for services that track and measure how consumers interact with music online. The music industry "still has been relying CD sales and radio play and traditional means," White says. "So they come to us to see how people are increasingly interacting online."
Customers include anyone connected to the music industry, including managers, record labels and bands. "We provide a centralized dashboard to the music industry that they can use to make decisions about what's working and not working with developing their artists," he says.
Next Big Sound got venture capital from a consortium of 23 firms and have "been hiring and building out the product ever since," he says.
In September, Next Big Sound launched a subscription-based service.
Billboard.com signed an agreement with Next Big Sound to use their data to create the
, a daily ranking of the most active artists on the world's leading social networking sites, according to the music publication's website.
Next Big Sound is looking for engineers but having a tough time hiring, despite looking at the unemployed market, recent college graduates and other companies to attract talent.
"It's very easy to find solid, good engineers with computer science background, but it's really difficult finding incredible engineers," White says.
Next Big Sound is competing with other start-up firms and tech companies in Boulder, which is considered "the new Silicon Valley."
"The hires we've ultimately made have been through referral networks or they had a prior job and we were able to lure them away," he says. "But we are interviewing and flying people out to Boulder. All you need is a weekend out here with us to see the lifestyle."
Looking to add:
is a staffing and recruitment company providing financial, professional and technical talent to Fortune 500 firms and global companies in the Research Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C.
"I'm very pleased to say that 2011 is our busiest year yet," says Jennifer Dunleavy, founder and president of Accuro. "For that reason I feel very comfortable bringing folks on to my staff and continuing to grow the business."
But that wasn't always the case for the 8-year-old company.
Dunleavy says that during the worst of the economic crisis, downsizing among her clients forced her to scaled down her firm from eight to two full-time employees, several part-time employees and a few contracted recruiters.
"When our clients are not hiring there is nothing for us to work on, so our business becomes very slow. It's been imperative that we respond to that," she says.
"We've been on an upswing for probably about a year and a half now," Dunleavy says. "We started seeing an increase in hiring activity among our customers in late 2009 and, in fact, 2010 was our best year ever."
Now that the economy is on its way back up, Dunleavy is hiring again.
"We're going to be looking for more recruiters and account managers -- so either those individuals that interface with clients or those that identify and work with professionals and place them into positions at our clients' locations," she says. "We have the need. It's a matter of finding the right people to fill that need."
9. Lake Erie Electric
Looking to add:
three non-union positions in the near term
The shift in the Midwest from steel and auto manufacturing forced
to also adapt, from servicing the industrial sector with its high-voltage electrical needs to the commercial sector -- mainly hospitals, universities and other public works. But growth is coming to its sleepy home state, most notably with four casinos.
"Those are the things that are really spurring the growth in this area," CFO Dennis Tarnay says. "So with that in mind, we've been growing."
The company is large by small-business standards. Across all of its offices, it employs 110 nonunion workers and an additional 500 unionized electricians. Lake Erie plans to hire more workers as it expands further into the so-called low-voltage electrical and teledata industries.
It recently hired 20 employees -- most electricians, but two were project managers on salary, Tarnay says.
The company is weighing buying a teledata company against building its work in the field organically. "We're talking to some
companies now," he adds. "But we have to expand ... to compete against some of our competitors."
"We don't know how big this can be. We will probably start off with a smaller crew and build upon that as we see opportunities," Tarnay says.
10. Royal Oaks Building Group
Looking to add:
is a residential homebuilder also in North Carolina's so-called Research Triangle. The company builds, on average, 150 homes per year -- even through the housing downturn, when Rich Van Tassel, president of Royal Oaks, says his market shrank by 65%.
By driving home efficient processes and honing its product, the company was able to keep production high even while downsizing 40%, to 14 from 24 full-time employees, Van Tassel says.
"During that time our houses got better, so we did more with less and we did it better," he says.
"We found more and better places to build and our strategy going forward is to continue to find niches and holes in the market where there is real demand for home products in certain price ranges," based on the last 12 months of closing data, Van Tassel says. "If it's something we think we can do profitably, we'll set out to find a position to fill that market."
Now Royal Oaks is hiring again, recently adding nine employees between salaried workers and sales reps -- a few of which were rehires.
"We'll probably add at least two more people this calendar year," he says.
And those workers will likely come straight from the unemployment pool.
"The industry has been beat up pretty well," Van Tassel says. "There are a lot of very good, high-quality people that want to get back into the industry."
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