Creative ways to attract employees is a hot topic these days. Scratch the surface of the tight job market and you'll find Chamber of Commerce programs that match job seekers with companies and cultural exchange programs that allow companies to sponsor work visas for prospective employees from other countries. These new tactics are earnest responses to Minnesota's lowest state unemployment rate since 2001 (3.7 percent vs. the also low national rate of 4.4 percent).

What's driving this trend?

A smaller incoming workforce, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), is following retiring baby boomers. Factor in the fact that Minnesota — along with the rest of the country — has been adding jobs since 2011 and it adds up to "one of the longest postrecession [job] buildups in state history," said Oriane Casale, assistant director of DEED's Labor Market Information Office.

As the founder and CEO of a growing IT consulting and training company, I've bumped up against this hiring challenge. But rather than relying on increasingly complex hiring strategies to attract accomplished technology professionals, my partners and I have made a commitment to building a company and culture that encourages the employees we've already hired to stay with us for many years. Sometimes they even urge their top-qualified IT friends and colleagues to join us.

Our efforts have been recognized by more than 20 awards for being a great place to work. This recognition tells us that we're on the right path and that, over time, it will help us continue to attract the best and the brightest IT professionals in this market.

People ask me for the "secrets" to our success. Far from secret, the fundamentals we embrace can be followed by any organization with the patience, discipline and commitment to doing what's best for employees. Once employees are at the center of your business plan, great results for customers naturally will follow … along with profits and growth for your firm. Putting employees first creates a continuous feedback loop that fuels growth without herculean recruitment efforts.

To attract great people, a company must be built on a foundation of fairness, freedom and flexibility. Our people tell us they really appreciate the tremendous flexibility we offer, which allows them to live a full and complete life at work and at home. Benefits such as compensation for creating a home office, encouragement for telecommuting and a three-month paid sabbatical after seven years of continuous employment are among the things employees say they most value.

Fairness means providing clear guidelines about how to succeed, such as what's required to earn bonuses and promotions. It also means lending support to motivated employees who are eager to learn new skills. To that end, learning goals are part of everyone's annual review and we reward those who get them done. We also believe in living up to our end of the unspoken contract with employees, such as going out of our way to absorb some of the rising health care costs so our people don't get hammered financially.

And freedom? At Intertech, that means the freedom to grow professionally. People at the top of their game in any field don't want to do mundane or repetitive work. They need fresh challenges and new opportunities. Our job as company leaders is to find that work and to provide those challenges.

A commitment to open communication and transparency also is essential. We continually communicate with employees about progress toward financial goals and give them a stake in meeting them. Pay and perks must be more than fair, but giving employees a financial stake in meeting or exceeding company-wide goals goes a long way toward giving everyone incentive to consistently give their best.

The final "secret" to attracting and retaining great employees? It's the same secret to a long and happy marriage: sincerely and consistently telling your partner how much you appreciate them. We've woven employee appreciation into the very fabric of how we operate, with monthly, quarterly and annual recognition programs. These programs also encourage teamwork by allowing employees to nominate one another for excellence and going beyond the norm to meet tough deadlines or overcome challenging work circumstances. Beyond simply providing ego gratification, people work better — and more happily — together when they realize their efforts are appreciated not just by their managers but also by each other.

No doubt about it, finding great employees in today's job market is tough for just about everyone. But companies that keep their most talented employees from "leaving the nest" are one step ahead of the game. If you've built an employee-centric company on a foundation of fairness, freedom, and flexibility, great employees will come … and stay — and they may even encourage other great people to join them!

Tom Salonek is the founder and chief executive of Intertech, and author of "The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership". He can be reached at