Central Ohio's labor shortage means businesses should consider nontraditional employees, including those who've spent time behind bars.

This issue marks the return of our CEO Corner column. Leading up to our annual CEO of the Year issue in December, we'll ask five former honorees every month to discuss how they're dealing with the most pressing business issues of the moment. On the agenda this month is “labor availability,” a topic we covered last year in CEO Corner, too. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we decided to return to the issue again because attracting and retaining workers in an ultra-tight labor market remains perhaps the biggest challenge facing businesses in central Ohio (P. 31).

Coincidentally, our HR Excellence Awards also return this month (P. 61). The dedicated human resources professionals highlighted in this feature are on the front lines of the ongoing struggle to find talent in Columbus. With record-low unemployment and fierce competition for skilled workers, their jobs increasingly require them to look for employees in unexpected spots.

One of those workforce wizards is Brad Lamone, the HR chief for Engineered Profiles, the South Side plastics manufacturer. A finalist in our Innovation category, Lamone's big revelation was to see the potential in a group many considered too risky to hire: the 23,000 people who leave prison in Ohio every year.

In 2015, Lamone formed a partnership with TAPP (Training Assessment Placement Project), an initiative of the PolymerOhio Manufacturing Solutions and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction that identifies low-level offenders for manufacturing jobs. Today, Engineered Profiles has 35 “restored citizens” working for the organization, with a retention rate of 90 percent, compared to a 70 percent rate for traditional employees. “It's had a big impact,” says Lamone, whose company employs about 250.

Engineered Profiles' story shows the untapped potential of former inmates, as does the success of Hot Chicken Takeover, which has become a national entrepreneurial darling even though investors rejected its founder Joe DeLoss, a 2017 HR Excellence honoree, countless times in his social enterprise's early years when he pitched them on his idea of hiring the formerly incarcerated (“New Money,” P. 82). If business leaders can get over that initial skepticism—and pick up best practices from the likes of DeLoss and Lamone—then they might discover a partial solution to some of their labor woes.

Perhaps they'll even find a hidden gem like Tearicka Cradle. She was part of the first class of the city of Columbus' Restoration Academy, a training and job placement program for people with criminal histories. Cradle, who has a credit-card fraud conviction on her record, so impressed city officials during her six months in the program that then Mayor Mike Coleman hired her to coordinate the initiative after she graduated.

Since 2012, Restoration Academy has placed nearly 190 graduates in jobs with the city and private employers, boasting a roughly 86 percent retention rate. “The people who come through Restoration Academy are the hardest-working individuals,” Cradle says. “They come in early. They stay late. They try to put in the work to show that they are somebody to keep.”

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Journalism awards season just finished, and Columbus CEO did quite well. In the Press Club of Cleveland's Excellence in Journalism contest, we won 10 awards, including best magazine in Ohio (third), best business publication (second), infographics open division (second, Art Director Yogesh Chaudhary) and studio photography (first, Associate Photo Editor Rob Hardin). We also took home two national awards from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers: best explanatory reporting (gold, former Associate Editor Bob Vitale) and best feature (gold, Staff Writer Chloe Teasley).

In a related note, starting this month, freelance writer Katy Smith takes over the Tech Talk column from Chloe (P. 20). Tech Talk is in good hands with Katy, a smart and talented former Columbus Business First editor. The shift also gives Chloe more time to focus on in-depth projects like her November 2017 story on entrepreneurial twins, which won the AABP feature-writing prize, and her fascinating cover story on farming you'll find in this month's issue (“Seeds of Hope,” P. 38).