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Love where you live, love where you work

Chris Ostoich of Blackbook on the 15th floor of the Chiquita Building in Cincinnati.Photo Ben French
Chris Ostoich of Blackbook on the 15th floor of the Chiquita Building in Cincinnati.Photo Ben French
Times have changed in the work world. And for young professionals today, especially those with families, it's just as important to love where you live as it is to love where you work.

For transplants, uprooting their lives from one city to another, unfamiliar one for a great new job can be tumultuous and lonely. But a new Cincinnati-based company with the help of seed funding from CincyTech -- is making that transition easier for some workers relocating to Cincinnati.

Experience Management Group's Blackbook takes a high-tech approach to connecting employees who are relocating to Cincinnati with the resources to make them feel at home. The company's Compass online platform identifies an individual's or family's personal needs and interests and helps connect them to resources like places to eat, shop or catch a live show. It also helps parents locate schools.

Blackbook was founded by Experience Management Group's Chris Ostoich, himself a transplant to Cincinnati from Baton Rouge, La.

"I kind of became a student of the city," Ostoich says of creating Blackbook. "Being a transplant to Cincinnati myself, I realize the difficulty of finding a network."

Blackbook is designed to aid both employers and their employees. A happy, engaged employee is more likely to stay in a city in which they've relocated, Ostoich reasons.

"It's the theory of job embeddedness. That theory says the stronger connection an employee has to organizations and their community, the less likely they are to leave. We're helping people connect to other resources not only in organizations but in the community," he said.

Cincinnati corporations and investors seem to agree. Earlier this year, Blackbook Experience Management Group secured a $200,000 seed-stage investment from CincyTech, a public-private partnership whose mission is to invest in high-growth startup technology companies in Southwest Ohio. And two large, Cincinnati-based corporations have signed up with Blackbook: Macy's and Procter & Gamble.

"Macy's is in the process of relocating hundreds to the Cincinnati market after restructuring in the last year, and people from San Francisco, Miami, St. Louis and other cities are moving here," Ostoich says.

Blackbook is CincyTech's 11th portfolio company, and investment development director Jeff June worked closely with Ostoich over the last year on developing his business plan.

"Chris Ostoich is a driven entrepreneur and receptive to guidance on moving Blackbook forward and preparing the company for a seed-stage investment," says June. "CincyTech looks forward to working with Blackbook to execute on their existing customers and developing the IT infrastructure to support Blackbook as it grows."

The Blackbook process is easy they listen, they personalize and they plug-in. To listen, an employee logs into an online platform, called Compass. There they complete a behavioral assessment and Blackbook's proprietary lifestyle preference instrument called the WayFinder. Very quickly, Blackbook software and people recognize what type of personality type an employee has, and how they would most likely want to be communicated with (online, text messaging, mobile application or in-person). The WayFinder is a tool that helps identify what an employee has historically cared about in their past, and matches them to local resources, events, places and people all based on an employee's established preferences.

"We took the community and divided into 15 broad points of interests like dining, sports, religious involvement and networking," Ostoich says.

From there, Blackbook's Compass software personalizes an interface that finds community events, resources, restaurants, places of worship and service providers that best match the employees' interests. Those recommendations come from company researchers and other data aggregators like company partner http://www.zipscene.com Zipscene, a Cincinnati-based local entertainment and event calendar.

"They can log into the Compass site and see what's happening now, and things going on in organizations and the community that are relevant to them," says Ostoich.

Blackbook's Compass software also has a unique messaging function aptly called the GuideLine, where employees can ask a host of local market, and Cincinnati-specific questions. Answers are provided by company Guides through objective research and customer feedback.
"We've gotten things simple as why do people say "Please?" in Cincinnati. Another person was planning a 9-year-old's birthday. One person was looking for a church and looking to meet people in the church. "Our Guides have local expertise and their fingers on the pulse of what is going on here," Ostoich says.

There is a feedback component to Blackbook's recommendations that allows the company to assure their recommendations hit the mark.

Blackbook also has a social networking component. It will provide connectivity to other employees who have similar interests, skill sets, and preferences inside an organization and across other organizations.

To help employee's plug in, the company hosts monthly facilitated networking functions (both company specific and cross-corporation programs), interest based events (sports, dining, fashion) and themed tours (like a behind-the-scenes adventure at the Cincinnati Bengal's home Paul Brown Stadium) to get employees out into the city. Blackbook services also come with in-person support for employees, new hires, affinity groups, recruits, and relocated employees in transition and after they've moved into the city.

"We're on site at organizations once a week to connect, take requests, and provide feedback to employees, and people have brought their spouses to speak with us," Ostoich says.

This can save employers money and retain valuable talent, since the average relocation costs $75,000, and replacement costs total as much as 150 percent of an employee's annual salary. These don't account for soft costs of lost productivity and decreased morale. "Turnover is a pain. Transition is tough. Creating stronger connections between employees, their organization and their community is the secret to eliminating the pain of turnover and the hassles of transition. It's a win-win," Ostoich says.

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