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Buoyed by IT job recovery, Paragon plans for expansion


Few people have to deal with not only their prospects saying “no,” but also their products sometimes. At Paragon IT Professionals, the sales and recruiting team members have to be prepared for both, says Joel Jackman, Paragon’s vice president of operations.

“It’s not ‘does that circle fit in that hole?’ It’s much broader than that,” Jackman said. “It’s unique to this industry. My candidate may decide at the last minute that a placement position is not the best choice for them. You’re dealing with people’s careers here, so it’s not taken lightly.”

Paragon began in 1997 as a partnership between brothers Craig and Joel Jackman. Not only did it survive the tech-sector downturn a few years ago, but it has been a consistent provider of full-time placement and contract services for information technology professionals, and its revenues have grown each year. Craig, who is Paragon’s president, says the recession cycle seems to have reversed, with 2004 being the company’s best year yet, which is why it is planning on expansion.

“In 1997 and 1998, we had more work than we could do,” Craig said. “In 2001, we really had to get after companies to use our services. Fortunately, we had a diverse client base and good relationships with some large customers, which kept us growing during the recession. In today’s market, we’re back to seeing people call us.”

The Paragon office at 108 Third St. has grown to a staff of 12 full-time salespeople and recruiters and about 55 contractors, and has increased revenues by 700 percent in the last four years, according to the Jackmans, who now operate Paragon with two other partners, Joe Davisson and Doug Stetzel. The goal, they say, is to use the successful Des Moines office as a model for branch offices in other Midwestern cities.

“We plan to create a physical presence for contract services in Omaha for ’05 and the same thing in Minneapolis for ’06,” Craig said. “Our plan is to get a small executive office in each of those cities as well as a fairly sizable contract staff.”

Contract services, in which IT professionals sign on to work for a company for a period of time, was a key addition to Paragon in 2000, Joel said. At that time, the IT job market was still strong, but “there was some fear in the marketplace about how long it would last.” When full-time positions “dried up” in 2001, Paragon’s contract services area grew substantially, and continues to grow today.

“Contract services has always been a focus of expanding our company,” Craig said. “Our contractors step into their positions with the exact skill sets that they need to do the job, which eliminates costly training from the employers’ standpoint. We do a significant amount of business in contract services, and as the economy has improved, we’ve continued to increase in contract services, but also noticed an increase in full-time positions.”

Earlier this year, Paragon hit its all-time high of 62 consultants, or contractors. The company’s goal is to have 70 consultants on staff by the end of this year and 100 by the end of 2005. Maintaining the best consultants is essential, as they represent Paragon in the field at local workplaces, Craig said.

“What’s unique is that we really try to integrate our contractors into our organization through events and our advisory board,” Craig said. “We have to maintain good relationships with our candidates, especially because they’re out there with our competition’s people every day, and everybody’s mining and prospecting for the same people in Des Moines.”

As the company grows, the Jackmans say they will also continue to evaluate its success in terms of how well it fits with their original vision for Paragon, which was intended to be a small company, led by committee, with an overall emphasis on family. Craig said it maintaining these values has become more of a challenge in recent years, but it is something they have held themselves to.

“We believe we could grow as quickly as we’re willing to commit to,” he said. “If you have the process and system in place, you can duplicate this anywhere, for the most part. Every time we talk about growth and strategy, the gut check is ‘how’s that going to affect us and our families?’ That’s what brings it back to making it manageable.”

In addition to ensuring that its staff has time for their families, Paragon has a history of making time for community involvement. The company allows its employees to take paid time off to do volunteer work for several local charities and created the Friends of Friends fund-raising party for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society two years ago. Joel says philanthropic activities are an important part of “the Paragon brand,” which boils down to Paragon being rooted in people above technology, he said.

“Ours is a people business, a relationship business,” he said. “We know that the better the relationships are, the better our organization will be. We wouldn’t be where we’re at right now if we hadn’t hired the right people, and I think it makes everybody feel good about being with an organization that appreciates the community contribution.”

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