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More people making the move to advance a career

(ran SP edition)

Herb Morgan comes from a long line of "construction vagabonds," as he calls them.

"I grew up around construction. My uncles were superintendents," said Morgan, a career engineer who has lived more than a dozen places since graduating from Virginia Tech in the mid-1970s.

As his company sent him from one large building project to the next, he made stops in Baton Rouge, La.; Asheboro, N.C.; Jackson, Tenn.; Wilmington, Del.; Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; and Saudi Arabia. Currently, he's in Richmond, Va., overseeing the $324-million Route 895 project under way in Chesterfield County.

"It's a different life," Morgan said. "When you come out of engineering school, you've got to face it: You're going to do construction and go where the work is."

That life-on-the-move mentality is not limited to engineering. In today's world-encompassing economy, many careers result in multiple moves, sometimes to the surprise of the people involved. They're compelled to move for a better job, a bigger company or an opening in a particular specialty.

Ken Newton, a principal of Transition Associates career counseling in Richmond, said workers used to move within a company for the sake of promotions. That still happens but not as much because workers now tend to work for a number of companies during their careers.

Yet, "as soon as you get very specialized, you almost have to relocate," Newton said.

Pat Haynes, president of Commonwealth Personnel Consultants, offered an example.

"If you are an IT (information technology) person with a particular skill that means you work project to project, you may have to move from place to place," she said.

As Newton pointed out, though, career relocations can be more complicated than they used to be.

"With the many two-career families, it's becoming more difficult," he said. The move affects not one career, but two. "People are much more reluctant to move than they used to be."

Sally Brown, a partner in the BrownMiller Group career counseling company in Richmond, agreed that moving can be especially difficult for two-income families.

"I've actually worked with some people who take turns," she said. That is, if one spouse takes a great job that involves a move, the other spouse is next in line.

Newton shared a statistic that illustrates what's important to many people who uproot families to make a move. "Seventy percent of relocations are within 50 miles of the wife's parents," he said.

So moving is not just a career tactic; it's a quality-of-life tactic as well.

That's exactly what brought ad man Steve Bassett back to Richmond after a stint in Dallas as the creative director of a nationally known agency. He had been at the Martin Agency in Richmond for seven years before he was wooed away to Dallas, where he spent two years.

Bassett returned to the Martin Agency to be a senior vice president and group creative director. He moved his wife and three children back to Richmond.

"Dallas was too hot," he said. "We missed the seasons." Plus, his parents and his wife's live on the East Coast.

This last move was a bit rough on his 9-year-old boy. "My son had really good friends in Dallas," Bassett said. "They played Pokemon and Nintendo; they were in Scouts together."

Now, Bassett plans to sit tight. Richmond makes his family happy; Martin keeps him professionally challenged. "It's the perfect fit for us," Bassett said.

Plus, he's tired of moving.

"In the past 10 years, I've had six or seven houses," he said. Before coming to Richmond the first time, he had lived in Birmingham, Ala.; Raleigh, N.C.; Chicago; and Los Angeles.

"Professionally, it's pretty much the norm in advertising for people to move around a lot," Bassett said.

Sometimes, people end up moving a lot in careers where it's not the norm.

Human resources, for instance, is an area that can provide lifelong work in one spot, maybe even one company, said Newton, the local career counselor. Accounting is another, he said.

Norm Meadows, however, has lived in places across the world during his human resources career. He now is human resources director for Target's Northeast region, which is based in Richmond. Before moving to Richmond, he was in Kansas City, Mo., with Payless Shoe Source. He's also worked in New York, Phoenix, Saudi Arabia and Japan with different employers.

Ironically, part of his job today is to oversee relocations as Target expands. Six years ago, the discount department store chain had no presence on the upper East Coast. Today, there are 160 stores in the region that runs north from North Carolina.

"We tend to move people fairly frequently with our growth," Meadows said. "We try not to move anyone for less than two years," he added. "Most have had more time than that."

The company's relocation department at its Minneapolis headquarters helps employees who are moving with services such as temporary living quarters and real estate research.

"When we go into really, really new markets, they even help with things like finding schools and churches," Meadows said. Family issues play a big role in the smoothness of the move.

Many of Target's store leaders are men and women with children, Meadows said. The company often sets up temporary living options for the employee so that the children can stay behind to finish a school year.

"That's pretty important to everybody these days, as it should be," Meadows said. "On a case-by-case basis, we have to do what works."

Indeed, family concerns are the No. 1 reason people turn down job offers that require a move, according to a study by Runzenheimer International. Three-quarters of the human resources professionals polled said the top reason recruited people turn down jobs is the effect moving might have on their children.

That's one issue Morgan hasn't had to worry about. He and his wife, whom he met at Virginia Tech, don't have children. "That helps," he said. "And my wife comes from a government family, so she's used to moving."

Plus, like government or military moves, the Morgans run into a lot of the same people as they travel from place to place.

"It starts to be a small fraternity of people," he said. "You start to see the same faces."