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Imagine this: The doorbell rings and you're greeted by a delivery person with a box in hand. Inside the box is a virtual reality headset branded with the logo from that one company that's been encouraging you to visit its office. You decide to give it a shot. You take a seat, slip on the headset and are immediately transported to an apartment in Madison.
You feel as if you're truly in the scene. You can walk outside on the balcony and right below is a view of a packed Capitol Square during Concerts on the Square. You click on a Memorial Union Terrace chair and can see the water of Lake Mendota, a view of the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus and a perfect night on the terrace. You hike at Devil's Lake State Park, watch a Madison sunset from a kayak and step under the Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
This virtual reality headset is a project three years in the making. It was spearheaded by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce to recruit applicants from outside the Midwest to come to Madison for job opportunities.
After talking with local companies and conducting research, the chamber realized that selling the place was just as important as selling the city's companies and jobs.
"That experience of actually seeing, touching, experiencing Madison was a big part of affecting that ultimate talent acquisition going well," Chamber Vice President Kevin Little says.
President Zach Brandon says the chamber undertook a nationwide brand perception study that based its research on the 12 common archetypes, which are characteristics that define people's interests. The survey found that millennials connect to the seeker or explorer brand, so they're looking for experiences. Brandon says if a company could get a new recruit to experience Madison, it could sell them on a job here.
"How do you transport that experience to somebody in a way that's not just, ‘Let me tell you a story or have you read a story,' but, ‘I'm going to show you a story'?" Brandon says.
Three years ago, Brandon went to SXSW — a film, interactive media and music festival and conference held in Austin, Texas — where he experienced virtual reality and thought about how it could be a way to export images of Madison instead of bringing each person to the city.
This started a two-year relationship with Madison's Arch Virtual, an industry leader in virtual reality technology. Arch Virtual started creating virtual reality software for the project in the hope that a mobile technology would be invented in the future. Then, a year ago, Facebook launched Oculus VR, the first mobile virtual reality device, and the chamber's vision was finally within reach.
The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce project is the first of its kind to be used for talent recruitment. Brandon calls it "a game changer."
"We think it says something about Madison that it's on the cutting edge of technology using a cutting-edge platform in a different way," Brandon says.
The entire project is funded, built and created locally. Currently, five main local partners are set to use this device in their recruitment on launch in October: American Family Insurance, Madison College, Lands' End, UW–Madison and Madison Gas and Electric. Brandon envisions a few different ways that a company could use the device — by sending it to a top recruit directly, giving potential applicants a demonstration at a job fair or showing it to a person during a visit to Madison. The chamber is also developing a cardboard version of the headset so people can use their phones to experience virtual reality.
"Madison is a place where you can have these different experiences … where you can have an urban experience and a suburban experience and a rural experience all within 15 minutes of each other," Brandon says.
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