Under the weight of 110 newspapers, no more, no less, just about 5 o’clock each morning, W. Dean Weidner would jump on his bike, his trusty pal Blacky the dog running by his side. Some days delivering the headlines to Colorado Springs residents were more challenging than others, given the climate in Colorado, a place Weidner and Blacky had called home since his father’s career brought the family to the Centennial State in 1950. But regardless of snow or ice, wind or rain, Weidner loved the freedom, and the responsibility, his paper route afforded him.

“It was a wonderful experience,” he said. “My parents came up during the Great Depression, so they valued a job and they passed that on to me and my sisters. We were to value our work. My dad always said, ‘Don’t ever worry about what you’re being paid. Whatever it is, you need to make at least five or six times more than that salary amount for your company.’

“And there was nothing about keeping 8-to-5 hours. You were to be there early and be prepared to stay as late as you needed to, to complete your job.”

Talent vs. turnover

Given that framework, plus his parents’ value on education and Weidner’s own ambitions, it’s not surprising that today, the president of Weidner Investment Services takes a very hands-on approach to the careful cultivation of new talent.

“You can’t have success without commitment,” he said. Education gets you to that point, he said, but so, too, does real-world experience like the internships offered to those willing to put in some effort with the property management arm of Weidner’s company. It’s a formula he’s been perfecting for years, and it’s getting noticed in a field that can be heavy with staff turnover, an expensive reality for many companies.

“The biggest compliment that’s been paid to us is from competitors who come to us and say, ‘How do you get such intelligent, perceptive, motivated people at your sites? We’re looking for people all the time, and we can’t find them.’ And my answer is, ‘We grow them.’ ”

“Ball State is teaching people how to think. That may sound simple, but how many times do people get done with an education and they’ve had separate, little ingredients of education, but they really haven’t been taught to analyze a problem?”

—Dean Weidner

Through programs like Ball State’s Weidner Center for Residential Property Management, made possible through a $1 million gift from Weidner, company managers no longer wait for job applicants to respond to openings. Rather, they go out and identify potential employees who come on board as interns, develop their own skills and build the company, too.

“They’re not just thrown into an environment where someone says, ‘Oh gosh, we’ve got a new trainee. What do we do now?’ It starts with the educational programs like the one at Ball State. Then we bring recruits into a mentored manager-in-training program, which is a full-blown, one-year program that takes them through all aspects of property management, so they’re coached by trained mentors,” he said.

Industry on the rise

The trained mentors are offered financial and other incentives to take on the additional task of teaching. And the combination of focused training and willing teachers is a winning one, Weidner said, especially as he considers an industry seeing a trajectory that continues to soar.

According to a 2013 study by the National Multifamily Housing Council, an industry advocacy and research group, young adults in their 20s and empty nesters age 50 and older are pegged to be the fastest-growing apartment-dwelling populations for the next decade. Older homeowners are looking to ditch large single-family properties, opting for low-maintenance living often in robust downtowns or neighborhoods that offer shopping, dining, parks and other entertainment they can walk or bike to. Part of the hassle-free experience for those consumers, Weidner insisted, are property managers who aren’t afraid to work hard and go the extra mile for their residents.

Ball State offers just such professionals.

“We think Ball State students are very mature. They have an excellent work ethic, and that’s very important, because in property management you don’t just sit behind a desk — you have to get out, walk units, talk with residents and be very active and engaged.

Collaboration is king

“Then, Ball State is teaching people how to think. That may sound simple, but how many times do people get done with an education and they’ve had separate, little ingredients of education, but they really haven’t been taught to analyze a problem, to come up with potential solutions, to collaborate with other people to formulate solutions? That’s not the case here.”

The collaborative approach to learning and work experience doesn’t only benefit employers like Weidner but is a boon to young people entering the workforce

Blake McBee, a senior in the program, has completed two internships and attended national conferences focused on the field. The connections were invaluable, he said, and the opportunities for students unparalleled.

Since 2013, about 50 Ball State students have interned with or been hired by Weidner, and that relationship is expected to grow.

“My hope,” Weidner said, “is the university will further expand its course offerings and provide an environment that attracts even more students to pursue their undergraduate or graduate residential property management degrees.”