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Rock Hill agency owner celebrated as S.C. Small Business Person of the Year

Melissa Gladden, founder of the 14-year-old Carolina Recruitment staffing agency in Rock Hill, is the 2015 S.C. Small Business Person of the Year.
Melissa Gladden, founder of the 14-year-old Carolina Recruitment staffing agency in Rock Hill, is the 2015 S.C. Small Business Person of the Year. CAROLINA RECRUITMENT

One of the first questions Melissa Gladden and her staff at the Rock Hill-based Carolina Recruitment ask people looking for jobs is “what’s your favorite candy?” When the client comes in for an interview, there’s a treat waiting for them, she said.

Another question they ask: “What’s your superhero or human strength?”

“It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s not what’s expected,” said Gladden, president of the employment agency.

“Us buying a Snickers bar or a pack of Skittles goes a long way in saying that we care about you.”

Last week, the U.S. Small Business Administration named Gladden, 38, South Carolina’s Small Business Person of the Year. She was runner up last year. National Wiper Alliance, an Asheville-based maker of wiper products, won the North Carolina award.

The National Small Business Person of the Year will be announced in May from among 54 winners in the 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Each entrant is judged on their staying power, response to adversity, contributions to community-oriented projects and other business endeavors. Gladden -- who launched her business 14 years ago -- earned high marks in all categories, according to SBA South Carolina spokeswoman Anna Huntley.

Humble beginnings: Gladden worked at two employment agencies before she was laid off. Like many of her former clients, she stood in the unemployment line. “It really gives you a humbling sense (that) you’re not any better,” she said.

She started Carolina Recruitment from her parents’ home in 2001. “I would interview...people at the public library because I couldn’t afford an office.”

Eventually, she rented a one-room office from a friend before moving to a larger facility. Now she leads the company from a 2,000-square-foot office.

Sweet offerings: Carolina Recruitment faces stiff competition from national staffing agencies with more money and resources, Gladden said.

“It’s a constant battle for us,” she said. “We have to find what we’re good at and what they may lose sight of.”

Enter the bag of Skittles - and other candy treats to show clients a personal touch.

“In the corporate world, it’s about numbers, numbers, numbers,” she said. “We’re Main Street, not Wall Street...it’s not all about the bottom line here.”

Helping people in need: Each Christmas, Gladden and her staff donate money to a needy person or family. Last year, they helped a woman in the community who never missed work despite caring for her sick daughter, Gladden said.

“We pulled together and gave money to help pay medical bills,” she said. “When you do stuff like that, it’s just the right thing to do.”

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