Editor’s note: Craig Stone is the founder and chief executive officer of HireNetworks, a Raleigh-based recruiting and human resources consulting firm. LTW welcomes letters to the editors and points of view. Please submit to rsmith8@nc.rr.com With the economy in its current state, there is a pervading perception that retaining, recruiting and hiring talented employees is no longer a priority. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Human capital is and always will be the lifeblood of an organization, especially in the technology industry. In these knowledge-based sectors, if you don’t have people, you don’t have a business. Believe it or not, the decisions you make now regarding recruiting and retention will directly impact how quickly your company will rebound when the market turns. If you’re looking to gain a competitive edge, you must make the following issues a priority.

Issue one: Retaining the best

Over the next few months, employers will make a critical decision regarding their current staff. It comes down to investing now to keep the talent you have or spending later to recover the employees you lost in an effort to reduce costs. What efforts are you making to keep your employees satisfied with their positions? Have you made cuts in training programs, benefits, or other perks you once offered? While expenses must be controlled, you must consider the importance of a satisfied workforce. The last thing you want is your top talent shopping around for a better gig. Making a long-term commitment to your employees will make it easier for them to make a long-term commitment to you. In other words, spending a dollar today will save you three or four tomorrow.

Investing in retention programs can have a lasting effect. Although it’s difficult to measure employee loyalty in dollars and cents, it’s considerably more difficult to ignore the trust instilled in your customers when they build quality relationships with your workforce. Simply put, retention programs make good business sense.

Issue two: Building for the future

Two years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for positions, especially those requiring technical talent, to go unfilled. In today’s market, however, your chances of attracting talent are substantially increased. Layoffs and corporate downsizing have pummeled many organizations, leaving star performers (in sales, IT, etc.) on the sidelines looking for new opportunities. In this situation, the current market provides many companies with an unusual opportunity to “upgrade” staff in critical areas including development and sales.

Although the hiring environment is ripe, companies need to refine recruiting strategies for a number of reasons. First, the best talent is still difficult to find; even if you identify your ideal employee, chances are your competition may have their eye on your super-star. In short, although you have a better chance of sourcing qualified candidates, you must still present a attractive offer to engage this person’s talent and even more important, his or her commitment. Just because the market is down, doesn’t mean the best and brightest are going to show-up on your front door asking for work. Furthermore, by developing a core of committed and talented individuals to drive your organization, you will be in prime position to recruit quality employees when the market turns. .

Issue three: Where the rubber meets the road

When it comes to hiring, the popular opinion these days is that companies can acquire “designer” talent for a “retail” price. Common wisdom would have you believe that when the labor supply is high and demand is low, salaries should fall. There is some truth in this opinion. In a down market, employers don’t have to pay the exorbitant salaries they once did, but that doesn’t give them the go-ahead to pay salaries lower than employees deserve. Any time a company seeks to save costs at the expense of their workforce, employee loyalty suffers a major and often irreversible blow. If companies choose to pay below market salaries to top talent, those people will be the first ones out the door when a better opportunity comes along. Not only will you have lost a potentially valuable employee, you run the risk of being branded as a corporate opportunist.

Bulls and bears

Perhaps the best analogy for the current labor situation is in our own stock market. Two years ago, investors begged to have the market pull back much like HR managers did with the rising costs of labor. What investors and HR managers wanted was a chance to participate in a full-fledged bull market. Today, both these groups have that opportunity; the market is bear, the labor supply high, and now it’s time to invest. Just as investors should be putting money back in their portfolio, companies should be reinvesting in their employees to build for the future and increase their ROI. Similarly as investors are looking at undervalued high performing stocks, human resources departments should be targeting the highly skilled available talent to grow their bottom line. In conclusion, although budgets may be tight, the long-term benefits of retaining, recruiting and hiring talented employees have never been greater.

Craig Stone can be reached at cstone@hirenetworks.com.