XNA discusses employee retention; appoints Pollard to board

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,616 views 

Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill might hire a consultant to ensure employee salaries are competitive amid a challenging labor market.

In a recent committee meeting, XNA board members recommended hiring consultant Russell Reynolds to complete a pay evaluation for its executive team. They also discussed hiring consulting company Johanson Group for a similar study for the remainder of the staff. XNA has 67 employees. The pay discussion happened during the annual performance evaluation for CEO Aaron Burkes, who received the top evaluation score.

Following are executive team salaries:

  • Burkes, $232,898
  • Kelly Johnson, chief operating officer, $190,549
  • Tim O’Donnell, chief financial officer, $170,009
  • Andrew Branch, chief business development officer, $150,030

Board members wanted to know employee raises for 2022 before deciding on Burkes’ raise. They planned to continue the discussion in a committee meeting before the regular board meeting on Dec. 15.

Burkes said XNA will be more aggressive with its cost-of-living and wage increases this year to remain competitive. He explained the challenges with headhunters attracting employees from XNA and hiring entry-level positions.

“It’s tough,” he noted. “We’ve had a lot of turnover in certain areas, especially like the communications center. That’s been our worst.”

Aaron Burkes

XNA has increased center staff pay between 30% and 40% to remain competitive with area employers, including Benton County. The center has five full-time and some part-time workers, Johnson said.

Branch said food vendor Paradies Lagardere has offered up to $1,000 in retention bonuses, but few had been given after hiring nearly 80 employees.

“Once they get them in, a lot of them don’t stay,” he said. “It’s a revolving door.”

Branch added that rental car companies and the Transportation Security Administration are facing labor issues, too.

Also in the meeting, Burkes announced the appointment of Martine Pollard to the board. Pollard is a Rogers appointee and replaces former chairwoman Sara Lilygren, who previously said she was moving to Florida. Pollard recently became vice president of the Northwest Arkansas market for Little Rock-based Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She previously was executive director of community and public relations and communications and community integration at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas. Her board term runs through December 2022.