Amy Friedrich (Photo: Allison Bell/TA) Amy Friedrich (Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

Low unemployment rates are starting to get small U.S. employers’ attention.

Amy Friedrich, president of U.S. insurance solutions at Principal Financial Group Inc., talked about that shift last week, in New York, at LIMRA’s annual conference.

Principal sells group life, group dental, and other group and voluntary non-medical benefits products. The Des Moines, Iowa-based company promotes its benefits business by sponsoring the Inc. 500|5000 Conference, and by sponsoring benefits surveys. The typical Principal benefits client has a few dozen employers.

A few years ago, Friedrich said, Inc. conference attendees focused mainly on raising capital and increasing sales.

Today, she said, employers are saying, “I’ve got to take care of my people, or I can’t grow.”

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Inc. held its latest conference in September, in Orlando, Florida. Friedrich said employers there seemed to be having more trouble finding workers at all skill levels.

When participants in Principal group disability plans suffer potentially disabling conditions, the employers are more serious about doing what they can to help the participants return to work, Friedrich said.

Friedrich sees small employers increasing wages, and listening to ideas for improving their employee benefits.

“They’re more open. and asking for help,” Friedrich said. “I would say this market is incredibly healthy.”

Friedrich said she also sees employers somewhat more open to the idea that someone has to train workers. But there are still limits on how far small employers are willing to go. “I’m not sure I’ve seen the actual commitment of dollars” for training, Friedrich said.

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