A year after making its first acquisition, private-equity backed Salient Federal Solutions last week showed off its new talent operations center, a hiring hub intended to help the company target high-quality employees as it makes plans to expand quickly.

Contracting veteran Brad Antle, Salient’s founder, got the start-up off the ground by buying San Diego-based information technology firm SGIS last year. He added Command Information, an Alexandria-based IT business, earlier this year.

Now at 850 employees, Salient is expecting 20 percent growth in the coming year, said Antle.

The new talent operations center, housed at the company’s Fairfax headquarters, is meant to better enable the company to rapidly hire the best-suited candidates for its open positions. The company has staffed the center with full-time specialists who are responsible for analyzing and managing a pool of candidates that already reaches hundreds of thousands.

Hiring is a challenge for many contractors, which often embed employees in federal agencies and require hard-to-find technical skills and coveted security clearances.

“We’re a services industry,” Antle said. “We deliver services through [our] people and, the ability to find high-quality talent and to manage the talent you have is like the holy grail.”

Despite relatively high unemployment around the country, local contractors still struggle to find technically qualified employees, particularly those with clearances, said Stan Soloway, president and chief executive of the Professional Services Council, a contractor trade group.

“You get a contract and you’ve got to ramp up very quickly [but] you can’t afford to keep a bench sitting around waiting,” Soloway said of the dilemma contractors face.

Salient, which Antle said increased its revenue by 27 percent last year, is establishing a talent operations center in Tampa and plans to open another in Colorado Springs in 2012. The company plans to add centers as it grows, according to Antle.

In its second year, Antle said he expects Salient to make another acquisition. The company, which posted $128 million in revenue in 2010, is pursuing $500 million in revenue by its five-year mark.

Though the market of companies for sale is extensive because of fears about shrinking budgets, Antle said it’s also competitive.

“We’re not going to acquire unless the price is right,” he said.