published Friday, May 10th, 2013

Job seekers crowd fair in Brainerd as hiring improves

By Tim Siniard
Jennifer Wilhoit of U. S. Express, left, talks with Devin Washington while others wait in line as 63 companies participate in a jobs fair Thursday at the Brainerd Crossroads.
Jennifer Wilhoit of U. S. Express, left, talks with Devin Washington while others wait in line as 63 companies participate in a jobs fair Thursday at the Brainerd Crossroads.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Special to the Times Free Press

Throngs of job seekers converged Thursday at a job fair in Brainerd to land a chance to work for one of more than 60 employers hiring workers during the all-day event.

A similar job fair last year yielded 400 offers. With even more employers this year looking for workers, organizers were hopeful of even better results.

"We are filled to the max with employers," Mattie Moran, director of workforce development and education at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, said as she simultaneously greeted visitors while answering their questions.

Throughout the gymnasium were booths representing companies such as Shaw Industries, Aflac, Holiday Inn, McKee Foods Corp., Olsten Staffing and U.S. Xpress.

Kari Vaughn of Pro Logistics said her staffing company was seeking to fill 15 positions.

"We have several data entry and forklift operator positions available," she said.

Catherine Farmer, of LJT Tennessee LLC, a local tubing manufacturing company, said she was seeking to hire employees for jobs such as machine operators and outside sales. Farmer said the job fair gave her the chance to select new employees for jobs that, until recently, were not available.

"We have five openings now," Farmer said. "Just a few days ago we had zero openings."

With unemployment in Hamilton County still above the U.S. average, employers should have plenty of applicants to choose from in filling open jobs. In March, the most recent month for which figures are available, unemployment in Hamilton County was 0.1 percent above the U.S. rate of 7.6 percent. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimates 12,600 job seekers in Hamilton County are still out of work and a recent Times Free Press survey of college graduations this spring found only 20 percent had jobs lined up in their field.

Jacob Kerr, who will be graduating soon with a bachelor's degree in economics from Tennessee Technological University, said he is planning to move back to Chattanooga after graduation and came to Thursday's job fair eager to land some type of a job.

"I'm ready to get out of school and find a job," Kerr said. "It's been a long four years."

Jonathan Brown, who was seeking employment in either the customer service or management fields, said he was impressed with the job fair because he could speak directly with company representatives.

"I like being able to talk face-to-face with them and ask about their company," Brown said. "I can ask questions about information not listed on their websites."

The event also attracted those seeking a career change.

Lynnette Presley of Ringgold, Ga., who had been employed at Mohawk Industries for 25 years, said she was interested in a job that would offer her the opportunity to travel. However, Presley also said she would consider an office job that would enable her to utilize skills she had acquired while working at Mohawk.

Presley said she was excited about the opportunity to embark on a new career, but added she was somewhat apprehensive about entering the job market after working for a single employer for so many years.

"The job fair here is very impressive, Presley said. "I'm excited, but this is all new to me."

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