Since earning his MBA from UTC in December, Tommy Bettis has contacted dozens of businesses across the country unsuccessfully looking for work.
Amid Chattanooga's worst job market in more than two decades, the 24-year-old Sweetwater, Tenn., native was elated Tuesday just to land an interview for a potential job with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
"It's definitely my dream job," Mr. Bettis said after pitching himself to a TVA vice president. "I know its a very competitive market, but I'm hopeful."
TVA and one of its nuclear component suppliers - Alstom Power Co. - offered some hope Tuesday to thousands of job seekers who packed one of the ballrooms at the Chattanooga Convention Center throughout a six-hour job fair. TVA had expected 3,000 people would attend.
Collectively, TVA and Alstom expect to hire more than 3,000 workers over the next two years. TVA is hiring to replace both retiring employees and contract security officers, while Alstom is adding workers to staff a $280 million plant expansion underway in Chattanooga. Alstom already has hired about 60 of the 350 workers it plans to add by 2011.
"In Huntsville, we had about 1,500 people come and identified about 50 candidates that we have either hired or are now pursuing," said Phil Reynolds, vice president of human resources for TVA. "We expect to identify even more people today. We've seen some strong candidates today."
TVA was created in the 1930s to help lift part of the impoverished Appalachia out of the Great Depression by hiring thousands of workers to harness the power of the Tennessee River with a network of dams and reservoirs.
TVA isn't building any more dams. But Mr. Reynolds said the agency's power generation continues to grow with plans for another nuclear reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant by 2012 and potentially two more reactors at the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant by 2020.
Such plants will require thousands of construction workers while they are built and more than 1,200 workers to operate, if the units are all built.
Even without the new plants, TVA has hired about 7,000 employees since 2000, or nearly half its work force, to replace retirements, resignations and dismissals, Mr. Reynolds said.
"We saw close to 1,100 retirements last year and hired about 800 new people," he said. "We anticipate this year we could see another thousand workers retire this year, although the economy may have some impact on that. Our attrition rates do go down when people see the value of their 401(k) plans drop so we may have fewer retirements this year."
The slowing economy also brought more applicants looking for work at TVA on Tuesday.
Chris Engleman, 29, traveled to Chattanooga from Kingston, Tenn., on Tuesday looking for work after his previous job with AT&T ended in early January.
"There are some jobs out there, but even with a college degree its been tough to find one," he said. "I've never been unemployed like this before so I'm going kind of stir crazy."
In presentations to hundreds of job prospects throughout the day, Mr. Reynolds stressed that TVA pays competitive wages and benefits "and has a real mission of serving the Tennessee Valley."
That combination was attractive to many job hunters.
"This is about as good of a company as there is in the South," said Joshua Delong, a 29-year-old Clarksville worker who hopes to land a job at TVA to replace the one he lost last month during layoffs by CSX Transportation.