CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Fifty-nine-year-old Pat Lancaster and her 20-year-old grandson were at Whirlpool Corp.'s job fair Saturday applying for production positions at the plant.
"There's nothing out there," Lancaster said about the tough job market, adding she had earlier retired from Whirlpool predecessor Maytag in Cleveland after a 13-year stint.
The pair were among more than 400 people who turned out on a cool, rainy morning seeking to land one of 60 jobs the oven-maker is trying to fill. Whirlpool will start production later this year at a $120 million plant that will replace its existing facility here.
Dicky Walters, Whirlpool's plant leader, said the job fair is the first phase of eventually adding 130 employees to its 1,500-person workforce.
"We want to begin hiring in around a couple of weeks," he said.
Amy Killam, the company's human resource director in Cleveland, said she hoped to find some highly qualified applicants with former manufacturing experience.
In addition, the job fair will build up Whirlpool's bank of potential future employees, she said.
The new hires initially will go to work at Whirlpool's old plant as the company transitions to the new 1 million-square-foot site off Benton Pike over the next 18 months. The jobs were advertised as temp-to-hire slots with a $10.36-per-hour starting wage.
A line of 75 to 100 job seekers was at the plant waiting for the fair to start at 8 a.m., and more filtered in as the morning wore on.
Sabrina Johnson, the 24-year-old mother of a 1-year-old, said she lost her last job at a restaurant when it shut down about a month ago.
"It's been real tough," she said. "I want to get somewhere that I believe is more stable."
Randy Alvey, 27, said he drove from Rhea County, Tenn., to Cleveland seeking one of the production posts.
Also out of work, he said many of the jobs that are available are temporary positions.
"It's hard to find one that will keep you," Alvey said.
Cindy Clark, of Chattanooga, said she had been working for call center company Convergys until last month. Since then she has applied at several places but landed nothing so far, Clark said.
"I've done assembly work before. I was happy with it," she said.
Athens, Tenn., resident Carol Johnson had worked at Amazon until that temporary job ended about a month ago.
"This is the only thing right now that's hiring," she said about Whirlpool.
Bradley County's jobless rate in December was 7.2 percent, down from 7.7 percent in November.
However, in nearby Polk County, part of the Cleveland metropolitan statistical area, the unemployment rate rose in December to 13.1 percent from 12.7 percent the month before.
Tennessee's unemployment rate in December was 8.7 percent, down from 9.1 percent.