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TMCNet:  Sign of the tough times: Huge job fair turnout spurs added hours, fire marshal monitoring

[January 28, 2009]

Sign of the tough times: Huge job fair turnout spurs added hours, fire marshal monitoring

(Record, The (Stockton, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 28--STOCKTON -- You might have thought it was a line to get into a rock concert.

But the neatly dressed men and women who stood under clear, cool skies Tuesday to get into the Stockton Hilton had much more serious aims -- they sought jobs, not entertainment.

The 17th annual HIREvent, co-sponsored by the city of Stockton and California Job Journal and which last year tallied 1,600 attendees, was expected to draw about 2,000 job seekers Tuesday afternoon. But by 1 p.m., an hour after it opened, the ballroom was packed, and the waiting line snaked through the hotel atrium, ran east along one side of the hotel on Grand Canal Boulevard, then north on Venezia Boulevard and back east along March Lane.

Traffic was jammed as well on March Lane and surrounding secondary streets as other job hopefuls in their cars and trucks tried to get near the hotel and find parking.

The turnout, estimated to easily exceed 3,000, eventually prompted organizers to extend the event beyond its scheduled 5 p.m. closure.

"Because of the huge crowds, we've been able to extend the event for an additional two hours," said David Grealish, Job Journal creative director. "We want to try to get everybody in the door who is waiting in line."

He added that a city fire marshal was monitoring the line at the front door to prevent overcrowding.

The crowds were not surprising, perhaps, given that San Joaquin County's unemployment figures hit a dismal 13 percent in December, the highest in a dozen years. State employment officials reported Friday an estimated 40,000 county residents sought but could not find work.

Organizers of Tuesday's job fair lined up 20 employers with roughly 1,000 job openings.

Opening the event at noon, Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston drew a round of applause when she announced those figures to job seekers.

"I wish we had 5,000 job openings to fill today," she told the crowd and offered words of encouragement.

"You all look great," she said. "They are going to get great people to fill their jobs."

Certainly there were a number of experienced professionals looking for work or better opportunities.

Richard Queen of Manteca, eager to apply his 25 years of restaurant management experience, arrived at the hotel about 10:30 a.m. to be among the first to get inside.

"I wanted to make sure I got in," he said.

And he wasn't discouraged by the toll the economic downturn has had on the dining industry.

"It seems like everything I'm hearing is there are some openings; you just have to be in the right place at the right time," Queen said.

With her experience in mortgage lending and customer service, Lorraine Siller, 52, of Stockton said she could well serve a bank or broker that needs help in restructuring loans.

"I know there are opportunities out there," she said, but she admitted that potential employers have been picky.

"What I'm really finding is: 'You're overqualified,' or 'You don't have enough experience in exactly what we're looking for.' "

Griselda Ramirez, who's been out of work since 2007 after being laid off at a pizza parlor, described the local employment market as "really tough."

While the 25-year-old Stocktonian has spent much of her time helping care for her father, who recently suffered a stroke, she's also searched Internet job listings regularly with little luck.

She said, however, that her cousin in Arizona reports better prospects.

"Some other places, I guess, have more jobs," she said.

Kristina Cushing, a recruitment consultant with the Job Journal, said job fairs such as Tuesday's event are attracting increasing numbers of employers from outside California. They are drawn by the state's rising unemployment rolls, which include many well-qualified, experienced workers.

Johnston, who owns a party store, The Balloonery, said the city can do its part to encourage job creation by streamlining licensing and permitting programs.

"We're very conscious of the role we have here to provide a good business environment," she said.

She also applauded President Barack Obama's proposed economic stimulus plan.

"Obama's goal is to put money into communities and create jobs," she said.

The task of Stockton officials is to be ready to tap stimulus funds so jobs are generated locally, Johnston said.

"There's already some things ready to go, so we can say we're putting people to work," she said.

Contact reporter Reed Fujii at (209) 546-8253 or rfujii@recordnet.com.

To see more of The Record, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.recordnet.com.
Copyright (c) 2009, The Record, Stockton, Calif.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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