INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — In an event Wednesday that exceeded all expectations, over 1,500 people showed up at the Indian River Mall looking for work and seeking to meet with 27 local employers who had 122 jobs ready to be filled.
The event was co-sponsored by the Indian River Chamber of Commerce and Workforce Solutions and marked the first job fair with multiple employers “in a long time,” said Workforce Solutions spokesperson Odaly Victorio. Those looking for work began lining up at least an hour before the 10 a.m. start. Victorio said Workforce Solutions has been holding job fairs for specific industries or companies lately, but nothing like the event Wednesday.
“We are absolutely happy with the turnout,” she said. “We didn’t know how many employers we were going to get, but our target was 15. We had so many we had to create an overflow area, it was a good problem to have.”
For their part, those in search of work came in all forms. The ages ranged from teens to seniors and they represented all walks of life from single moms to unemployed construction workers to even some who appeared to be well off, but still in need of a paycheck.
Though it will take organizers a while to get a full count of how many showed up looking for work, the Indian River Chamber of Commerce had to send out an emergency call to members to get volunteers to come and help keep the lines moving.
If the initial count holds up, the number of people who showed up would represent about 20 percent of the 8,675 listed as looking for work in Indian River County last month. Workforce Solutions put the unemployment rate last month in Indian River County at 13.9 percent.
Among the companies represented were Piper Aircraft, Indian River Medical Center, First People’s Bank, Comcast and even a new Waffle House that will be opening soon. The companies that attended were required to have immediate openings that needed to be filled.
“We have close to 30 employers looking to hire people,” said Chamber of Commerce President Penny Chandler. “I think that is a good sign that things are starting to improve.”
For Akim Wilson, a 38-year-old Naval reservist looking for work, improvement can’t happen soon enough. He moved to the area in February and has been looking for work ever since. With a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration he came dressed like a professional and with his resume in hand.
“You need to come as professionally and as prepared as you can,” said Wilson, who arrived at 10 a.m., but chose to wait until the crush had subsided in hopes of having more individual time with prospective employers.
Steve Greene at Absolute Protection, said his company was looking to fill three new sales positions and hire two office support workers.
“I’ve already got a stack of 30 to 40 resumes (halfway through the fair) and I’m sure we will find some good people,” he said. “We definitely will be making some calls.”
While the job fair had its good news-bad news aspect — good that there are jobs to be filled, but bad that there are so many applicants for each position — Commissioner Peter O’Bryan said it is beginning to seem the employment outlook is getting better for the county.
“I think you have to say that things are turning,” said O’Bryan, who showed up to help when the mid-morning call for volunteers came out. “It’s certainly not a full recovery yet, but with close to 30 companies hiring, it’s a good trend.”