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Published: Friday, 5/4/2001

Slumping economy has people flocking to job fair

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

A job fair at the Southwyck Shopping Center yesterday came just in time for Don Corvin, who is to be laid off today from his job driving a forklift at a fertilizer warehouse operated by The Andersons.

As of about 2:30 p.m. yesterday, he had found only one opening matching his skills and income needs. “I should have stayed in Arizona,” complained Mr. Corvin, 52, who moved to Toledo with his wife six months ago to be near their grandchildren here.

Better-than-expected economic news kept the stock market pumped up for most of the week. But to anyone who believes the economic slump is illusionary, the scene at Job Fair 2001 would be a rude awakening.

Job-seekers filled the aisles and sat shoulder to shoulder on benches completing employment applications on a sunny, hot spring day better suited for the beach or a park.

“We had 2,500 people last year and we expect to match that or do a little better since the economy has softened,” said Bob Sweeney, of the nonprofit Private Industry Collaborative. The collaborative coordinated the fair, which was sponsored by seven local firms and community groups.

Another bad sign: 123 employers registered for the job fair, which was down 27 from last year.

In less than two hours, a representative of Floralandscape, Inc., a Toledo landscape firm, got the names of 75 to 100 people interested in jobs starting at $7 an hour. Most were college students seeking summer positions or people thinking about shifting to outdoor work.

Daisy Baker, the firm's representative, was surprised by the level of interest. “Last year, it was very hard to find people,” she said. “This year, it is very easy. We have more applicants than openings.”

Peter Paul, human resources director for a Buffalo-based KFC franchisee with nine Toledo area stores, chatted with a dozen people who had lost their jobs through factory layoffs and closures. Some were looking for work, but others were seeking only a sympathetic ear.

Recruiting for fast-food jobs remains difficult, but Mr. Paul said he spoke with more prospective employees in Toledo than he has at job fairs elsewhere.

Lamont Smith, who lost his job in mortgage sales a month ago in a bank merger, has found openings posted on the Internet in Cleveland and Cincinnati. But the 29-year-old has come up dry in Toledo so far, although he did speak with three prospective employers in a related field at the job fair.

Feng Zhen, 24, who will graduate in two weeks with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toledo, has gotten “almost no response” to resumes sent out in recent weeks.

He has received two rejections by e-mail, but has mostly encountered silence. Even with high grades, he expects to have difficulty finding a job because of competition from veteran engineers who have been laid off due to the economic downturn.

Mina Coman, an information systems major, will graduate this month from the University of Toledo with a master's degree in business. She has sent out about 50 resumes locally, but expects to have to leave the Toledo area to find work in her chosen field.

Not all job seekers were pessimistic. Nicole Brazzel, 18, expected to have no problem finding work in hotel housekeeping or hospital cafeteria work. Her main concern, she said, was finding a job with decent pay and benefits.

Even the worker being furloughed at The Andersons' fertilizer warehouse - where executives said the layoffs are annual, seasonal cutbacks - was optimistic. “I will find something,” Mr. Corvin said. “All a person has to do is look.”



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