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Thousands attend annual jobs fair

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

As James Spradling, of Atlanta, waited patiently in line to enter the 13th Congressional District Jobs Fair, he reflected on Jan. 14 -- the day he was laid off from his job doing millwork.

As he looked over a sea of people also waiting in line for their opportunity to find employment, he realized he was not alone in his struggles. "I thought I was going through something," Spradling said. "With the way the economy is, everybody is hunting right now."

Thousands of local job-seekers packed the Georgia International Convention Center Friday for the seventh annual jobs fair. One hundred area employers interviewed potential employees and shared employment information with many left jobless by the recent recession.

Employers participating in this year's event included: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; truck driving schools; restaurants; media companies; public safety departments; colleges; banks; insurance agencies, and other businesses.

U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who has organized the jobs fair for the last seven years, said that while, the event drew fewer employers than in past years, the response has been greater among both employers and job seekers. He said a requirement of this year's fair was that employers must have open positions available.

"These are tough economic times, so we don't have as many employers, but all of them are having jobs," Scott said. "We're having this [fair] in one of the highest unemployment areas in [metro] Atlanta. If you have 100 employers come here with jobs to offer, that is a good sign that the economy is turning around."

On Thursday, the Georgia Department of Labor reported that throughout metro Atlanta, the unemployment rate declined to 10.4 percent in March, down from the February figure of 10.7 percent. The number of unemployed workers in the 28-county metro-region went down by 7,423 -- from 285,376 in February, to 277,953 in March, according to the Labor Department report.

Clayton County's unemployment rate was 12.1 percent in March, down from 12.6 percent in February, and 12.8 percent in January. As of March, the number of unemployed individuals was 15,970, versus 17,017 in January.

While less dramatic, unemployment in Henry County was 10.7 percent in March, down from 10.8 percent during the months of January and February.

"This is the result of a lot of companies taking a chance and believing the economy is turning the corner," Scott said.

Jeff Hallmark, director of training for the Katlaw Truck Driving School in Austell, said his company has had a booth at the jobs fair every year since its beginning. He said job-seekers this year were more flexible and willing to try their hands at different careers. "Today's been phenomenal," Hallmark said on Friday. "The response last year was a little lackluster. People [this year] are a lot more enthusiastic. Last year, people were a little more picky and choosey. This year, people are just looking for work."

Jesse Nesbitt, of College Park, was laid off in September of last year from a job in construction. He said the process of finding a job has become impersonal, and he appreciated being able to speak to employers face to face. "It's a lot of, 'Leave your resume here, go online and fill out a form,'" Nesbitt said. "I know I can get the job, if I just get to the interview stage. It's [the job fair is] a start. It's a lot better when you can hear what they are looking for, so if you need to, you can know how to improve yourself."

Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon said she appreciated the fact that job fair only included employers with current job openings. She said she believes that will allow local job-seekers to leave encouraged.

"What I like the most about this job fair is that he [Scott] mandates that you couldn't just put up an exhibit booth for marketing purposes," Wynn-Dixon said. "It's good, because people will be able to leave with hope."