Ciera Karr was on a quest Tuesday.
“I want to find a job and find one that will last,” said the 52-year-old Duenweg resident who has been unemployed since Christmas.
She was among more than 2,000 Four-State Area residents who came through the doors of the Joplin Holiday Inn Convention Center to pick up applications and shake hands with prospective employers at Job Fest 2014.
Organizer Leslie Abram said a wave of job seekers turned out for the event’s second year — 500 people came through the doors in the first 15 minutes — despite unemployment in the area being at the lowest it has been in several years.
For the first time since the Great Recession began in 2008, the Joplin Metropolitan Statistical Area (Jasper and Newton counties) has seen its unemployment rate drop below 5 percent.
It hit 4.9 percent in November, according to the Missouri Department of Economic Development. The last time it was that low was in April of 2008, when it was 4.1 percent.
The same is true in Kansas, where the unemployment rate dipped from 5.5 percent in November 2012 to 4.9 percent in November 2013. The rate in November was 5.1 percent in Cherokee County and 4.8 percent in Crawford County.
Organizers attributed the large number of job seekers, despite the relatively low jobless rate in the metro area, to Joplin’s pull as an employment center in the region. They said the fair drew people not only from Missouri and Kansas, but also from Oklahoma and Arkansas.
The Joplin area labor force was 87,613 people in November, which means that for every percentage point the rate moves up or down, between 800 and 900 people are directly affected. The state lists the metro area employed number at 83,345 and the number unemployed at 4,268.
At its worst, the Joplin metro area’s unemployment rate was 9.1 percent in June of 2009, when more than 8,000 people in the labor market were considered unemployed, or nearly twice today’s number.
Karr, who said she searches newspaper classified ads and job placement services, said her problem is finding a job that is permanent.
“I had three or four part-time jobs last summer, and then a seasonal one that ended Dec. 24,” she said. “I’m willing to do anything. I have experience in secretarial, dietary, restaurants and call centers.
“I’m not being picky,” she said as she stopped at table after table of most of the 58 businesses and agencies participating in Job Fest.
Some, like Joplin 44 Petro, have numerous positions open but require specialized training or skill sets.
“We are looking for 10 people to hire immediately,” said Charls Wacker, a manager at the business. “We’re looking for diesel mechanics, which is a technical field. They need experience and training.”
Such jobs pay well, he noted, averaging about $22 an hour.
Peerless Products, a window and door company based in Fort Scott, Kan., also has jobs available, and it had so many people interested at Job Fest that spokesman Mike Jackman ran out of business cards and paper applications. He invited applicants to download one from the company’s website.
“We’re looking for production workers, design engineers and project managers,” Jackman said. “With production workers, they need no skill and can get on-the-job training. With design engineers, they’ll need college and some programming ability. With project managers, they need sales and customer service skills — how to deal with people.”
Entry level jobs with the company pay $10 per hour and “progress fast” to about $15 per hour, Jackman said. An engineer or project manager could make $40,000 to $45,000, plus benefits and profit sharing.
Because the company is in growth mode, it is accepting applications on a continuing basis.
“We have two times as many engineers and project managers as we did two years ago,” Jackman said. “Sales jumped from $25 million to $50 million.”
Karr wasn’t sure if she would fit in at such jobs, but she did visit with representatives from Hardee’s, where she learned that the company is hiring for positions at its Range Line, Main Street and Seventh Street locations.
She also picked up an application from Community Support Services, which provides advocacy programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities, and those with special health and medical needs, and offers in-home assistance services for individuals of all ages throughout Southwest Missouri.
Spokeswoman Blossom Mahan said she is accepting applications on a continuing basis to fill advocacy positions that total about 1,000 hours of work per week, but she is having a hard time filling those positions.
“We do have trouble filling them because we require transportation and a valid driver’s license, they must be qualified, and a lot of people who inquire don’t like the starting pay, which is $8 an hour,” she said.
Karr said she’d gladly work for $8 an hour.
“I’ll take that,” she said. “I’ll take minimum wage. I just want to be able to pay my bills.”
She was receiving unemployment, but it is frozen, so she has been borrowing from her parents and friends to get her through.
Karr and others who attended Job Fest and picked up applications had the opportunity to fill them out on-site and return them in person. Tables provided to applicants for such purposes were full for several hours.
“I think I will fill about a dozen or so out by the time I leave here today,” Karr said. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”
ABOUT 400 HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS from throughout Crawford County, Kan., will get a taste today of what the job market offers during Crawford County Career Opportunities Day at Pittsburg’s Memorial Auditorium. The goal, organizers say, is to provide area juniors and seniors with information on options available to them upon completion of high school.