By Wally Kennedy
Flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder did not deter several hundred people from standing in a steady rain Tuesday afternoon outside the Holiday Inn Convention Center for a chance at a new job.
Some had umbrellas to shield them from the cold rain. Others huddled close together to stay dry and warm. When the doors to JobFest 2013 opened, there was a collective sigh of relief, and then a push to get inside and in line for a job application.
Fifty-three employers and exhibitors with hundreds of available jobs were waiting for them.
“We had about 500 people in the first 15 minutes,” said Leslie Abram, coordinator of the event for the Workforce Investment Board of Southwest Missouri.
That number would increase to 750 people 15 minutes later. By 4:30 p.m., 1,500 people had signed in. Admission to JobFest, which took place from 2 to 7 p.m., was free.
One job seeker, Danielle Griffiths, of Neosho, quickly picked up a handful of job applications.
“I’ve got applications from the Indigo Sky Casino, a bank and Arc of the Ozarks, so far,” she said. “I liked Indigo Sky because it would be a beautiful place to work and the employees seemed so friendly.”
Griffiths had so many applications that her mother was helping her fill them out.
The exhibit operated by Indigo Sky, a new casino near Seneca, was seeing a steady stream of applicants. Casinos typically offer competitive benefits that include medical insurance.
“We have a few positions open,” said Phaedra Bateman, with the casino. “We still need valets, cooks, and we have some other spots open. We do not need security officers.”
Also seeing steady traffic were exhibits manned by representatives of Braum’s, Ozark Center and La-Z-Boy.
Mandy Gess, of Joplin, was among those looking for a job.
“This is so convenient,” she said, “having the employers all in one place instead of filling out applications all over town.”
Wearing dress clothes and sport coats, applicants of all ages waited in line with their resumes in hand to talk to employers. Tables and chairs were provided for the applicants to fill out their applications, and more were brought out when people started sitting on the floor to fill in the blanks.
Aaron Newsome, of Wyandotte, Okla., said he has a job but wanted to see what else might be available.
“I’m just gathering information,” he said. “I’m just seeing what’s available. I like this idea of getting all of the employers together in one space.”
Newsome said he had thought about a job at a casino, but he reconsidered.
“There’s too much temptation,” he said.
JobFest participants were asked to fill out a survey so the coordinators of the job fair could follow up on who had interviews with prospective employers. Filling out the survey also qualified the applicants for a “Job Genie Makeover Package” worth $500. The makeover includes an Android tablet computer, dry cleaning, a haircut and style, a video resume, and a resume upgrade.
Abram said employers from seven counties in Southwest Missouri participated in JobFest.
“Our goal is to fill this convention center with employers next year,” she said. “At the first JobFest last year, we had one room of the convention center. This year, we had two rooms. Next year, we’ll have all three rooms.”
Last year’s event attracted more than 1,200 people.
JOBFEST 2013 was sponsored by Arvest Bank, Empire District Electric Co., Crowder College and Indigo Sky Casino.