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More than 900 turn out for Lancaster job fair

When the doors opened at 10 a.m. Saturday, a line had already formed around the parking lot of the Lancaster Adult Education Center.

There hundreds of job seekers hungry for work attended a Lancaster County job fair, where a company scouting Lancaster as a possible site for a new location and seven area employers hopeful about new talent came together with potential candidates.

Delricka Izzard asked a woman exiting the fair what she thought.

The woman encouraged Izzard to go in, saying the fair offered access to a workforce training program called WorkKeys, which has helped prepare her when applying for different jobs. WorkKeys is a state-run job skills assessment and training program.

Izzard decided she'd get in line.

"It doesn't cost anything to stand here and put your name out there anymore," she said. "I'm going to stay. It might be beneficial, and I might be successful."

At the end of the day, 915 people, mostly Lancaster County residents, came to the fair. With the county at 15.2 percent unemployment, that number is more than 7 percent of the county's unemployment count, organizers noted. About 540 people preregistered to attend.

Some job seekers were frustrated when they left.

"I stood in line a long time," said Lancaster native Cathy Moore, 54, one of hundreds who came early. When she arrived the line had encircled the parking lot. It was about 1:30 p.m. when she was leaving.

The job fair wasn't like another she'd been to where she filled out many applications, said Moore who's been looking for work since being laid off two years ago.

Job hunting has been hard for Moore, who worked at a Monroe, N.C., company for 11 years making parts for doors and elevators. The opportunities just aren't there, she said.

"It seems like Lancaster has just become like a ghost town."

Identifying the workforce

Inside the fair, job seekers lined up to meet with representatives of different companies who gave them information about the company, what it's like to work there, and what employment opportunities are available, and asked them what kind of work they're looking for.

But the job fair's main goal was to gather information from applicants in order to better match them with companies seeking workers, said Ryan Wetherington, director of public relations and marketing for the county's economic development corporation.

Job seekers came with resumes and some brought other documents to show their credentials, including diplomas, he said.

Their information will be gathered in a database that will help employers who are looking to hire.

"We want to give folks hope," said Kathy Sistare who chairs the Lancaster County Council and was helping out at the event.

Arranged in about two weeks by the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. and Workforce Action Team, the job fair came about because a call center company requested it, Wetherington said.

The company, which called itself the "Call Center" to protect its identity at the fair, came to evaluate the workforce in Lancaster, one of four possible sites for a new call center it's planning, said one of the company's representatives.

The job fair gave them a way to do that, Wetherington said. Those organizing the event asked local businesses who are hiring to attend.

"The turnout far exceeded our expectations," Wetherington said. Some of the companies ran out of materials early on.

The call center representative agreed that the turnout was good. The company, which expects to create several hundred jobs, should know by early next year where its new center will be, she said.

Local jobs coming

The companies at the event included Romarco Minerals, owners of the Haile gold mine. Haile doesn't have many jobs to offer now, said Chris M. Conley, human resources manager. But the job fair will play an important role in the company's future hiring, he said.

Currently the Kershaw-based gold mine employees about 120 people, about 80 percent from the area. Once Romarco gets the permits it needs for a big expansion, the company will hire many. Eventually the operation will employ 350-400 people.

"Most of the jobs will be people we're very able to train," he said. "The key here is we're going to be hiring locally."

Conley said job seekers interested in working for Romarco need to register at the workforce center in Lancaster and list the mine as their preferred employer.

PCI Group, a direct mail facility, was also there. PCI is "always looking for people who want to work," said President Chris Kropac.

His company has some turnover because of the pace of the work, so he's always looking "to upgrade talent" and hire workers who see PCI as a career option, he said.

Kropac was excited by the talented job seekers whose resumes he took up and marked with notes. Their willingness to work impressed him.

A dedicated employee could receive merit raises over time, he said. The company also offers health, paid vacation and sick time, and other benefits according to a flier.

An idea he wanted to leave with candidates: "You could retire from here," he said.

Waiting for jobs

Rock Hill residents Devan Wylie and Shenee Allen, both 20, are excited about expanding their skills and working at the call center, but they're worried age and limited work experience will go against them.

"Most people want you to be 21 or 25 with years of experience and training," said Allen, who has a job but is seeking something better.

"It's really been frustrating," said Carlos Rhoney, 36, a forklift operator from Lancaster who's been looking for work for three years, searching everywhere, including the Internet and out-of-town job postings.

While waiting in line, the three had the same hope for what they wanted to hear at the fair:

"You're hired."