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Attendance down, apps up at job fair

Candis and Wayne Bethel fill out job applications with their grandchildren, Savannah, 10, and Diesel, 5, during the Park Rapids Job Fair held Thursday at Century School. (Photos by Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)

Prospective employees had a chance to connect with area businesses and organizations and fill out job applications Thursday at the Park Rapids Job Fair held at Century School.

Many local employers are looking to fill full-time, part-time and seasonal positions as spring and summer near.

"We're always looking for good craftsmen, especially carpenters and iron and metal erectors," said Randy Hillukka, general superintendent for Vercon, Inc. "I want to network with people and get our name out there. This is a long-term issue for the company, finding quality employees and tradesmen."

Hillukka said from time to time they have management positions open but Vercon representatives attended the job fair primarily for people to fill a variety of positions.

"Something like this, we're looking for more in the trades. People that like to work with their hands."

Carolyn Pfeifer of the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission said there were 150 people who came through the job fair, and although attendance was down from last year, the number of applications turned in was up. She said this is good for the employers and those looking for jobs were surprised at the number of good jobs available.

Candis Bethel filled out applications Thursday, seeking employment along the lines of a cashier, bakery or deli position, for example. Her husband, Wayne Bethel, said he was looking for work as a laborer or equipment operator.

Aaron Olsen of Park Rapids wanted to see what job options are available through the job fair. He currently works in Wadena and wants to find something closer to home. One thing Olson was looking for was on the spot interviews, similar to other job fairs where employers were looking to hire people now.

Employers like Hugo's were looking primarily to find summer help in numerous grocery story positions as the busy summer season nears.

Shawn Gray and Cory Williams, owners of Foxy's Bar & Grill north of Park Rapids, were last-minute entries to the job fair and were pleased they could get in as they, too, look ahead to spring and summer where business picks up quickly.

Gray and Williams celebrate their one year anniversary this week of purchasing Foxy's as they look to hire people from dishwashers to servers to bartenders and managers.

"We're gearing up for the summer when it gets really busy by early June," Williams said. "We want to find who's available."

Williams added the business has grown a lot in total sales over the year and with the lack of parking being an issue at their location on Hay Creek, between Island and Eagle Lakes, they purchased the lot next door to build a parking lot.

About 30 businesses, agencies and other employment organizations were represented with booths at Thursday's job fair, put together by Hubbard County Regional Economic Commission (HCREC) in hopes of addressing workforce shortage needs. There are an estimated 200 full-time and part-time jobs to fill in the Park Rapids area.

One such business providing opportunity for employment is Knute Nelson. The elder care facility announced earlier this year they are constructing a new facility in Park Rapids and are looking at hiring 40 employees with a total of 28 full-time equivalent positions. Some examples include registered nurses (RN), licensed practical nurses (LPN), care attendants, cooks, dietary aides and custodians.

Pfeifer and David Collins of the HREDC coordinated the event and had previously indicated some of the most notable areas of need for local businesses and industry included registered nurses, medical doctors, CNC operators, teachers, bus drivers, seasonal employees, food production, health care, maintenance, auto mechanics and bricklayers.

Collins reported the unemployment rate for the Park Rapids area in December was 8 percent, although that figure is not seasonally adjusted, compared to 3.9 percent for the state.

Even though the Hubbard County number was not 'seasonally adjusted,' Collins said prior to the job fair, it still indicates that job seekers and opportunities are not connecting. This also reflects a lack of needed skills required for existing openings. Crucial to addressing the workforce needs is the fact that Baby Boomers retire in even larger numbers and that the availability of job training grows in scope and numbers to meet the needs of employers in years to come.