Fred Smittick, a New Orleans evacuee, landed a construction job Thursday. Salt River Project found an out-of-work electrical engineer.
About 50 people showed up for the first day of a two-day job fair at the Arizona State Fairground, and 30 were hired on the spot, said Liz Barker, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Gov. Janet Napolitano later said the number had risen to 45.
But hundreds of Valley jobs from nurses to beer truck drivers to convenience store managers went begging as about 30 potential employers tried to fill empty slots with those who lost homes, jobs and family when Katrina ravaged their hometown.
"We can hire at least a dozen laborers at $14.80 an hour, plus entry-level refurbishers and indoor jobs — assembly and office positions at our Tempe location," said Debbie Vaske of Salt River Project. "We’re ready to pick people up and take them to their jobs and buy them steeltoed shoes."
Besides the electrical engineer, SRP only had one other applicant Thursday. Vaske said both are likely to be hired.
Some employers said they were disappointed at the turnout. Ron Davila of Scottsdale Healthcare has several slots to fill — nurses to entry-level clerks. The company will even help a new employee find living accommodations near work and foot the bill for tuition if an employee decides to train as a nurse, Davila said.
He didn’t get many nibbles Thursday. He’s hoping today’s turnout will be better.
"My understanding is there are a lot of folks who want to start over and get jobs here," he said.
Barker said, however, that DES previously referred 150 job seekers to employers, and many people are likely pursuing those leads. Besides, of the 500-plus people at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, about 60 are children and many more are elderly, she said.
Barker is pleased that 30 people found jobs Thursday, and she hopes the number of employed evacuees is upped again today.
Smittick, who has construction experience, is happy just to be off the rolls of the unemployed.
He plans to start work Monday and settle in the Valley permanently. He doesn’t mind the dry heat.
"I’m going to stay here as long as there is a job here," he said. "I don’t want to see any more water. I have relatives in Oklahoma. My aunt wanted to send me a plane ticket, but I said I wanted to see what Phoenix has to offer."
Choice Tumer, who was a waiter for more than 20 years in New Orleans, was served up a job at one of the 17 Macayo’s Restaurants and a bus ticket to get there.
Tumer, who arrived in Phoenix with his uncle, is still missing the rest of his family. He’s hoping they will show up on a list of evacuees being housed in Houston or another evacuation destination.
He, too, wants to start life over in the Valley.
"People are so nice and so friendly here," he said.
Macayo’s picked up three new employees Thursday.
"I want to hire everybody that needs a job," said the restaurant chain’s human resources director, Bob Neckes. "I’ll hire anybody that comes to my booth. These people need work."
Manny Silvera of Circle K said the same.
"We’re hiring on the spot for Las Vegas, Tucson and all of Maricopa County," he said. "We have jobs at every level from food service managers to cashiers to store managers. We have benefits, and if they need money right away we can help. And transportation is not a factor. We are hiring on the spot."
The employers said they are not making up jobs just to keep the evacuees busy.
"We really need these workers," Vaske said.