BY GARY PERILLOUX
Job seekers turned out by the hundreds at the Tupelo Furniture Market, where nearly 40 potential employers screened applicants Thursday.
With unemployment rates in double-digits in some Northeast Mississippi counties - and higher than 7 percent statewide - the Northeast Mississippi Job Fair 2003 was a godsend to many.
Rebecka Sinner of Baldwyn waited in Building 3 of the Tupelo Complex while her 19-year-old fiancZ, Frank Wiginton, sought a factory job.
"He's in the National Guard, and he just got back from training - so he's looking for something," said Sinner, 16, who's completing her general equivalency diploma at Itawamba Community College.
Alexander Page, a 32-year-old Aberdeen resident, lost his job after working more than two years in the cushion and mill departments of an Okolona furniture maker that was reducing its workforce.
He was one of 755 to preregister, more than twice the number of early registrants from a similar job fair three years ago.
Page filled out applications for Bauhuas USA and Lane Furniture.
"I've got a couple of relatives that work there, and they offer a steady job and good pay and good benefits," Page said. He hoped his track record of stable employment would land him a job.
Lines at Fabco
A Johnny-come-lately to the area job market commanded the attention of many applicants.
Thyssen Krupp Automotive - or TKA - Fabco recently began operating as a Nissan supplier in the Tupelo-Lee Industrial Park South alongside U.S. Highway 45.
Long lines snaked from the company's job booth all day. Among the job hopefuls in line were David Whitfield, a 24-year-old Hamilton student who will graduate from Mississippi State University this year, and Robert Perry, a 56-year-old Tupelo industrial manager seeking re-employment after a layoff earlier this year.
"I'm trying to get experience in the information technology department, and I hear they have good jobs in that field," Whitfield said. "There's plenty of opportunities to get into with statistical analysis and computer programming. And it all ties into my field.
"I'm trying to find that first job: I'm going to give it a try and see what I can come up with today."
Perry's at the opposite end of the employment spectrum. He has looked earnestly for employment since a January layoff at a local furniture manufacturer. His age and abundant certifications in lean manufacturing, customer service and just-in-time inventory disciplines have placed him in the "overqualified" Catch-22 with some potential employers.
"I've got 2,700 resumZs out by mail, 1,400 out by e-mail and I've worked with 360 employment agencies," Perry said.
What has the search yielded thus far?
"I've got a 3-inch binder of thank you but no thank you' letters," he said. "And I've graduated into the second one."
Perry's wife works as a nurse, and the couple hope to remain in Tupelo. That's why he was giving Fabco and others a shot Thursday.
"Fabco is a first-tier and second-tier supplier to Nissan," he said. "And their business is forever growing."
Organizers reported one job hunter shouting out "Bingo!" upon landing a job early in the morning, when more than 1,100 filed into the building in the first two hours.
Final registrations and job surveys won't be tallied for a while. But Tupelo's Community Development Foundation, which organized the event, estimates 2,000 people attended.
"Several of our industries were just constantly busy with people in line applying for jobs," said Betty Scott, CDF special projects manager. "A lot of the employers indicated they had quality applicants and were really pleased with the response they got."
Larry Williams of Ashley Furniture said the manufacturer is poised to add five new lines at its 1,700-employee Ecru plant and two lines at its 500-employee Ripley facility. Twelve workers per line are needed along with supervisors.
About 40 percent of the company's applicants have the appropriate experience, and the company is willing to train some newcomers with good backgrounds.
"(Upholsterers and supervisors) are the biggest need now," said Williams, whose company also attended an Ole Miss job fair Thursday. "We're looking for people who have a degree in business or management that are willing to have a little training with us to be a supervisor."