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    Employers pin hopes on job fair in Oldsmar

    About a dozen companies and many public agencies will try to find workers for more than 150 positions.

    By ED QUIOCO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


    OLDSMAR -- A few years ago, finding experienced metalworkers was as simple as running a help-wanted ad and picking from among more than a dozen qualified applicants.

    These days, the same ad might draw one or two calls, said Dick Peck, president of QTM Inc., a metal manufacturing company in Oldsmar. Thanks to business growth that has been fueled by the Internet and a tight labor market, manufacturers such as QTM are having a tough time finding workers.

    "There is no unemployment on the west coast of Florida in manufacturing," Peck said. "I'm growing double-digit every year. I could grow faster if it wasn't for the limited" pool of workers.

    To help manufacturing and industrial companies in the Oldsmar area find employees, the Greater Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a job fair Tuesday at the Oldsmar City Council chambers on State Street.

    About a dozen companies and a host of public agencies will be at the job fair trying to find workers for more than 150 positions, said Jerry Custin, the chamber's business assistance specialist. Chamber officials hope to attract applicants from Clearwater and St. Petersburg, and from Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

    "The jobs are clearly there," Custin said. "What we need is people."

    Salaries for the positions that will be offered at the job fair range from $6 an hour for hospitality and janitorial positions to $20 an hour for registered nurses, Custin said. Most companies are looking for entry-level workers who are reliable and have basic skills such as being able to take measurements and do some math, he said.

    "If we can find people with those abilities, that's who they are looking for," Custin said.

    This is not the first attempt at getting workers to the Oldsmar area.

    A $2-million state grant was used last year to pay for improved bus routes around the Tampa Bay area to import workers from low-income areas to jobs in the Oldsmar area. The project included building a transit hub in the city on State Road 580.

    The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority created routes 91 and 92 on July 31 and expanded two current routes to take workers to the Oldsmar area from Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and St. Petersburg. But few have taken advantage of the new routes. Transit officials had hoped to carry hundreds of riders, but on Monday, 20 people rode Route 91, which takes riders from 22nd Street S and Ninth Avenue and other stops in St. Petersburg to Oldsmar. Thirty-three people rode Route 92 from downtown Clearwater to Oldsmar.

    For those riders, the two new routes are "probably the difference between working and not working," said Mike Sieble, PSTA director of planning. "But we had hoped the numbers would be higher."

    One of the goals of Tuesday's job fair is to highlight the improved bus routes, Custin said. The first 50 job seekers who use public transportation to get to the fair will receive two vouchers for a Tampa Bay Devil Rays game.

    The chamber sponsored a similar job fair last year and "had exactly one job seeker show up," Custin said. "That was a major disappointment."

    Companies in Oldsmar are not alone when it comes to having difficulty finding workers, said Don Bellante, an economics professor at the University of South Florida. The job market has been getting tighter since the last recession ended in 1991.

    "Without a doubt, it's a national phenomenon," Bellante said.

    Pinellas County's unemployement rate is 2.8 percent, which is lower than the national average of about 4.2 percent and the state's rate of 3.8 percent, said Laura Berkowitz, senior research manager with Pinellas Economic Development.

    Companies in Oldsmar have really felt the effects of the tight labor market, Custin said. When the chamber surveyed 183 companies last year, 26 percent said the main problem in finding help is the lack of applicants and about 60 percent said it was somewhat to very difficult for them to find qualified workers.

    Because of the difficulty, QTM has been forced to lower hiring requirements and offer higher salaries and better benefits, Peck said. The company turns away 10 percent to 15 percent of its business every year because it does not have the workers to fill the orders, which are now coming in from all over the country, thanks to the Internet.

    "As fast as Florida is growing," Peck said, "we are all fighting for the same work force."

    - Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or quioco@sptimes.com.

    If you go

    The job fair will be from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday at Oldsmar City Council chambers, 100 State St. W. For information about the job fair, call the Greater Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce at (813) 855-4233. For information about Pinellas bus routes, call (727) 530-9911.

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