BROOKSVILLE — In a county where the unemployment rate has stood well above 13 percent for more than three years, a job fair is going to draw a crowd.
The Hernando County Career Fair did just that.
More than 350 job seekers and 44 businesses turned out Tuesday at the Elks Lodge on Cortez Boulevard looking for opportunity.
Some, like Terri Whidden, 41, of Spring Hill, said it was a chance to see what kind of work is out there. Laid off from her position as a customer service representative nearly two years ago, she took a part-time position at a senior care facility in Hudson earlier this year.
"I'm not unhappy where I am, but I would like to find something full time," Whidden said. "I figured that this was a good place to check things out."
Career Central business service manager Steve Wilson said that the strong turnout of employers was a signal that the job picture in Hernando is improving. Career fairs like the one his agency co-sponsors twice a year are a good way to introduce those looking for work to potential employers, he said.
"We had a good mix of employers who are enthusiastic about hiring," Wilson said, "so if someone is willing to come out, it's an excellent way to get a foot in the door."
Job seekers had plenty of opportunities to look over, depending on their work skills and experience. Representatives from several staffing companies had ready-to-fill positions for everything from general labor to specialized skills such as medical billing and office staffing.
"I could fill 10 jobs right now if the right people came along," said Teri Nichols of Spherion Nature Coast, a staffing service that serves clients in Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties.
For John Patrick, 36, the event was especially enlightening in that he discovered NAS Dynamics, an airport safety equipment manufacturer at the Hernando County Airport Industrial Park that builds the kind of equipment he was trained to operate in the Navy.
Patrick, who has been taking online college courses, spent several minutes talking with general manager Steve Voras, and left a copy of his resume.
"It think it would be a great opportunity," Patrick said. "It's right up my alley."
Despite the brightening job horizon, Wilson said that Hernando County's workforce still has a big weakness: a lack of individuals skilled in technical fields such as engineering.
"We're still lagging when it comes to specialized training programs and schools," he said. "As more and more high-tech companies move into the area, that's a need that's going to have be addressed.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]