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Minimum-wage positions draw hundreds to Shops at Wiregrass job fair

NEW TAMPA — Some came in business suits, others in shorts. All waited in a line that stretched halfway around the Holiday Inn Express. Most had resumes in their hands and hope in their hearts for the same thing: a job in a tough economy.

Michael Rothgeb wasn't picky.

"I want anything that pays money," said Rothgeb, who wore a dark suit with a red silk tie and handkerchief. A former designer of company Web sites, Rothgeb found himself unemployed in July when the small business downsized.

"The economy tanked," said Rothgeb, the father of an 18-month-old son. Business saw digital investments as excess spending and cut back.

Rothgeb worked briefly for a call center, but quit "because it was ripping my soul right out of my ear," he said. His wife, a former teacher, is "selling her soul to a travel agency." To save money, they are sharing a home with another family. Rothgeb also bought a bus pass.

He heard about the job fair via an e-mail from teen clothier Hot Topic, one of the tenants at the Shops at Wiregrass. The outdoor megamall at the intersection of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and State Road 56 is set to open Oct. 30. The mall, which is 75 percent leased, is expected to provide between 1,800 and 2,000 jobs, said marketing director Chad Doritan.

The fair, held Friday and today, drew more applicants than usual for service jobs, most of which pay minimum wage.

"It's an employers' market," said John Hickman, a business services consultant for Career Central, the nonprofit agency that serves Hernando and Pasco counties. The group organized the job fair at the mall's request. He said publicity about the job fair drew hundreds of e-mails and about 200 people showed up in the first half hour.

"People are hurting right now," he said, adding that he knows a former professional making $75,000 six months ago who now works for $7.25 an hour "just to bring in something."

Employers who filled the hotel's banquet rooms confirmed that.

"We've seen more master's degrees, real estate professionals," said Amy Louderback, assistant manager at the new Barnes & Noble at Wiregrass. "We've had a lot of high-quality people because the economy is so bad."

Louderback didn't want to give folks unrealistic expectations. She told everyone up front that starting pay was $7.25 an hour, all positions are temporary, and lots of heavy lifting, cart pushing and cleaning will be required right before the store opens.

Gina Henry, 43, of Wesley Chapel, didn't mind. She sought out the book store along with a few other stores in hopes of landing a part-time job while she completes a degree in counseling.

She has been unemployed since February, when the air conditioning company she worked for cut her job. Her husband still works there. They have no kids, but do have a mortgage.

"We've been lucky," she said. "But the fear is always there."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Minimum-wage positions draw hundreds to Shops at Wiregrass job fair 09/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 12:07pm]
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