Dwight Edwards has attended several job fairs since losing his heating and air-conditioning job a year ago. But he was taken aback by a new twist at Monday's job and career fair at the Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg.
One booth was for a construction company. And it was hiring.
"I haven't seen one of those for a while," said Edwards, 44, of St. Petersburg.
Davaco, which builds and remodels locations for retailers, was hiring lead installers, technicians, site surveyors and lead foremen who were open to travel. Dwight "Ike" Bridges, Davaco divisional operations manager, cited demand from customers such as Target and Abercrombie & Fitch.
"Retail is picking up. We're seeing a lot of existing spaces being remodeled," he said. "If I could hire 100 people today, I would."
Many job fairs in the past two years have been filled largely with career training organizations and companies steering job seekers to fill out applications online for future openings. With Tampa Bay's unemployment hovering at 12.6 percent, the number of job hunters still heavily outweigh openings. But there were smatterings of hope for the estimated 2,500-plus who turned out for Monday's event, which was hosted by the St. Petersburg Times/tampabay.com.
Walt Disney World, which had sat out recent job fairs, was looking for reservations sales agents at its Tampa office. Valpak posted a half-dozen openings. The Nielsen Co. said it was seeking people with strong writing skills as it ramps up its Reward TV program, a website where viewers can earn reward points by correctly answering questions about the TV programs and commercials they watch.
Bank of America was not only hiring for its growing call center in Tampa, it was promoting its own open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at its operations center, 4109 Gandy Blvd.
Bank recruiter Cathy Baez said the call center wanted to hire 30 more employees at the unit that handles incoming queries from small businesses.
By year-end, she said, Bank of America could have as many as 1,000 employees at the Gandy center, including 350 in the small business operation alone.
At a nearby booth, Al Feliciano, a staffing specialist with Massey Pest Services, said he had an immediate six positions to fill and aimed to add a total of 11 pest control locations in the area by December, boosting the company to 82 offices.
Massey has been adding customers both by new demand and acquisition, buying Middleton Lawn & Pest Control in December.
"A lot of people held back" during the recession, Feliciano said. "We decided to push forward and grow. … You have to keep growing."
Several companies with openings acknowledged many people visiting booths were likely to leave disappointed. Having an opening is only part of the job recovery equation; finding the right matches can be even tougher.
Still, for job hunters who have been disappointed with previous job fairs, it was a positive step.
"At least I'm seeing there's jobs available," said Chuck Sprague, 52, a longtime home builder in St. Petersburg weighing a career change.
"You hear all the doom and gloom on the news. This is encouraging."