U.S. Army veteran Curtis Duncan will do anything for a job.
Drive a truck. Operate a forklift. Work security.
"Would you like me to come dig a ditch for you?" Duncan asked business recruiters at a veterans' job fair Thursday. "Maybe fish your keys out of your car?"
The 53-year-old Plant City veteran has been out of work for two years and is upside down on his mortgage, he said. He's got a wife and an ill father-in-law.
He was one of more than 500 sharply-dressed veterans looking for work from about 30 vendors Thursday at Raymond James Stadium, where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other sponsors hosted Hiring Our Heroes job fair for veterans and their spouses.
Walmart, CarMax, Bank of America, Home Depot, Tijuana Flats and Matco Tools —a tool store on wheels— were among the businesses recruiting veterans.
Some are recruiting for customer service positions or for their corporate office.
Robert Lopez of Matco Tools said he wants to recruit at least six managers who eventually want to buy their tool truck storefront.
"They would be responsible for running the stores, sales and merchandising," he said, adding that the managers often situate their trucks at car dealerships with lots of customers. "We're looking for tenacity, somebody who's looking to work hard and be goal oriented."
Most of the businesses were not hiring on the spot, but referred veterans and their spouses to fill out applications online, said Elisa Sylvestri, 20, of Tampa, whose husband is in the Army.
She wants to be a receptionist, and she hopes being flagged as a military spouse will get her in the door, she said.
There are more than 81,000 unemployed veterans in Florida and more than one million in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Helping military spouses find work can be just as important as helping the veterans, said Bryan Goettel, spokesman for Hiring Our Heroes. The group has held more than 300 hiring fairs around the country.
"The spouse sacrifices right along with the member of the military," Goettel said.
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 323-0353.