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Bigger, better career fair

FRANKLIN — The second local job fair since International Paper’s mill-closure announcement will be held on Wednesday at the Paul D. Camp Community College Regional Workforce Development Center.

“The International Paper and Western Hampton Roads Job Fair,” which will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is open to the public, not just IP employees, and is being run by Opportunity Inc. of Hampton Roads, a regional workforce organization based in Norfolk.

Robert Sharak, development and public relations officer for Opportunity Inc., said 37 companies so far had “expressed interest.”

“The room will hold 42, and we expect to have a full room by next week,” Sharak said last week. “On top of that, (we will have) training providers.”

According to Sharak, the companies planning to come to the job fair are primarily in the manufacturing sector, but a complement of businesses in the shipyard and warehousing and logistics industries also will be in attendance.

“In setting up the job fair, we wanted to mirror the basic skills of paper industry workers as best as we could,” Sharak said, adding that the organization usually participates in job fairs, instead of sponsoring them.

“This is a special case, and the geography and skill set are pretty well defined. In some respects it is easier to attract employers, because they know what skill sets the majority of people coming through the door are going to have.”

“We’re excited about it,” Sharak said. “These are pre-qualified situations with the employers. They have assured us they have positions available now to fill. It’s not a fishing expedition on the employer’s part. They’re not just collecting résumés; they will have jobs available.”

Randy Betz, vice president for workforce development at PDCCC, echoed that excitement on Tuesday.

“We’re very excited about this career fair,” Betz said. “It will provide opportunities for many of our area’s displaced workers.”

Carroll Story, president of Local 1488 of the United Steelworkers of America, was also optimistic about the upcoming job fair.

“It will create opportunities, and right now that’s what we need — opportunities,” Story said Tuesday. “Everybody is looking forward to it. It’s my understanding that (the companies coming to the fair) will be coming with real jobs, and not just saying what the company is about.”

About 500 people attended the Manufacturing Career Fair at PDCCC on Dec. 2, of which 90 percent were estimated to be IP employees. Companies that came to that job fair included MeadWestvaco Corp., Rayonier Inc., Boise Inc., IBEW, Smithfield Foods Inc., the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., Potomac Supply Corp., BAE Systems and Georgia-Pacific LLC.

The Dec. 2 job fair was sponsored by Local 1488 and two other unions at the Franklin mill, along with IP, PDCCC, Opportunity Inc. and the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce. Story said he thinks this second fair will have more attendees.

“I think the reality is starting to set in,” Story said. “I expect this to be much bigger than the last one, approaching the 800 to 900 range.”