Area employers weren’t just pushing freebies — handing out everything from energy drinks to pens — Wednesday at the Gainesville Civic Center. They were trying to promote themselves and hopefully lure employees in Hall County’s tight labor market, one that resembles workforce conditions before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are so many opportunities out there,” said Alyssa Katz, who works in human resources for Cottrell, which makes over-the-road car haulers and equipment at its plant at 2125 Candler Road, Gainesville.
Cottrell isn’t just trying to attract new workers for a current uptick in production. They’re considering a $125 million expansion that’s in the works in Gainesville's new 1,300-acre Gainesville 85 Business Park.
“I’m not quite sure where production levels will be once we have that change,” Katz said.
Cottrell was among 50-plus employers at booths spread out across several rooms in the civic center for the March 31 Spring Job Fair & Career Expo. Job seekers could browse for the companies they wanted to visit, then approach officials for more information — and even fill out an application if really interested.
Employers said they were touting competitive pay and benefits, as well as opportunities for upward mobility, to help attract employees.
Marissa Rosenbloom, marketing director for Agile Cold Storage, said her company pushes a “family-style” environment in the workplace.
The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce estimated some 700 people would attend the event, which the chamber coordinating with Lanier Technical College, Gainesville Area Employers Committee and the Georgia Department of Labor.
The chamber skipped last spring’s event because of the pandemic, holding an in-person one in September.
A major concern for area employers before the pandemic was the area’s low unemployment rate. In January 2020, the rate was 2.9%, but then it rocketed to a record high of 10.7% in April as business shutdowns took hold.
According to the Georgia Department of Labor, the rate in February 2021, the latest available data, was 3%, indicating a return to pre-pandemic numbers.
In the meantime, employment opportunities are ramping up. In addition to expansions, companies such as Fox Factory are settling in the Hall area.
Fox, which had a booth at the fair, had about 300 employees during a plant tour by The Times in December. Business is expected to be really booming at the end of 2021, as the manufacturer and designer of ride dynamics products for bicycles and powered vehicles expects as many as 1,200 employees to fill the building at 2500 West Park Drive, Gainesville.
Janet Jackson, human resources manager at BTD in Dawsonville, said that finding the right employees can be challenging enough. Federal stimulus bills that have provided an unemployment benefit on top of state benefits haven't helped matters, she said.
The federal boost in payments has been criticized for delaying people’s return to the workforce in that people would make more money unemployed than when they were working.
“We’re having a hard time getting people who actually want to come to work,” Jackson said.
For her part, Regina Salazar of Gainesville said she wants to “find a local job where I can grow in my career.”
She walked from table to table, talking with prospective employers.
“I think this is a great idea that the community is able to provide for us this type of opportunity,” Salazar said of the event. “With the coronavirus, it’s hard to go out and look for jobs.”