Cars overflowed from the parking lot at the McDonald Hughes Community Center on Thursday as nearly 2,000 job seekers flocked to a career fair.

The event was organized by the Alabama Department of Labor in partnership with the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority and the West Alabama Division of the Association of the U.S. Army.

Fitzgerald Washington, Alabama’s secretary of labor, said 65 employers looking to fill 2,700 positions participated in the job fair.

“Today will be a life-changing for many who are looking for work and others who are looking to upgrade to a better job,” Washington said. “This is a big day for a lot of people here in the Tuscaloosa area.”

Fitzgerald noted that the unemployment rate in Tuscaloosa is already a very low 3.1 percent, but he said his hope was that Thursday’s job fair would drive that number even further down.

The employers participating in the event ran the gamut from small local outfits looking for a few new faces to industrial powerhouses and government agencies seeking to hire hundreds.

Sonya Chapell, the general manager at Baumhower’s Victory Grille, said she came to the job fair hoping to fill 30 openings across both her restaurants.

“We have a lot of staff turnover, especially during the summer,” Chappell said. “It’s a nightmare for us. When we lose people to graduation or they go home for the summer, it really hurts your shifts when you lose 12-15 people in the span of two weeks.”

Chappell said she was overwhelmed by the response she got at the job fair — that the 60 applications she thought would last her all day were gone in an hour. She said she was optimistic that Baumhower’s will find servers, hosts and hostesses, cashiers, bussers, dishwashers and cooks to hire from the crowd in the community center Thursday.

A few tables down, representatives from DCH Regional Medical Center who were at the job fair said they had roughly 500 openings that need to be filled as soon as possible.

Ken Lawson, whose full-time job is to recruit people to work at DCH, said the hospital has had a lot of success at job fairs.

“Mostly right now we’re looking for registered nurses, but we’re hiring for a variety of roles — clerical, support services, laboratory work,” Lawson said. “An event like this is really good for finding people for those support services roles, positions we can train people for — housekeeping, food services, laboratory, patient care assistance — this kind of event is great for that.”

At one booth, Bama Dining was looking to hire 200 people for a wide variety of jobs. Nearby, a recruiter for Mercedes-Benz U.S. International had 400 positions to fill. Academy Sports and Outdoors sought six new sales associates and Buffalo Rock was just searching for two forklift operators.

Employers large and small had a large pool to pull from, too. A PARA spokeswoman said the Department of Labor reported serving 1,900 job seekers Thursday.

State Sen. Gerald Allen spent time at the community center visiting with recruiters and the jobseekers alike, and he said the success of the job fair, even in the face of low unemployment in Tuscaloosa and across Alabama, should be a source of pride.

“Tuscaloosa is the economic engine of West Alabama, and it’s important that we have events like this, that we make sure each man and woman, regardless of who may they be, will have the opportunity to have a good, high-paying job,” Allen said. “Hundreds and hundreds are going to leave this campus today becoming a better person and citizen.”

 

Reach Stephen Dethrage at stephen.dethrage@tuscaloosanews.com or 722-0227.