Job fair to assist hundreds of displaced workers - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Job fair to assist hundreds of displaced workers

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – Two companies in Batesville plan to lay off an estimated 470 people starting in October.

In an effort to head off the job loss at Zila, Inc. and Pilgrim's Pride, the Independence County Economic Development office held a job fair at UACCB Tuesday to help these workers find new work close to home.

Organizers designed the job fair specifically to assist the hundreds of workers set to lose their jobs, but it was also open to the public since Independence County has an unemployment rate higher than both the state and the nation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest numbers show Independence County had an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent in July 2013. That's higher than the state's unemployment rate, which stayed at 7.4 percent in August 2013.

Becky James of Newark decided to try something new to find work by coming to the job fair, the first she's ever attended.

"Everybody's so friendly and open," James said. "It really makes you want to come back to another one."

James spent three years working with people with disabilities, but she lost her job four months ago due to layoffs.

"There are a lot of opportunities out there," she said, "and that's what I'm really looking into right now."

Workers from two companies in Batesville will find themselves in her shoes very soon.

Starting October 1, Zila, Inc., which makes and markets dental supplies, will cut somewhere between 60 and 80 jobs at its Batesville facility. The Pilgrim's Pride plant in town will close around October 25, causing approximately 400 people to lose their jobs.

Larry Jones, the Independence County economic development director, says he hoped to see some of those workers at the job fair.

"They're working three shifts," Jones said. "We're seeing them little by little, but we've seen a couple hundred people here so far today."

The job fair attracted 32 area businesses, including White River Health Systems – the county's largest employer.

"Since this is a small town, we probably have family members that are involved in that job cut and, if not, close friends and our church families," Lynn Newingham said, "and so we just want to help them as much as we can."

Newingham is an employment specialist with the hospital's human resources department. She says the skills people have from the factories could fit several openings at the hospital nicely. She says dedication should also make their resumes stand apart from other applicants.

"You hope they have longevity with Pilgrim's Pride or Zila," she said. "Those are the types of people that we're looking for at White River Health Systems are long-term employees."

 James plans to apply to the hospital, too, but she may now have to compete against hundreds of others looking for work.

"I'm a pretty positive person," she said, "so I think something will come open real soon."

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