Job fair to assist hundreds of displaced workers

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

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

Organizers designed the job fair specifically to assist the hundreds ofworkers set to lose their jobs, but it was also open to the public sinceIndependence County has an unemployment rate higher than both the state and thenation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latestnumbers show Independence County had an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent inJuly 2013. That's higher than the state's unemployment rate, which stayed at7.4 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'sever attended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newingham is an employment specialist with the hospital'shuman resources department. She says the skills people have from the factoriescould 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 RiverHealth Systems are long-term employees."

James plans to applyto the hospital, too, but she may now have to compete against hundreds ofothers looking for work.

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

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