3rd stimulus job fair held in L'burg

Wednesday, June 9, 2010
At the third stimulus money-funded job fair in Lewisburg, applicants wait their turn to talk with an official with Village Manor, one of the businesses hiring people from the fair on Tuesday.

A third federal stimulus money-funded job fair was held Tuesday in Lewisburg where some new employers were participating and previous applicants were encouraged to try again.

"To participate in this Job Fair, you must have already been declared eligible for the program and have not received a job," according to Paige Liggett, spokeswoman for the Workforce Alliance headquartered on the public square in Columbia.

However, at least two Lewisburg businessmen say that at the second job fair they were approached by people who simply wanted to appear as though they were looking for work, but who were found unqualified so they might continue to receive a monthly government check without working.

That's the story from Michael Farrar, proprietor of the Corner Café on Lewisburg's public square, and Tim Looney of Looney's Tax Service on West Commerce Street. Both say an applicant just wanted a prospective employer's signature on a document to show an effort to get a job, but seemed to have little or no interest in landing a job.

"'Here, sign this,'" Farrar said, quoting an individual who approached him during the second job fair when he accepted the paper to see what it was. "'OK, let me see,' I replied while they told me, 'I ain't gonna lose my check,' so I signed it, but put in parenthesis, 'but didn't apply.'"

Told of the exchange, John Boutwall, human resources director at Teledyne, said, "It's one of those things that occurs. It's a fact of life and I think any and every employer runs upon that on occasion."

The stimulus program spokeswoman said, "We did not know people, jobseekers, were asking employers to sign any document to that effect" as reported by Farrar and Looney. "After further looking into the matter, it is possible that the individual ... could possibly be in the unemployment insurance system."

Liggett asked that Looney and Farrar contact the workforce office, adding, "We will gladly forward the information to the proper department."

Meanwhile, Boutwall and several other Teledyne department leaders decided to hire half a dozen stimulus workers. His "overall" experience with those employees "has been good," he said.

"We've got some good workers and there's a possibility that we'll keep some, but I can't predict the future," he said of whether the six at Teledyne would be retained after the employment program ends.

Looney said he witnessed the exchange with Farrar and an unnamed individual because they were standing together and talking. Looney hired two stimulus workers. One was released because of poor attendance. The other is young and appears to be on her way to establishing a good work record.

Looney attended the job fair last month as a representative of three clients. He didn't name them without asking first.

"For one of the businesses," he said, "I received only three applications. It's not an office job. It's a hard working job. One applicant lied about not being in trouble with the law, but we saw a public record that she had been arrested for shoplifting.

"For an automotive business somebody was offered a job but never showed up," he continued. "It was printed there as manual labor at $12 an hour with a chance of a raise, no experience required, just an interest in the work was needed.

"The one we really wanted, got hired by Michael," his friend who runs the Corner Café.

Deborah McKee, proprietor of Noah's Ark Childcare, "hired six and all six turned out to be really great," she said.

"They show up on time and are wanting to work," McKee said. "As people who've been out of work for a long time, they're trying real hard. I've had good experience with them."

Gov. Phil Bredesen allocated $3 million in federal economic stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as authorized by Congress. The money is provided to businesses and local governments that participate in the Marshall County Recovery Program. The program ends when the next federal fiscal year starts in October.

"I'm hoping to be able to" keep some of them at work after September, McKee said, reflecting one of the goals of the program.

The job fair Tuesday at Columbia State Community College on South Ellington Parkway came as Marshall County' April unemployment rate was reported at 17.3 percent, down from 18.4 percent in March. It's second highest in the state and has been for two months. Before that, Marshall's unemployment rate has been as high as 20.3 percent and was the highest in the state for three consecutive months this year.

Tia Anderson directs the Career Center at the community college here and she's been appointed as the program manager for the job fairs and all they entail. Her recent report to city and county officials was shared at a public meeting Monday.

It shows: 410 people were found eligible for the program and 188 had been placed as of May 28; 72 employers signed forms indicating a willingness to participate and 28 have not hired applicants through the program; $112,792.22 has been spent in reimbursements generated since the program began, indicating that much federal money has been injected into the county's economy, and $38,72.22 was generated during the week ending April 28.

The program was started with funding seen as capable of having 175 people hired with 50 of those being people to be paid by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

As the program matured, it became clear that more people could be hired because of different wage rates, start-work dates and other factors such as dismissals.

There had been 44 terminations among the local government and private enterprise jobs as of Anderson's report. Among the 50 TDOT slots, there were six separations.

The Workforce Alliance spokeswoman said as of June 4: 141 people were working; 45 people were working with TDOT; 44 employers have hired through the program; and 186 were working in jobs as a result of the Marshall County Recovery Program.

Told of the exchange between the employer and someone who seemed interested in simply maintaining eligibility for a monthly government check, Liggett offered several points:

* Businesses are not required to participate in this program. They have chosen to participate. The businesses themselves have done all of their own hiring and are not obligated to retain any employee that they feel is not meeting the requirements of the position.

* The South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance is the facilitator of the program and coordinates connecting participating employers with eligible jobseekers by holding job fairs. Issues between employers and employees that arise are handled by the employer.

* All of the salaries in the Marshall County Recovery Program are 100 percent funded through federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families money, therefore there are federal requirements that must be followed including having a child younger than 18 living with the stimulus worker.