Job fair brings hope to prospective workers, and helps employers fill jobs.

Saturday's job fair at Liberty High School brought out large crowds looking for jobs. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

POINCIANA – The doors of Liberty High School’s cafeteria opened at 9 a.m., and almost instantly, the crowds started flowing in.
“It’s been constant,” said Wendy Farrell.
The cafeteria wasn’t crowded with students looking for a breakfast meal, but with adults hungry for something else – a job.
Farrell, a member of the group that organized and sponsored the job fair, the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, said it was both exciting to see such a strong turnout for their event, but at the same time a sad reminder that so many local residents are still in need of work.
“It’s always bittersweet,” Farrell said. “You don’t really want a good turnout, in one sense. But you want to give people hope.”
The crowd turned out early and continued flowing into that huge cafeteria for hours, surprising the organizers, who said their application forms disappeared fast.
“We’ve had over 400 people already,” said Nick Murdock, the chairman of PEDA, a non-profit group that’s been working to bring more jobs and economic growth to Poinciana.
“It’s a huge response,” added Ivonne Palacious, another PEDA member who signed up the applicants on Saturday morning.
The huge turnout, though, was great news for the employers who attended the job fair, including Jamie Villella, the human resources manager for the Omni Resort Hotel at Championsgate.
The Onmi is now hiring workers to fill a number of positions, ranging from housekeeping to the front desk to some management jobs. Villella was at the Poinciana Community Center for a similar job fair on May 25, and was back on Saturday to collect more resumes and, she added, hire more people.
“This is awesome,” Villella said. “I brought along 200 of my (job) postings, and they’re all gone. We’ve had so many applications submitted to us today.”
A lot of them, she added, are well qualified for the positions the Omni is hiring for.
“We’ve had so many great candidates today,” she said.
Chris McCall felt the same way. He’s the superintendent of Robins & Morton, the sub-contractors handling the construction of one of the biggest projects to come to Poinciana in years, the Poinciana Medical Center. The property will include not only the community’s first hospital but also a separate emergency room facility and a medical office building, with space rented to local physicians.
McCall said he was hiring construction workers to start immediately, and continue working for his agency through the end of construction next spring.
“It has been very encouraging,” he said of the turnout at the job fair.
McCall said he was definitely looking to do hiring that morning.
“Throughout the course of this project, we will hire between 30 and 35 people,” he said. “We’re getting a wide range of people, from beginners to expert craftsmen.”
Osceola School Board member Cindy Hartig attended the job fair to learn more about the education programs available at TECO, the Technical Education Center of Osceola County, which had a table at the job fair. She also wanted to speak to teachers who have relocated to Central Florida from northern states – and may be interested in working for the local schools.
“We’ve had quite a few teachers from New York who moved here,” Hartig said. “They’ve just moved down here over the past few weeks. That’s going to be great for Osceola County.”
PEDA was formed last July, because a series of major construction projects are coming to Poinciana, including the medical center, a new toll road known as the Poinciana Parkway, and the widening of the heavily used Poinciana Boulevard. Those projects are expected to bring more than 7,000 construction jobs to the community over the next few years, and the PEDA members wanted to be sure that as many Poinciana residents as possible get those jobs. The community rode a housing boom wave in the years 2004 and 2007, when the housing market was soaring. But when the market crashed, the community was left with a painfully high unemployment rate and an equally high home foreclosure rate.
PEDA organized the job fair to match local workers with employers in the construction field, but in recent weeks a number of non-construction employers asked to attend the job fair as well, including the Omni and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Farrell said PEDA would continue to offer these fairs, including one in November that will try to match workers with experience in the field of health care with the 200 jobs being created at the Poinciana Medical Center.
“The medical job fair is going to be the next big one,” she said.

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