POINCIANA – When a local group working to bring more jobs to Poinciana held an informational job fair on Sept. 22, “We had prepared for 150 registrations,” said Nick Murdock, chairman of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance.
The fact that more than 600 people showed up, he said, not only drastically exceeded their expectations, but also demonstrated how strong the need is for more local employment opportunities.
The really good news, Murdock said, is that when PEDA holds a second job fair in January, the next one won’t be informational. There will be recruiters there looking for workers – and hiring.
“We need to make sure we have enough hiring contractors there for the job fair,” Murdock said. “If we don’t have enough contractors lined up by January, we may set it back by a month.”
But he doesn’t expect that to happen, because the community is looking at several major construction projects that will begin around the first of the new year, and PEDA has been reaching out to the firms behind those projects, ensuring that if they hold a job fair, there will be companies looking to take on workers, and not simply collect resumes.
“There’s tentative dates for everything,” he said. “That’s why we essentially scheduled a job fair for January.”
PEDA was formed over the summer by a group of residents, Murdock included, who didn’t want to leave the community’s economic future to chance. PEDA has estimated that Poinciana is going to benefit next year from up to 7,000 construction jobs being created through a host of projects, big and small, that are currently in the planning stages.
They include Osceola Regional Medical Center’s decision to build the first ever hospital in Poinciana, and Osceola County’s plans to construct the Poinciana Parkway, a new toll road designed to get residents in and out of Poinciana more quickly.
The state of Florida is also moving forward on SunRail, a commuter rail line that would run from Volusia County to downtown Orlando, then on to Poinciana, the final stop on this 61-mile route.
These projects, Murdock said, could begin at varying times, but in most cases construction will start next year.
“Our SunRail station, I doubt it will go out to bid before the end of 2012,” he said. “But the hospital should be starting in the first quarter or early second quarter of 2012.”
Osceola Regional Medical Center is also planning on creating an emergency room facility and a Medical Arts building to house medical offices, and construction on both of those projects will likely start after the main hospital work begins.
“I think they’re going to wait for the hospital groundbreaking to make that decision,” Murdock said.
The Poinciana Parkway, he said, should begin construction in the second quarter of 2012.
“Osceola County has got designs and engineering issues they’re working on now,” he said.
As each of these projects moves closer to the start date, he said, the firms overseeing the construction work will begin recruiting workers – and it’s been PEDA’s goal all along to ensure that Poinciana residents snag a good percentage of those jobs, if not the clear majority.
“With the Poinciana Parkway and the hospital starting in the next six months, and a couple of other smaller projects, I think we’ll have half of the 7,000 jobs ready by the end of January,” he said.
PEDA’s goal was to ensure that if so many jobs were coming to the community, Poinciana residents would get strong consideration — even first dibs — when it came to the hiring process.
Poinciana grew solidly in the past decade – in fact, Osceola was one of the nation’s fastest growing counties between 2000 and 2008 – as the community experienced a residential home construction boom and the population soared past 84,000.
But the collapse of the housing market in 2008 left the community with a high home foreclosure rate – and an equally high unemployment rate, which is why PEDA was formed, to help link residents to the new jobs being created by projects like the hospital and the Poinciana Parkway.
Murdock said his goal goes well beyond simply matching residents to those construction jobs. PEDA has reached out to other employers, in fields like health care, retail and entertainment, to consider Poinciana as a good place to do business.
“If I’ve got contractors who can hire day laborers or painters or a road work crew, I want them to consider our residents,” he said.
The informational event, held on Sept. 22 at the Poinciana Community Center, was organized to let residents know about the construction jobs in the pipeline, and to encourage people to take the time now to get prepared if they want to apply for any of them. More than 600 people showed up, overwhelming the PEDA members.
“We were absolutely bombarded,” said Melody Nadal, who volunteered to work at the informational fair, helping people draft resumes. She said they handed out resume writing kits, and ran out of them by 7:30 p.m.
“They went out the window,” she said. “We had a waiting list of people wanting them emailed to them. We ran out before it was even over.”
The event demonstrated that a lot of people are looking for hope for the future, Nadal said, adding that she did the best she could to help them put their best foot forward.
“I told them they needed to keep it to a one page resume that is job specific to what they want to get into,” she said. “I said, ‘Make it as a specific as you can to construction work.’ There were a lot of mixed cultures that didn’t know how to write a resume. There were a lot of people who didn’t speak English. I had to speak Spanish to them.”
Murdock said it was encouraging that “We did get a lot of good applicants with experience, and we got quite a few people interested in our plans.”
Now he hopes that by January, PEDA will be ready to start matching applicants with employers.
“We’re going to actually be trying to do our placement before the January job fair,” he said.
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