Hundreds flock to job fair sponsored by Rep. Janet Cruz

You wouldn't know that we are in an economic recovery if you were trying to find a parking place at Higgins Hall in West Tampa today.

The parking lot was packed because of a job fair organized by Tampa Democratic state Rep. Janet Cruz, who has held similar events annually since being elected to the Legislature in 2010. She said a recent newsletter asking constituents to list their number one issue in District 63 came back with an overwhelming request for more jobs.

"Florida was slow to change the page, we were hit so hard by the real estate fallout," Cruz said about the state of the economy in Florida (housing starts and property taxes are on the rise again for the first time since 2007). But things aren't that great: Last month's unemployment rate in the Tampa Bay area was 7.2 percent, an increase from recent activity.

Cruz said the West Tampa part of her district, which is heavily Hispanic, was hit hard and has higher unemployment numbers. 

There were several Hispanic companies with a presence at the job fair, along with some of the biggest corporations doing business in the area — companies like TECO, Verizon, General Dynamics, Edward Jones Investment, and JPMorgan Chase, who had close to 200 positions available, according to District Manager Miguel Maldonado. He said the bank was offering opportunities for tellers, personal bankers, and customer service positions.

There were also companies like Roy's Staffing, which was hiring hospitality-oriented gigs (cooks, servers and busboys) for work at hotels, country clubs and resorts, and academic institutions like Kaiser University, which was looking for admission counselors and faculty positions.

"In past years there were a lot of trade schools and get rich quick schemes, but there’s actually jobs here now," said Christopher Cano, a local Democratic Party activist who worked the job fair last year but was seeking work this time around. "Representative Cruz has gotten the hang of it," he added, looking around at the tables filled with representatives from various companies and industries.

Although the unemployment rate in the U.S. is currently at 7.6 percent (new numbers will come in on Friday),  it's 9.1 percent in the Latino community.

Tampa resident Alvaro Colon was pleasantly surprised by the presence of companies advertising for bilingual applicants. After working for eight years at Target, he had to step down for medical reasons, and has now been out of the job market for more than six months.

Colon is supported by his wife. He said he doesn't know how anyone could survive being unemployed for long without such financial (and moral) support. "I have to say that the representation of companies is very impressive."

He was dressed sharply in a finely turned out suit, as he has recently acquired an economics degree and was hoping to get a job as a business consultant, though he acknowledged that his lack of experience in that sector might stop him from that ultimate goal.

"I'm just trying to get my foot in the door" he said humbly.

For many of those seeking a job on Tuesday, that certainly appeared to be the main goal.

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