OLYMPIA - Valerie Sparks has been out of work for so long that she finally had to leave her home in Eastern Washington and move to Lacey to live with her daughter.
Sparks, 57, a former bartender and waitress who used to live in Quincy and worked in Vantage, said her 18-month stretch without a job is the longest in her working career.
“I’ve seen bad times, but nothing like this,” she said Wednesday.
But Sparks hasn’t given up looking for work and was one of 594 people who attended a fourhour job fair Wednesday at Westfield Capital mall. The mall and Thurston County WorkSource have been working together for about a year, jointly coordinating at least one job fair or hiring event per month, mall spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said.
About 30 employers participated in Wednesday’s fair, including Costco, Home Depot and staffing companies including Kelly Services and Express Employment Professionals. The job fair began at 11 a.m., but some job seekers showed up as early as 9 , long before employers set up their booths and tables, said Nathaly Kolp, business-services manager for the Pacific Mountain Area WorkSource.
Sparks said she visited most of the employer tables but was disappointed to learn that most were offering only part-time jobs. Working 20 hours a week for $8.67 an hour – the state’s minimum wage – is not a lot to live on, she said. Thurston County’s unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in January; February’s results will be released today.
Another job seeker, Trisha Wortman, 35, of Olympia, said she was looking for something in customer service after she worked as a driver for a mortgage company for three years. Her hours were cut to the point where she had to look for work, Wortman said.
“I thought that was the place I was going to stay, but it doesn’t always work that way,” she said.
Veterans, too, spent time looking for work, said John Moysiuk, who works with veterans at Thurston County WorkSource. An estimated 600 veterans are unemployed in Thurston County, and about 30 visited Wednesday’s fair. Moysiuk also helped organize a job fair for veterans at the Olympia Armory. A job fair for veterans is set for Mason County next month, he said.
Recreational Equipment Inc., or REI, also was at the job fair. Although the store at the mall, which is set to have a soft opening May 13 and grand opening May 20, has filled its positions, the company continues to accept applications, store manager Jennifer Cook-Karr said. Old Navy opened at the mall last week, and Chipotle Mexican Grill is set to open in May, mall spokeswoman Johnson said.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.theolympian.com/bizblog