The Open Air Job Fair in Roseburg, scheduled for June 1, is the product of a number of small private businesses coming together to try a new approach at helping to connect potential employees with businesses looking to hire.

As we all know, COVID-19 has impacted the lives of every Oregonian in one way or another. Many were forced out of employment by mandates imposed by our Governor in an effort, in her mind, to protect our citizens from community spread of the virus.

Today we are presented with the opportunity to put the past year behind us and begin moving forward. First imagined in mid-April by my wife Greta, we started reaching out to some local small businesses to see if there was enough interest in giving the concept a try. Within a few hours, enough participants were interested in trying out the event to see if it would help connect the unemployed with jobs in their fields.

This small group of business owners went from concept to event in just two weeks. Helping plan and coordinate were Leanne Reynolds and Bob Forester of BBSI, and Rachelle Carter with The News-Review and Brooks Communication.

While that initial event, held April 30, only drew a few job seekers, the conversation around the issue was brought to the forefront of the community because of it.

Immediately following the event it was decided to plan for another one about a month out with more time for planning and marketing. The group met once again to plan the next event, and scheduled it for June 1. We decided on a total 30 of businesses and followed up by brainstorming any issues that might be holding people back from participating. Those included things like childcare, not having a resume, lingering fears over Covid, and of course the high level of assistance being paid to those on unemployment.

With Oregon already having one of the highest minimum wages in the nation, the Oregon unemployment payout coupled with additional federal assistance puts many of the unemployed at a higher monthly income than when they were employed. Research by the Southern Oregon Workforce Investment Board indicates employers would need to start an employee at $19/hour to surpass what these unemployed are receiving by staying home. There are arguments on both side of this issue that have merit, but for businesses, it is a reality that we are faced with.

One thing is certain, there is no other event that is gaining as much momentum as this Open Air Job Fair is in trying to connect the unemployed with job openings. Many organizations are trying, with mixed success. For example, the Oregon Employment Department sent emails to 4000+ unemployed individuals in our area, but only 10 responded, and two actually found employment.

The original job fair we held placed four of the five that attended, and has also placed several forward-thinking people that reached out to those businesses after the event.

The success of the first event, followed by the momentum of the event we are planning, has caught the attention of those responsible for connecting these dots. An example is Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice, who reached out to us to see if there was a role to play.

Additionally, the Oregon Employment Department, Southern Oregon Workforce Investment Board and larger employers like Swanson Group have all expressed an interest in providing resources to help make this next event an even larger success for our community.

I would like to also thank Heather McCracken with Performance Fab, Sam Gross with Loggers Tap House, Brian and Heather Brown with Cornerstone Foundations, Chris Langford with BL Performance and Stephanie Hanussak with Workmates — who each put time into this effort to help our community and ask nothing in return. It is working with folks like this that make this community such an awesome place to live, work and play.

What is the desired outcome? The organizers have two primary goals. The first is obvious — connecting the unemployed with employers so that they can get back into the workforce.

Beyond that, we see this as a point in time that the community can point to as the day we all started to move past the darkness of the pandemic. Vaccinations are there for those that want them, mandates are being lifted, and hopefully because of the help of these businesses and this Open Air Job Fair, people can start going back to work.

Tim Allen is the owner of Tim Allen Equipment and an organizer of the Open Air Job Fair.

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