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Job fair aimed at recruiting former Specialty Filaments workers

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January 22, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — More than 30 employers from throughout the state converged upon Middlebury on Thursday hoping to recruit some of the 175 people who lost their jobs when Specialty Filaments closed its doors earlier this month.

Husky of Milton, Vermont Teddy Bear of Shelburne and Johnson Filaments of Williston joined Addison County companies like Goodrich Corp., Autumn Harp, Middlebury College and Carrara & Sons Inc. at a special job fair held at the Middlebury American Legion Hall on Boardman Street.

Fifteen minutes before the fair opened, an estimated 50 people were waiting to enter the hall and one observer said it was busy all day.

“The turnout has been wonderful,” said John Vowles, manager of the Vermont Department of Labor’s (DOL) Northwest Region, as dozens of former Specialty Filaments workers and other job seekers filed past the companies’ exhibit tables, pausing at times to pick up brochures, fill out applications and listen to pitches from recruiters.

“We’ve got more employers here than we anticipated,” he said.

The DOL, Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC) and Addison County Chamber of Commerce organized the day-long job fair after Specialty Filaments confirmed on Jan. 11 that it would file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The company, which made synthetic bristles for brooms and brushes, blamed pressure from foreign competition for the closure and said its principal lender was forcing the liquidation of assets.

The bankruptcy sent scores of workers into the job market.

Among them was Tom Arsenault, who worked as a machinist at Specialty Filaments for almost five years. Arsenault picked up several brochures at the job fair, hoping to find a job comparable to the one he had just left.

His primary concern was finances.

“I’m looking for anything that will pay my bills,” Arsenault said. “I can’t go from a $14-per-hour job to one that pays $7 per hour, and expect to pay my bills.”

Arsenault said he wasn’t shocked when Specialty Filaments closed, though it appeared, at one point, that the company might weather the storm.

“We were told that if we could make it to the first of the year, we would be fine,” Arsenault said.

With that in mind, employees worked diligently, even through some holidays, to turn out orders, but to no avail.

“We had to fight to get our last paycheck,” Arsenault said.

Sandra Fairbrother worked as a Specialty Filaments shipping clerk for almost four years. She hoped to find similar work with one of the businesses at Thursday’s job fair.

“It’s been pretty fruitful, so far,” she said of her search. “I already have a job interview.”

Goodrich Corp. officials were among those sizing up candidates for interviews. The company is currently trying to fill 51 positions, ranging from software specialists to manufacturing specialists.

Omya was seeking to fill 10 positions at its Florence mineral processing plant.

“We want to help and support them,” Omya Human Resources Manager Liz Gregorek said of the former Specialty Filaments workers.

Gregorek did not hesitate when asked what type of skills she was looking for.

“Electricians,” she said. “That is a specialty that’s hard to find.”

Middlebury College officials were recruiting for more than 15 openings. Dining services, Web design and administration support were just a few categories of jobs offered.

“We think we have a little bit of everything to appeal to a good cross-section of the Specialty Filaments group,” said Middlebury College Employment Manager Elizabeth J. Kafer. “We’re very pleased with the turnout.”

While there was a distinct local flavor to the job fair, several companies from Rutland and Chittenden counties also showed up to make their pitches. Among them was Milton-based Husky. The manufacturer of hot runners and molds is seeking to fill 10 positions, ranging from machinists to engineering managers.

“We have a lot of openings, and we want to help these people find work,” said Susan Einermann, a human resource specialist with Husky.

Also taking their places at Thursday’s event were human services providers, education/employment training groups and businesses offering short-term, seasonal jobs.

One hour into the job fair, Vermont Teddy Bear Human Resources Manager Lisa Hoff had already hired six people. Vermont Teddy Bear is looking for hundreds of people to help the company meet the thousands of Valentine’s Day bear orders that are already pouring into its Shelburne headquarters.

“We had a job fair earlier this week where we hired 250 people, and we hope to hire another 250,” Hoff said.

Vermont Teddy Bear will only need the extra workers through mid-February.

“It’s a way for them to keep income coming in while they’re looking for full-time employment,” Hoff said.

OTHER RESOURCES

Beth Diamond was busy handing out flyers advertising the “Vermont 2-1-1” service. The 2-1-1 telephone number is a service of the United Way and the Vermont Agency of Human Services. It links people with government programs, support groups and community organizations designed to get people through difficult times.

“I’ve given out about 15 cards so far,” Diamond said, around an hour into the fair.

Drinking in the scene was ACEDC Executive Director Jamie Stewart. He was pleased with the turnout — both by recruiters and people looking for work.

“I think it’s a good sign for the local economy that if you are looking for work, there are opportunities out there,” Stewart said. “There is a big demand for skilled labor, and Specialty Filaments workers have always had the reputation of having a good work ethic and being highly productive.”

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