Hundreds of job seekers, many of them from the beleaguered energy sector, tied up traffic and stood in a line that snaked through the lobby then out the doors of a Lafayette hotel Thursday morning. They were there, résumés in hand, to interview for retail jobs being offered by outlets scheduled to open at Ambassador Town Center this spring.
One of the organizations that put on the job fair, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, sad about 2,800 people applied for the 600 to 700 retail jobs that will need to be filled when some of the stores open, possibly as early as March. LEDA did not have the final applicant numbers late Thursday.
Ryan LaGrange, workforce development manager for LEDA, said 1,900 applicants pre-registered and hundreds more signed up when they walked in Thursday.
The job opportunities — some applicants were hired after an interview Thursday — come at a time when Acadiana, and especially Lafayette, is experiencing job losses due to a downturn in the oil and gas industry.
“I know it’s a tough time for some folks,” LaGrange said.
Don Voinche was laid off two months ago from a directional drilling company in New Iberia. He said he was looking for a job, any job, whether it’s in retail or the oil patch.
“Oil at $30 a barrel is not helping the situation,” he said.
Lee Brown was manning the Blaze Pizza employment booth looking for whole staffs, from waiters to cooks to managers. Many who stopped by had oil patch experience.
“I’ve had a lot of people from the oil field, managers who are applying with us for management positions,” Brown said.
Employment numbers compiled by LEDA for the Lafayette Metropolitan Statistical Area, a region that encompasses the parishes of Lafayette, Vermilion, St. Martin and Iberia, bear out the decline in energy: Total jobs in the MSA fell from 222,000 in August 2014 to 218,000 in November 2015; mining jobs, which are almost all in the energy sector, fell from 23,600 to 20,300 in the same period; and construction jobs, some of which are in oil and gas, fell from 11,600 to 11,200.
But health care jobs in the four parishes rose from 28,700 to 28,800 from August 2014 through November 2015; and local, state and federal government jobs in the period rose from 25,300 to 26,600.
Jobs in retail over the 15-month period grew too, from 26,800 to 27,500, according to the LEDA figures.
Representatives from the 17 stores planning to set up shop at Ambassador Town Center said the turnout was far more than they expected. The longest line of applicants waited to talk to Costco Wholesale interviewers.
Other retailers interviewing were: BJ’s Restaurants; Blaze Pizza; Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant; Dick’s Sporting Goods; Dickey’s Barbecue Pit; Field & Stream; Five Below; Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers; Homegoods / Marshalls; Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse; Panera Bread; Panda Express; Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews; Subway; Verizon Wireless; World of Beer.
LaGrange said that in addition to the stores that were interviewing Thursday, another 10 companies will be part of Ambassador Town Center.
The number of applicants who showed up made parking at the hotel impossible. And traffic around the hotel, located near Kaliste Saloom Road and off Pinhook Road, slowed to a crawl before the interviews began at 9 a.m. until after 2 p.m., when they ended.
LaGrange, with LEDA, said applicants started showing up before 7 a.m. At 9:30 a.m. a marshal with the Lafayette Fire Department warned organizers that they’d have to reduce the number of people in the interview conference room to its capacity of 600.
Karen Fontenot lives in Lafayette and gets by these days on a part-time job.
“I’m looking for longer hours and more money,” she said. She also said getting health insurance would be a big plus.
LEDA, the Louisiana Workforce Commission, Stirling Properties and CBL and Associates sponsored the job fair Thursday. Stirling and CBL are the developers for Ambassador Town Center, an estimated $110 million project.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Thursday, Jan. 14, to correctly identify the name of the retail center as the Ambassador Town Center.