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Economy — Event opens early for laid-off mill workers as agencies collaborate to mitigate closure

COLIN STAUB - Now hiring -- Employers and job-seekers alike turned out for the job fair hosted last week at the Chehalem Cultural Center. Mill workers exclusively were given a full hour in the morning to approach businesses that are hiring.It’s been years since a large job fair was housed in Newberg, but the event held Dec. 9 proved the desire and need is as strong as ever.

At 9 a.m. the fair at the Chehalem Cultural Center opened for an hour that was exclusively for laid-off workers from the WestRock paper mill. The fair had initially been scheduled in January, but WestRock’s November closure of the Newberg institution caused the organizers to rethink the timeline and structure of the event.

“When they decided to indefinitely idle the plant, that was something that we needed to do something about, we needed to help mitigate,” explained AJ Foscoli, business retention and expansion manager for Strategic Economic Development Corporation (SEDCOR). “Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do.”

SEDCOR helped organize the event along with the Chehalem Valley and McMinnville chambers of commerce, WorkSource Oregon, Incite, Rotary International and the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership.

A variety of industries were represented, from local staples like A-dec Inc. and CalPortland to businesses in Wilsonville like Qdoba, and all the way down to Salem with Willamette University.

WorkSource had a booth set up, educating people about its services, including the “rapid response” program that is activated when a company has a total or a major layoff, such as the situation at the Newberg mill.

“We’re talking to the employees who are about to lose their jobs … but that huge impact on the economy, that affects every other business in the area,” WorkSource business solutions consultant Karen Cook explained.

The rapid response program gets agencies together to pool resources and figure out how to mitigate the effects of a mass layoff, particularly through connecting workers with new opportunities — a win-win for the hiring business and the job-seekers.

Besides the mill layoff, the local WorkSource branch recently worked with other agencies regarding the CapitalOne layoff in Tigard. Even though that’s out of the jurisdiction of the Marion-Polk-Yamhill counties’ WorkSource office, many of the laid-off employees live here.

While locals and particularly the mill workers were emphasized during this incarnation of the fair, it also appealed to both businesses and job-seekers from outside the community.

Shahriar Ferdous, an electrical engineer from Hillsboro, came to look at some of the companies in his field, such as Randstad/SolarWorld. He learned about the event from a WorkSource mailing list and said he’d found the fair helpful for obtaining information about employers in the area.

Employers and attendees were invited to give feedback on the event to help with future job fairs. The next Yamhill County job fair will be held in McMinnville and then will return to Newberg for the next.

“Every five or six months we’re going to bounce it back and forth,” Foscoli said, noting that the position of the cities makes it logical to offer events at both so more county residents have the opportunity to attend.

As for last week’s fair, a steady crowd moved through the CCC’s ballroom, with more than 200 people attending just a couple hours into the morning.

“A good percentage of these people are going to walk away with at least job interviews, if not actual jobs,” Foscoli said.

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