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Job Fest comes amid modest recovery
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With a backdrop of sluggish job growth statewide, the sixth-annual Central Kansas Job Fest unfolds May 17.
None the less, the event is set for 4-7 p.m. in the Best Western courtyard at 2920 10th St. in Great Bend, and is expected to draw a lot of interest from job seekers and employers alike, said Delbert Randolph, local workforce service supervisor for KansasWorks. He is the Job Fest Committee chairman this year.
“Many business owners are in a wait-and-see mode,” he said about the economy. “It’s a confidence issue.”
In its March report, the Kansas Department of Labor pegs unemployment in Kansas at 6.6 percent. The fest covers Barton, Ellsworth, Pawnee, Rice, Rush, Russell and Stafford counties, and the jobless rates in those counties respectively are 4.7, 3.7, 4.8, 4.7, 5.3, 4.6 and 5.3.
“We’re rebounding from the recession (which hit in 2008) very, very slowly,” Randolph said.
But, those figures aren’t stopping employers in the area. So far, 24 employers have paid their $100 registration fee. This is about average, he said, adding the high was 36 in 2008 and the low was 12 in 2008.
Last year, a record 300 job hunters walked through the door, up from 200 the year before. “That was very surprising to everyone,” Randolph said.

 The state picture
According to the Kansas Department of Labor, in the past year, Kansas gained 22,700 private sector jobs. It also added 20,100 nonfarm jobs, a 1.5 percent expansion since March 2011. Monthly gains, mostly due to seasonal changes, totaled 8,600 private jobs and 10,800 nonfarm jobs. Both of these numbers were a 0.8 percent increase since February.
“Job growth continues to be steady at a time when we would prefer it to be more robust. We sense a slight hesitancy to do additional hiring,” Karin Brownlee, Kansas secretary of labor, said.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.2 percent, a decline from 6.8 percent one year ago and a slight increase from 6.1 percent in February. The not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Kansas was 6.6 percent, down from 7.1 percent one year ago and the same as February.
Eight of the 11 major industries in Kansas reported job gains during the past year. The professional and business services industry has gained 11,700 jobs since March 2011, an 8 percent increase.
There were also eight industries that showed job increases over the month. Leisure and hospitality showed the greatest gain with 3,200 jobs added, a 2.9 percent increase. These gains were mostly seen in food services and drinking establishments throughout the state.
“The March report is reflecting mixed signals in the labor market. Employment grew slightly over the month, thanks in part to hiring at restaurants and other food service establishments,” Tyler Tenbrink, labor economist, said. “However, results from a household survey show the labor force continued to decline for a third consecutive month and the unemployment rate ticked up 0.1 percent.”
Continued unemployment benefit claims decreased from February and when compared to this time last year. Initial unemployment benefit claims for March increased slightly over the month, but decreased compared to March 2011.

The birth of an idea
The idea for the Job Fest was born in 2007. “We wanted to put job seekers and employers together. It’s a captive audience,” Randolph said.
They wanted a local event with a venue that would allow for easy access. The first fests took place outdoors at the Barton County Courthouse Square. “It was more of a community festival with hot dogs and vendors.”
But, Randolph said employers wanted something a little more formal. Also, the May weather was very unpredictable.
The change was made to inside. “It has worked very well,” he said.
The fest pre-dates a statewide job fair hosted by state agencies. This moves from community to community, but Great Bend isn’t on the list “so we have one of our own,” Randolph said.
“This is not a Department of Commerce event, this is not a chamber of commerce event. This is a local event,” he said. “It is supported by sweat and dollars.”
It says a lot about Great Bend and the area. “We’re all working for each other.”
Job Fest is the product of a committee with members representing the City of Great Bend, CPI Qualified Plan Consultants, Best Western, The Great Bend Tribune, Barton Community College, Eagle Radio, the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and Barton County.
For more information, contact Randolph at