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THE GREAT GRAD GRAB
STUDENTS URGED TO SEEK WNY JOBS BEFORE LOOKING ELSEWHERE

Like suitcases on an airport baggage conveyor, many local college graduates vanish from the region with little fanfare, almost unnoticed -- except by relatives and friends.

With this in mind, career planners from the University at Buffalo will set up shop in the baggage area of Buffalo Niagara International Airport this week, hoping to convince students that there are plenty of good-paying jobs here.

Armed with flyers and standing beneath a banner that promotes an upcoming job fair, the counselors want to capitalize on the holiday travel crunch. They are targeting two types of students: Those attending local colleges who will graduate next year, and area natives who attend classes outside the region, but are home for Thanksgiving.

But it could be a tough sell if census figures are a fair gauge. The Buffalo-Niagara Falls region lost more than 53,000 people in late 1980s and thousands more in the early 1990s, many of them recent graduates and other residents in their twenties. Popular destinations for them have included Westchester County, the Rochester region and points south.

Hamburg native Robert Marriott was grabbing his luggage in the airport's baggage bay Thursday when he spotted the bulletin board touting "JOBSapalooza," a job fair that will held Jan. 6 at the Buffalo Convention Center. For Marriott, the outreach effort is three months too late. He recently moved to Las Vegas, one of the nation's fastest-growing cities. The Canisius College graduate has a degree in political science.

"I really wanted to stay here and work in local government, but I couldn't find anything. I'm in Vegas now, trying to get a job with the county. The area is growing so fast, I figure there will definitely be some good opportunities," he said.

Marriott, 25, said until Western New York lands some Fortune 500 companies, the region can expect to lose young talent.

Dan Ryan, director of career planning and placement at UB, isn't ready to make that concession.

"We have a disconnect between many employers who say they can't find qualified people and new graduates who think there aren't any local jobs to be had. We have to do a better job at getting the word out," said Ryan.

That's why UB, in conjunction with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Empire State Development Corp. and New York State Electric and Gas, are sponsoring the Jan. 6 job fair.

Thousands of students -- including those who will be home for the holiday break -- are expecting to turn out between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to meet with recruiters from dozens of companies.

Scott McClain, a Buffalo State College student who is eyeing a career in criminal justice, thinks the outreach effort is a good idea.

"A few of my friends have headed south. You know, North Carolina and South Carolina. I'd really like to stay in the area when I graduate in a few years. I just hope I can find a job."

McClain was with Vince King, a freshman at Hobart College in Geneva. King, an Olean resident, is studying biology and hopes to pursue a career in scientific research.

"I haven't heard good things about the job market here. My sister had to go to Houston to get a job," he said.

Ryan said altering this kind of thinking will take time and effort. But he noted that there are scores of local companies that are clamoring for new graduates with technical skills and other talents.

"We have companies like Moog, Calspan and Praxair who are hiring engineers and computer scientists," he said.

Nancy Beam of Williamsville is home for the holidays. She moved to Raleigh, N.C., two years ago after she was unable to find a job as a registered nurse.

"I tried so hard to stay here, but I couldn't find anything," said Ms. Beam. "It was hard to pick up and move to a city that I had never even visited. Raleigh is nice, but my family is here. Hopefully, I'll be able to come back someday."

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