Job hunters came out in droves to the Statler Towers ballroom on Thursday.
Unemployed people were looking to return to work. Part-timers were seeking full-time jobs. Even some fully employed people were there, just keeping their options open.
The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd filled up resume drop boxes and sign-in sheets. The large turnout meant plenty of candidates for the employers to choose from, but also more competition for job-seekers like Rodney Johnson.
"I wasn't expecting this many people to be here," said Johnson, 42, who was looking for a maintenance job.
The job fair was co-sponsored by the state Department of Labor, the Erie County Department of Social Services, and the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Development Consortium. The event's primary purpose was to help welfare recipients find jobs before their federal benefits expire, but it attracted people from a range of backgrounds.
The job seekers were young and old. Some of them wore suits and toted briefcases. Others had their children in tow. They squeezed past each other down the narrow aisles between the tables to talk to representatives of more than 60 employers.
The Department of Social Services called their clients and helped them update their resumes and prepare for the job fair, said Frank DeCarlo, director of the department's employment division. "A lot of these people haven't had extensive job experience."
The job market has gotten tighter as the economy has weakened, and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted many employers to put a freeze on hiring or lay off workers. The Buffalo Niagara region has lost 1,800 jobs since September 2000.
DeCarlo said that even with economic anxiety running high, the department reminded its clients that there are companies that still need to hire people.
"It's always difficult if you're not looking for work," he said.
Many of the jobs promoted at the fair pay between $8 and $12 an hour, DeCarlo said. Businesses recruited for jobs including customer service representatives, health care workers, mechanics and warehouse workers, among others.
At the table for The Waters, which offers long-term nursing care in East Aurora, Orchard Park and Eden, Mark Wozniak was collecting a pile of resumes to sort through later.
"We have the potential to hire a lot of people," said Wozniak, who works in human resources.
Patricia Dwyer, manager of Health Force in Buffalo, said she was impressed by the number of applicants her company was receiving. She noted that there's a waiting list of people who want home health aides, and she was hopeful the fair would help find new employees to meet that demand.
Kevin Upton, a 26-year-old Lockport resident, said he was frustrated that the fair's lineup of employers didn't have jobs available that matched his skills.
He was laid off four months ago from Eastern Machine in Buffalo, where he worked in technical marketing. "I have two degrees. I shouldn't be unemployed, but here I am," he said.
Upton said many of the jobs he saw promoted at the fair were service-sector related. He said it's difficult to look for a job now, when layoffs are rising and employers can be picky about who they hire.
"There's so many people in the same boat as me," he said.