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Employers seek 'right people,' and job fair helps it happen ; Falls event showcases 850 opportunities

While many employers are cutting jobs and slicing salaries, Lisa M. Klispie, recruiting coordinator for the Alliance Advisory Group, is out looking for new employees.

The goal of the Amherst-based financial-planning firm is to hire 10 financial advisers by year's end.

"We're always looking to hire the right people," Klispie said.

She is not alone: Representatives from dozens of companies gathered Thursday in Conference Center Niagara Falls for a career fair that drew a diverse crowd of job-seekers.

The event was sponsored by Niagara Rises, a grass-roots organization committed to community development. Nearly 50 employers came to the fair trying to fill about 850 positions, according to Andrea K. Todaro, the fair's coordinator.

Many of companies that turned out Thursday were looking to expand their operations, a signal that the area job market may be turning the corner. The local unemployment rate dropped to 7.6 percent last month, the lowest it has been since December 2008. Nationally, the jobless rate is shrinking, as well, though some economists worry that the growth is only temporary because of a flurry of census hiring.

"We're forecasting to hire for the rest of the year," said Jessica Wisniewski, a senior employment specialist at GEICO. The car insurance company's Getzville center, which had representatives at the event, already has added 80 employees in June and plans to continue growing at that rate.

"There are [job] opportunities that people aren't seeing, and we're here to showcase them," said Colleen Kulikowski, chairwoman of Niagara Rises.

Matching potential employees to the right jobs, though, is no easy task. Rick Frasca has been out of work since being laid off from a call center in January. The Niagara Falls native has since gone back to school to earn a second bachelor's degree in computer information systems but so far has been unable to find a job that will allow him to work with computers.

"A lot of these places are the same companies," he said, comparing the companies at Thursday's fair with those at other events he has attended.

Other job-seekers, including Paul Cooke, are more optimistic. "I think it might have turned over a little bit," he said of the job market. Cooke, a deliveryman and student at Niagara University, is looking for a second job for the summer.

The career fair, in its second year, kick-starts a four-day "Niagara Homecoming" put on by Niagara Rises. The point of the fair Thursday and the events in the coming days, organizers said, is to get people excited about the opportunities in the area and foster regional economic growth.

"Our goal here is to keep people in Western New York," said Frank Thomas Croisdale, president of Niagara Rises. "We got to find a way to people who will make a difference in this community."

Croisdale said that last year's fair brought the families of seven expatriate Western New Yorkers back to the area. "People will move away from Western New York," he said, "but their heart will stay here."