To get an idea of the state of the regional economy, you didnt need to look any farther Wednesday morning than Walb Student Union on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
At 10:15 a.m., a line to a ballroom where a job fair was under way extended down a long hallway, out the front door and a few hundred yards down a walkway.
City fire codes allowed only 300 people at a time into the ballroom, where representatives of about 50 employers held out at least slender hope to the unemployed.
These job fairs, I dont know if anybody finds a job at these things, said Terry Files, 43, of Fort Wayne, as he stood in the middle of the ballroom. Nothing ever comes of them for me, but Im not going to let that stop me.
Files hasnt had work of any kind since January, when he lost a job with a temporary-employment service. He hasnt had a permanent job since January 2008, when he was laid off from National Tube Form LLC, a Fort Wayne manufacturer.
Files was one of 1,343 to attend Wednesdays job fair, one of several across Indiana sponsored by Sen. Evan Bayh. Companies at the fair had 920 jobs to offer, but many required special qualifications.
For example, BAE Systems Inc., a Fort Wayne defense contractor, was looking for engineers and factory workers. There were a lot more inquiries than openings for the factory jobs, while the opposite was true of the engineering positions, said Ben Franze, an engineer representing BAE.
We received a slew of résumés, Franze said, adding that very few were from engineers.
Wednesdays heavy turnout was a symptom of the regional economy developments. Allen County unemployment was 11 percent in June, more than double the 5.4 percent it had been in June 2008.
Bayh warned that as a lagging economic factor, employment wouldnt begin to improve until well after other indicators such as economic growth and factory orders start to improve.
Ken Peterman, president of Fort Wayne-based ITT Communication Systems, attended the job fair. He explained that employers generally lay off employees only as a last resort. He said employers want to be sure that business will keep growing before deciding to add workers.
There will be a noticeable reticence, said Peterman, whose own company added more than 300 workers locally last year and now employs about 2,000, Peterman said.
Some economists predict Indiana unemployment, which was 9.5 percent in June, might not begin to decline until the second half of 2010, Bayh said.
This is going to take longer than any of us might like, Bayh said.
For Suellen Robles, unemployment has already stretched on a lot longer than shed like. She stood in her black business suit, waiting in line Wednesday for a chance to impress a potential employer.
Robles had a temporary position as an executive assistant in California but lost that job in October. I was supposed to be hired permanently, but they cut all the temps, said Robles, 55.
Out of work and faced with dwindling options, Robles moved back to Fort Wayne to live with family, even though the regional job market has been soft.
Ben Yentes, 36, also moved back to Fort Wayne to live with his parents after losing a computer-aided design job in May with a Rensselaer construction company. He stopped at the Superior Essex Inc. booth Wednesday to ask whether the Fort Wayne company might have anything in his field.
Superior Essex has openings, but theyre in finance, accounting and engineering, said Steve Heggen, human resources manager.
Ive talked to a number of people who might be a good fit, Heggen said.
But for workers like Files, its getting more and more difficult to find a fit. When he graduated from high school in the 1980s, he had his pick of good factory jobs.
These manufacturing jobs, theyre not here anymore, Files said. The golden years are gone.