GARY | Mark Turner, of Crown Point, lost his job when Wonder Bread went out of business in November.
On Saturday, he was among an estimated 1,100 people attending a job fair at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary hoping to find work.
The Jobs and Opportunities Fair was arranged by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, who attended along with more than 30 local companies, institutions of higher learning, apprenticeship programs and others.
For most of those who came, it was the latest stop on a long job hunt.
Turner said he worked in production for Wonder for more than 27 years.
"I'm looking for labor or anything I can get hold of," he said. "I possibly found something. I will apply online to see what happens."
Roberto Johnson, of Gary, said he's been out of work for about a year and was hoping to find a laborer's job. He previously worked for a temp agency but has been unable to get permanent work because "there are no jobs," he said.
"I hope and pray to get one today," Johnson said.
Visclosky Spokesman Phil LaRue said people were lining up at the entrance 10:15 a.m. for the 1 p.m. opening of the fair.
Guy Staska, vice president of human resources for Horizon Bank, said the company had Lake County jobs available when it signed up for the fair, but only had out-of-town positions open Saturday.
"We are always expanding, and that could change," Staska said. "We're getting a wide range of candidates. The participation has been excellent. I can't recall a job fair where we had more people interested. I wish we had more jobs. It's been nonstop with nine or 10 people at the table to talk to us at a time."
Mary Miller, graduate admission counselor for Valparaiso University, said she was "very busy," not talking about jobs but giving information about graduate school classes.
Many of the contractors at the job fair are doing projects for the Regional Development Authority. The Rev. Dwight Gardener, of the Northwest Federation of Interfaith Organizations, was there to lobby to have the contractors give more of the jobs to local residents in Gary, Hammond, East Chicago and nearby communities.
"With 40 percent of the Gary airport construction complete, 95 percent of the man-hours paid have gone to people who don't live in our community," Gardener said. "Our request is that 30 percent of the man-hours be paid to people from the most disparaged zip codes in the RDA footprint."
While most of the businesses and institutions at the fair were local, Ingalls Shipbuilding Co., of Pascagoula, Miss., heard about the job fair and contacted Visclosky's office in Washington about being part of it.
Visclosky looked at the crowds lining up at the various display tables and said, "It really shows the need, unfortunately. People still need a job or to improve their job. I'm working very hard in Congress to remind my colleagues that, as we proceed with the fiscal debate, it is imperative to remember we are here to help people and invest in the future."
For those who attended the job fair, they hoped the future started Saturday.