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Nearly 10,000 Attend Transportation Job Fair At Chicago State

Updated 08/09/11 - 5:10 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With renewed worries about the economy in the wake of the downgrade of the nation's credit rating, nearly 10,000 people showed up for a job fair hosted by Congressman Bobby Rush on Tuesday.

As WBBM Newsradio's Bernie Tafoya reports, everyone from the CTA to Southwest Airlines to railroads and the military were on hand at Chicago State University for a transportation job fair.

And, as CBS 2's Dorothy Tucker reports, as of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, nearly 10,000 people had turned out.

Ray Abrams, 45, was among the first in line for the job fair Tuesday morning.

"I've got qualifications. I've been to college. I've had job experience. I've done some of everything in my life," he said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bernie Tafoya reports


Abrams is doing his best and working part time in Tinley Park.

"After the concerts, I'm a groundskeeper. I clean the grounds," he said. "That's only two days out of the week. When I bring that home, that's $135."

Abrams is a proud man – confident and positive.

"I'm strong, man – my wife's strong, and we make it," he said. "I'm not struggling. My family eats; we eat every day."

Stephanie Watson arrived for the job fair at 5 a.m. and waited in line in a lawn chair.

"I know it's a job fair – I know how many people don't have a job, and how many people would be here, so I knew it was best to be early," she said.

Watson woke up with a mission Tuesday morning.

"I'm looking for anything they will give; ideally I am rating customer service," she said.

Watson has been unemployed for the past nine months. For her friend, Candace Mitchell, it's been three years.

One by one, dressed to impress, people began filing in. Behind them, the line outside wrapped around the sidewalk, with each person desiring one of the many thousands of transportation-related jobs available.

Ricky Frazier, a father of six, lost his security job two years ago. He said he's looking for anything that offers a paycheck.

"I'm their daddy. I'm supposed to be able to get them what they need and, as a husband, I'm supposed to be able to get my wife what she needs," Frazier said.

He was just as desperate as the other thousands of men and women who filled the auditorium at Chicago State University and who stood in long lines in the hot sun to get into the job fair – a scene illustrating the pain of the economy.

At one point, the university passed out free water to those who had no intention of leaving.

Twenty-nine companies from the transpiration industry distributed information about job openings. None of the recruiters expected the response they got on Tuesday.

"It's actually been overwhelming for us. We started running out of some flyers that we had brought in and some of our material because there was just so many people here," job recruiter John Ramonez said.

The crowd was so overwhelming that at 2 p.m., organizers began to turn people away.

Ron Durr had driven to the job fair from Naperville, but he was among those turned away.

"I drove all the way from Naperville … trying to find some employment."

Recruiters say they have plenty of positions to fill.

When asked how many drivers her company was looking for, Cheryl Jackson of the Illinois Central School Bus Company said: "As many as we can get. School is about to start."

"We have ramp agents – the gentlemen who load the planes, operations, boarding customers, or customer service," said Southwest Airlines recruiter Rodrigo Cervantes.

Metra is also hiring, with plans now going ahead for the Englewood Flyover Project. The north-south bridge will carry Metra Rock Island Line trains over east-west Amtrak Norfolk Southern trains and transcontinental freight tracks above 64th and State streets, and it recently received $133 million federal dollars.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) helped bring the project to Chicago, and he says in the days to come, it will require about 1,400 permanent jobs.

He says with this project and many more transportation jobs out there: "A lot of them will be hired today. I'm more than confident. I'm sure."

Rush said in these hard economic times, the transportation industry is booming, and it's overlooked. He wanted to bring in as many transportation companies together as possible.

Rush also said he expects the companies that attended the job fair to follow up with real job offers.

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