ROCHELLE — On Friday, Rochelle’s Community of Opportunity Hiring Expo was held at Rochelle Township High School. The event was a collaboration by the City of Rochelle, the Office of Mayor John Bearrows, Kishwaukee College and RTHS.
The event featured on-the-spot interviews, hiring incentives and more from 40-plus employees. A similar event was held last fall in a continuing effort to combat the impact a nationwide workforce shortage has had on the area.
"The participation by our businesses has been absolutely incredible,” Bearrows said. “They've been great to work with. They all came out and spent the time and the effort to set up their booths with information about their companies. This is a prime example of how we as a city want to work with our local businesses to make sure they can stay in business. Without them, there'd be no us. We want to make sure to help our businesses.”
Prior to the portion of the event that was open to the general public, RTHS students walked through the job fair and talked with employers. Bearrows said that the student part of the event was “fantastic” and resulted in applications getting filled out and job interviews being set up.
“We probably had between 8-12 students that actually got positions,” Bearrows said. “It was a great turnout. We want to be able to find the niche for those students that may be looking for something to come back to after college or even those that don't go to college that have something to keep them in Rochelle."
Tyson Foods provided meals for those that attended the job fair looking for work. Rochelle Foods Hormel fed the business representatives and organizers of the event.
Bearrows said another positive of the event was the opportunity for businesses to network and work together.
“I heard one business say they had an application that didn't really fit their needs and offered it to another business because it fit their needs,” Bearrows said. “This event also works that way. It's just good to see everybody work together for the whole general outcome of the community. As I said last fall, if we only get one person hired, we've been able to change that person's life. And that's an awesome feeling."
The city’s workforce shortage situation has improved since last fall, Bearrows said. He said he’s thankful to see that progress. Some businesses have completely changed their hiring practices since they started to combat the worker shortages.
Bearrows said he was unsure when another hiring event will be held in the future. That will depend on the need.
“I've talked to most of the companies here today and honestly there's not a huge number of job openings,” Bearrows said. “Everybody has a little bit, but it's not like it was last fall. We'll do it if and when the need is there."
City of Rochelle Industrial Development Manager Peggy Friday worked to organize the Friday event and called it an “amazing” day. She enjoyed seeing the RTHS seniors go through the job fair and said finding ways to keep young talent in Rochelle is a priority of the city’s economic development department.
Every time someone at the event got a job or made a connection, the Rochelle Fire Department’s bell was rung and echoed throughout the RTHS blue gym.
“Even during that first hour, if somebody got a job or interview or filled out an application, they rang that bell,” Friday said. “They were ringing bells throughout the course of that. So students are finding summer employment. I know McDonald’s was very happy with a number of kids that said, 'Yes, I want to work and fill out an application.' It's going really well."
Friday said that in talking to Rochelle’s businesses every day, she’s learned that people are going and looking for work for different reasons other than wanting to make a living. She said the city has “so many good employers” with a wide variety of jobs.
“The opportunity is here,” Friday said. “Rochelle is easy to get to, but we also know it's easy to get out of to go to other places. Tyson Foods is one of the highest-paying employers in the region. The good jobs are here. I just think it's been a well-kept secret for so many years that people just automatically think there's nothing here."
Strong partnerships between the city and organizations like RTHS and Kishwaukee College allow for events like the hiring expo to happen, Friday said. The city refers businesses that need help to Kish “all the time,” she said.
Zekelman Industries, which recently filled the Nippon Sharyo buildings and is in the process of making an investment of $130 million and adding 150 jobs for the site, talked with Kish last week about helping to train people in robotics, Friday said.
Friday called the hiring event “a pleasure to work on” and said it’s part of a continuing effort to help businesses in Rochelle be successful.
“It's exciting to see,” Friday said. “We know that every single time that bell gets rung, somebody's life has changed. Even if it's one person with a new job and being able to better themselves and keeping that talent here, it's just incredible. It's very rewarding to go home and know that somebody's life was changed because we put this event together.”