ROCHELLE — Every time somebody was hired at the Rochelle Community of Opportunity Hiring Expo on Thursday, a bell rang.
The in-person city-wide event at Rochelle Township High School featured over 43 commercial, retail, non-profit, healthcare, industrial and staffing companies offering full-time, part-time and seasonal work. Some offered signing bonuses, employee referral rewards and other incentives to separate themselves from other employers.
The event was sponsored by the City of Rochelle, the Office of Mayor John Bearrows, Kishwaukee College, RTHS, Rochelle Foods – Hormel, 102.3 The Coyote and Superhits 93.5.
The event was born out of a workforce shortage locally and nationally due to a multitude of reasons including the rise of people working remotely, higher wage demands, COVID-19, additional domestic responsibilities and the leverage of workers considering changing jobs.
“I am absolutely blown away,” Bearrows said. “I am so happy with the turnout. I'm so happy we had 165+ pre registered before we started. And now a lot are coming in that weren't pre registered. A lot of great things are happening. I want people to come to this job fair thinking that they're going to change the path of their future and make Rochelle their forever home and the community of opportunity."
City of Rochelle Industrial Development Manager Peggy Friday said Bearrows came up with the idea several months ago and a team was put together to get it done. Kishwaukee College brought expertise from the many job fairs it’s put on. Booth spaces were filled up in a couple of weeks.
The hiring expo was the first of a city-wide nature. Friday said the success of Thursday's event will mean more in the future. She was happy to see collaboration between educators, the city and businesses.
“I think we'll maybe do this quarterly or as the need arises,” Friday said. “The city has been proactive on how to solve this crisis. Our goal is that Rochelle is going to figure this out. We want people to realize there are really good jobs here and a good variety. There's hundreds of jobs to be filled in Rochelle and we want to figure that out as a community.”
Rochelle Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tricia Herrera said she was excited to see the job fair in action and people being hired on the spot. She said she “absolutely” wants to see more events like it in the future.
Herrera was encouraged by the turnout of employers and prospective employees. In talking with other communities that have attempted job fair-type events, she’s heard they haven’t been “all that successful.”
“We're very encouraged and excited by this one,” Herrera said. "I hope that all these employers get some of their spots filled and a little relief for their staff and just that great relationships get made.”
MightyVine Office Manager Viviana Hernandez attended the event to find employees for the Rochelle tomato warehouse. She said MightyVine isn’t like a warehouse or factory where production can just be stopped. Tomatoes keep growing. If they don’t get picked or packed on time, they go bad.
“That's been a motivator for us to try to get out there and find people that want to join our team,” Hernandez said. “The workforce issues have definitely been affecting us. Today is amazing. Because we can spread the word and let people know we're hiring. We just want our name out there and people to know we have work available for anyone that needs it. I've already had success today.”
Bearrows said Thursday was “extremely important” primarily because of the businesses and their ability to get employees and be profitable.
The mayor called the activity in the RTHS blue gym “extremely heartwarming.” He said it shows the entire community was pulling together in the same direction for the benefit of everyone.
“We've heard the bell ring for some jobs that have been filled today,” Bearrows said. “I'm just so happy. And honestly I'd be happy if we only had one job filled. We helped that one person change their life that's ready to make a change."