Hundreds crowd the Orland Park Civic Center on Jan. 11 for the first Southwest Job Fair. (Photos by Jeff Vorva)

Hundreds crowd the Orland Park Civic Center on Jan. 11 for the first Southwest Job Fair. (Photos by Jeff Vorva)

Inaugural Southwest Job Fair draws 500

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By Jeff Vorva

Sean Morrison had some meetings to tend to, so he wasn’t at the first Southwest Job Fair when it opened at 11 a.m.

But once he arrived at the Orland Park Civic Center on January 11, the Cook County commissioner from Palos Park liked what he saw.

Activity.

Plenty of activity.

“I had meetings before this and I saw all the cars and was really happy to see it,” he said. “It’s 11:40 and we have a slammed house. There was a big, long line to register and I’m very happy.”

Officials estimated that 500 people took advantage of the fair, which was hosted by Morrison, the Village of Orland Park, the Village of Tinley Park and Orland Township.

There were a wide variety of businesses represented in the 60-plus booths and tables.

“We have everything from government to restaurants to the hospitality industry to schools to dock workers to warehouse workers,” Orland Township Supervisor Paul O’Grady said. “There are all kinds of jobs here, from security to mid-management so it’s great with the representation of the different businesses that we have in our community and that they are all coming out to support this event.”

Morrison said the event was important to the area.

“Coming out of COVID, in Illinois, we still have one of the highest unemployment rates,” he said. “And, look around, there are a lot of people looking for work or re-training or retooling. If we can do that, it’s something that’s a natural.”

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Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (left) and Palos Hills Alderman Mike Lebarre attend the first Southwest Job Fair.

Veterans were allowed in early to get a jump on talking with perspective employers.

“The veterans need an extra hand whether it’s at the (Veterans Administration) or to get back on their feet,” O’Grady said. “Sometimes there are different issues from the war and, we want to honor them and recognize them and let them get in early and get the first crack at these jobs.”

One of the employers is Mickey Smith, owner of Orland Park’s Clean Eatz.

The business is nudging toward its third year and Smith is on the lookout for talent and was hoping he would find it at the fair.

“We’re looking for cooks and for people for the front of the house,” he said. “People who are happy talking to customers and getting them thinking more healthy.”

Smith said that the healthy-eating approach mean he is scouting employees with good people skills.

“The nice part of this concept is that 99% of our customers want to eat healthier and are looking for something we can help with,” he said. “It’s not like your typical place like Buffalo Wild Wings. I go to Buffalo Wild Wings all the time and I don’t have to talk to anybody, I just want to go there and have some wings and a beer.

“People come to us, and we get to know them and understand what they are trying to achieve and how we can help them,” he said.

Some people wore suits. Some wore sweatshirts and jeans. But they were all interested in some of the job opportunities out there.

Orland Park’s Jim Blaschek is between jobs after spending many years preparing taxes. He was looking for something different and was impressed with the variety of jobs that were being offered at the inaugural fair.

“It’s turned out to be really good,” he said. “There are a lot of good employers from all industries. I think this is something very beneficial to the community. It looks like a great turnout from both sides. Hopefully there are a lot of prospects for everyone.”

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Clean Eatz owner Mickey Smith was looking for employees at the Southwest Job Fair.

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