The sign promised "Wide Open Spaces. Wide Open Futures."
The reality was a crowded line that snaked across the conference hall for two openings with the U.S. Forest Service.
"It's kind of depressing, really. These people are hardworking. There's just not a whole lot of entry-level positions out there for them," said U.S. Forest Service recruiter Rita Yates as she spoke with person after person Tuesday afternoon.
Some 1,500 attendees came, with résumés in hand, to the Modesto HIREvent job fair at Modesto Centre Plaza. What they found at the event sponsored by the California Job Journal was a dozen employers and organizations eager to give them information, but which had precious few jobs.
"I thought there would be a lot more employers here, so I am disappointed," said Merced resident Danny Sala-zar, a former electrical motor mechanic who was laid off in February.
Since then, he has been looking for work, any work, to pay the bills.
"I just want to get hired somewhere. I am trying to appeal to anyone who will give me a break," said Salazar, who came dressed neatly in a white shirt and tie.
Job seekers such as Salazar are finding that the problem with job fairs these days is that they simply don't have enough jobs.
The Modesto HIREvent is one of a handful of job fairs the California Job Journal holds in Northern California each year. Representative Stephanie Harris said each organization with a booth had jobs available.
Still, what some of the employers had to offer was limited. Citadel Broadcasting had a part-time promotions assistant position open and Bronco Wine Co. was compiling a list of on-call seasonal workers.
Others, such as the Institute of Technology, San Joaquin Valley College and Kaplan College were promoting their occupational training classes as much as their openings. The Army and Air Force Reserve also were on hand, looking for recruits.
The Forest Service was one of the most popular booths at the event, with a steady line throughout.
Harris said she often hears from attendees who wish there were more employers at events. But she said there simply aren't enough companies hiring to meet demand.
"We could get twice as many (employers) easily a year ago," she said. "It's just the economy."
Recruiters in high demand
In Stanislaus County, where unemployment was at 16.3 percent for July, the law of supply and demand was apparent as recruiters at each booth left with hundreds of résumés.
"I expected four or five times more employers and more real jobs. They're looking to give you opportunities, but in this economy we need jobs," said Mike Martin of Ceres.
The former Wells Fargo employee lost his job in December and moved back to the area from Southern California three months ago. He said he has applied for more than 100 jobs with no luck.
Martin was in line to have his résumé critiqued, one of the free services provided at the event. There also were seminars on interviewing and search strategies. While he was disappointed in the positions available, Martin said the event wasn't a waste of time.
"I got to network with a few people," he said, "and I got to share sad stories with others about not working."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.