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1,500 job seekers vie for Fort Bliss hospital construction jobs

FORT BLISS, Texas — More than 1,500 El Paso job seekers went to a job fair Wednesday in hope of getting a shot at more than 1,000 construction jobs that will be created in the next two years to build the new, $648 million William Beaumont Army Medical Center on Fort Bliss.

About 800 job seekers were in line outside the El Paso County Coliseum when the six-hour job fair began at 1 p.m., reported Lucio Glenn, a spokesman for Workforce Solutions Upper Rio Grande, this area's public employment agency, which helped organize the event.

Exactly 1,526 people attended the fair, he reported.

"This shows a lot of need for jobs," Glenn said. Most of the jobs won't be available for months, Glenn said, so "I think most of the job seekers just wanted to get their foot in the door."

The 260-acre construction site at Loop 375 and Spur 601, on the eastern edge of Fort Bliss, now has about 300 workers, and about 300 additional workers are expected to be added by the end of the year, said Tim York, project executive for Clark McCarthy Healthcare Partners II, the general contractor for what the federal government has designated a megaproject.

Employment is expected to peak at 1,500 jobs in 2015, York said at a contractors symposium Wednesday morning.

The hospital is to be completed by November 2016.

Workforce Solutions also expanded the fair by bringing in employers with hundreds of jobs not tied to the project, Glenn said.

Fernando Carrillo, 50, who said he's worked as a laborer and carpenter on small construction projects, said he went to the coliseum in the hope of getting a job soon. He lost his job as a convenience store cashier about two months ago, he said.

"It's hard to find a job right now — the way the economy is," Carrillo said. "There's some jobs here. It was worth coming."

Don Graski, operations manager for Cobb Mechanical Contractors Inc.'s Texas division in Austin, said he had about 100 job seekers sign in at his table at the fair. Cobb will hire 150 to 200 plumbers, pipe fitters and supervisors for the project in the coming months, he said. He hopes to start hiring in May, he said.

About 30 percent of the applicants appeared to be qualified for the jobs, Graski said.

"This helps us find people we need. This is great," Graski said.

Paul Shy, human resources manager for Bergelectric-Helix, a San Diego-based joint venture that has the subcontract for electrical work at the hospital project, said he saw a lot of qualified electricians and electrician apprentices at the fair. The joint venture will have about 200 electrical workers at the site by the end of next year, he said.

"We'll start hiring after April" and add people as needed, a tired Shy said near the end of the job fair.

He also was looking for electrical workers for another large military project in Omaha, Neb.

"There are more workers available in this market than in Omaha," he said.

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, said at Wednesday's contractors symposium that the hospital construction jobs are "desperately needed" in a county with a high unemployment rate. In January, El Paso's unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, government data show. Almost 26,000 El Paso County residents were unemployed and seeking work in January, government data show.

But O'Rourke also complained that not enough local companies are reaping benefits of the hospital megaproject. He said El Paso agencies and business operators need to do more to get El Paso companies qualified to bid on huge government contracts.

The 135-bed Fort Bliss hospital and five associated buildings are expected to be completed by November 2016. But the hospital won't open until late 2017 because it will take time for William Beaumont staff to move in and get the facilities prepared for operation, a Beaumont official said.

Almost half of the 65 employers at the fair were contractors tied to the hospital project. But hundreds of the jobs at the fair were offered by temp agencies, call centers, and other employers not tied to the project, Workforce Solutions' Glenn reported.

Andrew Escamilla, 18, who recently lost his manufacturing job in Canutillo, said he applied for warehouse jobs offered by temp agencies at the fair.

"I'm looking for any opening," Escamilla said.
 

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