Carolyn Lockett of Aberdeen, right, fills out a job application supplied by Kim Lansdell of Sit-N-EZ Furniture in Amory at a Community Networking Fair Thursday in Amory. Lockett was one of more than 200 people who attended the fair sponsored by Lift Inc.
By Eileen Bailey
AMORY – For Carolyn Lockett, a Community Networking Fair on Thursday in Amory was an opportunity she could not miss.
Lockett was among 215 employees who learned in January they would join the ranks of the unemployed when Red Kap Industries announced it was closing its facility in Amory. Lockett, an Aberdeen resident, had worked with Red Kap for 12 years.
Her last paycheck included a flyer explaining the fair which featured different agencies and organizations available to assist Monroe County residents.
On Thursday, she took time to stop at some of the booths at the first-time event that drew more than 200 people.
Lockett said when she learned she no longer had a job, she felt “badly shocked and disappointed.” Lockett said she was lucky to have a husband with a job, but in today’s world it takes two incomes.
“I think this is good. It gives us an opportunity to put in applications with different places,” she said of Thursday’s event.
There were about 24 businesses at the fair, sponsored by Lift Inc., a nonprofit community-action agency that serves eight counties in Northeast Mississippi, including Monroe County. In addition, there were 42 other agencies representing educational, health, social and informative programs.
Linda Blackwell, deputy director of Lift, said the idea of the networking fair was the result of a meeting to examine how best to help the people of Monroe County deal with the high unemployment rate.
“The purpose of this is to bring together people who need each other,” Blackwell said.
Monroe County’s unemployment rate had more than doubled by the end of 1995, from 5.4 percent in January to 12.1 in November. The increase in unemployment dumped Amory from the top 20 cities statewide for low unemployment rates to being ranked 78th out of 82 cities.
More than 1,000 jobs have been lost during the last four months, said Keith Blaylock, director of the Economic Development Partnership, which brings together the public and private sectors to promote economic development in Amory.
“This type of program will help provide these people with resources until I’m able to get jobs in here,” Blaylock said. City and business officials in Amory are actively searching for businesses to move into the more than 600,000 square feet of vacant space left behind by businesses that have closed.
On the table of Sit-N-EZ Furniture’s booth sat a stack of job applications. Kim Lansdell said the stack was small compared to the one she had taken back to the office at lunch. “I think this had helped them a lot,” Lansdell said.
Most of the residents who came out to the fair were looking for employment. But coordinators hoped they would also take a look at the service agencies that could provide information to help them get by until they found other employment.
Marilyn Sumerford, executive director of Access Family Health Services in Smithville, said her agency was providing participants with information on health care. Sumerford said many were concerned about how to pay for health care once their insurance ran out.
Access Family Health Services provides health care at a cost based on income, she said.
Several participants stopped at different booths seeking information about a possible career change. Mamie Spratt of Aberdeen had been with Red Kap for 19 years as a seamstress. She said she was attending the fair to look for other possibilities. She stopped at Itawamba Community College’s booth and spent several minutes talking to representatives about educational choices.