Potential workers line up for Northern Hotel job fair
Jan 10, 2013 (Billings Gazette - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Hopeful workers began lining up almost an hour early for Wednesday's one-day job fair, trying to land one of 177 positions at the soon-to-reopen Northern Hotel.
"We're looking for enthusiasm and attitude," said Robbie Carpenter, a freelance marketer hired to be hotel coordinator. "I know what a big project it is and how excited the community is."
In 2009, Chris and Mike Nelson, brothers who grew up in Billings, bought the padlocked Northern at a sheriff's auction and invested four years and more than $30 million gutting and remodeling the landmark. The Northern, at First Avenue North and North 28th Street, was built in 1904. After fire destroyed the original hotel, it was rebuilt in the early 1940s.
To handle around 160 applicants in a single day -- four per hour for 15-minute interviews -- co-owner and manager Mike Nelson held the job fair at the Billings Job Service at 2121 Rosebud Drive, taking advantage of its 30 computers and multiple meeting rooms.
Even if applicants had applied online to be a bellman, desk clerk, server, bartender, housekeeper or cook, Nelson wanted them to fill out a paper application. Then he personally greeted each applicant, quickly scanning the paperwork.
Reading Laura Burns' application, Nelson said "that's cool" about her gift shop and school district experience. Nelson then kindly asked her to fill in a gap in her work history and come right back.
"I'm just excited to have the Northern back in Billings," Burns said, adding that her stepdad, Joe Borris, had worked as a bartender at the old Golden Belle.
At 9 a.m., 30 people, including two dressed in crisply starched chef's coats, stood in the line to talk with Nelson. Then the job seekers, applications completed, queued in a second line, waiting for a brief interview with one of his managers.
Second interviews will be held in a couple of weeks, and the finalists will probably be offered a job before their background checks are completed, Carpenter said. Their hiring will be conditional on their passing the check, she said.
The Northern is set to re-open March 15, and all workers need two weeks of training. That means the staff for what should become a four-star hotel needs to be hired by mid-February, Carpenter said.
Montana logged a 5.4 percent unemployment rate last month. But Yellowstone County had an unemployment rate of 4 percent, about half the national rate.
Some other Billings companies, including ones serving the Bakken oil boom, have promised to hire more than 100 workers, but that job growth happens over months or even a year or two, said Job Services manager Ryan Van Ballegooyen.
The Northern needs 117 workers now.
"Starting everybody at once is pretty rare. It's kind of exciting," Van Ballegooyen said.
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