Hundreds lined up early Monday under cloudy skies in hopes of landing a job -- any job -- at a Clovis customer-service call center that is expanding its operations.
Ryla Inc., a Georgia-based company, is taking over operations at the Alorica Inc. call center on Shaw Avenue and plans to add at least 500 people to handle calls for a cellular/telecommunications company.
Monday was the first of eight days in which Ryla will be taking applications and screening potential employees.
They ranged from twenty-something students in jeans and sneakers to business-attired men and women in their 30s, 40s and 50s whose previous jobs evaporated in the recession. The type and number of people in line Monday provided stark testimony to the difficult economy in Fresno County, where the unemployment rate in August was 15.4% and an estimated 69,500 people were out of work.
By the end of Day One, up to 700 people had filled out applications and met with Ryla officials, said Jane Edgar, a Ryla spokeswoman. "We expect it to be just this busy for at least the next couple of days," she said.
Ryla founder and CEO Mark Wilson described the turnout as "unbelievable."
"We're very excited to provide opportunities for so many people," Wilson said as his staff prepared to start fielding applications. "We had an initial goal of hiring 500 people. But if we get enough qualified applicants, there's the potential to increase that number over time."
About 115 people now work at the call center, which has been operated since 2002 by Chino-based Alorica. Earlier this year, Alorica bought competitor Ryla, which now is an Alorica division taking over operation of the Clovis facility.
The new hires will be answering customer-service calls on behalf of a Ryla client identified only as a Fortune 50 cellular/telecommunications company that expects to increase its marketing and sales. Wilson said the company is looking for people who have at least a high-school education, modest typing skills and a good attitude for dealing with people on the phone.
Wilson acknowledged that the region's high unemployment would likely provide plenty of applicants typically overqualified for run-of-the-mill telephone customer service.
"But we do have some management positions that we need to fill, so we're trying to identify candidates who meet those qualifications, too," Wilson said.
The recruitment process will run through Oct. 27. Clovis is one of four sites across the country where Ryla is holding job fairs this week in anticipation of hiring more than 1,400 people. The other call centers are in Colorado, Virginia and Alabama.
Brandon Beckwith, 22, of Clovis, who works part-time for a security company, arrived at the Clovis Towne Center shopping center at 5:15 a.m. to stake out a place at the head of the line. By the time the doors opened at 9 a.m., he was joined by several hundred job-seekers who lined the sidewalks along the shops around the center.
"I did not want to be way back in the line," said Beckwith, who also is a student at Fresno City College majoring in music industry technology. "I wanted to be right up at the front, to show them my ambition and commitment."
Maisha Hall, 36, of Fresno arrived shortly before 9 a.m., only to find herself behind hundreds of others in a still-growing line across the parking lot from the call center.
"There's way too many people unemployed," said Hall, who described herself as "very unemployed" for the past three years while she attends school. "I knew there were going to be a lot of people here throughout the day, but I didn't think everyone would be out here this early," she said, gazing at the stream of job hopefuls.
Natalie Moore, 30, of Fresno nodded in agreement as she stood next to Hall.
"There are just so many people looking for work. A lot of people have stopped looking and are going to school," said Moore, a student at Fresno City College who said she has been unemployed for three years since injuring herself on her previous job as a diesel engine mechanic.
Before losing her job and seeing the Valley's economy tank, Moore said, she bought a house "and I need a job to pay my mortgage." She said she's taken in renters to help pay the bills, and unemployment payments also help.
"But I want to work," she said. "Finding a job not only pays the bills, it puts your mind at ease."