Shaw Industries's Chickamauga plant was looking to recruit an untold number of heatset and twisting operators. All applicants had to be at least 18 years of age, and mechanical experience was preferred.
Dozens of people turned up throughout the day-long job fair, and throughout the room, the common refrain was the same: “We just want a job, any job. Especially one that provides benefits and keeps us medically secure.”
So said Woodrow Wilmore, 42, who moved his family to Walker County two years ago from Chester, S.C.
"Not that much work up in South Carolina," he said. Wilson came to the job fair hoping to get a foot in the door on a "good-paying job with benefits."
As did nearly everybody else in the room, including Michael Richmond of Dalton, one of the many victims of that city's recent carpet industry collapse.
"I've worked in everything related to (the carpet industry),” he said. "Laboratory, finishing, and so."
Now 49, Richmond can't find a job anywhere. He's even been turned away from a third-shift position as a taxi driver.
"I'm college educated and I'm here for anything I can get." He feels stuck; his years of experience aren't helping him, and his college degree has actually hurt some prospects. One employer, commenting on his proper grammar, actually told him "You'll be a troublemaker because you're educated," he said.
Richmond, a father of two, doesn't just want a job, he needs it. A sudden heart attack last July left him $40,000 in debt; he didn't have insurance coverage at the time. For nearly a year afterwards, he avoided going to the doctor for a routine checkup due to a lack of funds.
"I couldn't afford to have my cholesterol checked until 11 months later," he said.
Health issues seem to be a common refrain among those most desperate for employment. Velda "Sissy" Hall is a licensed CNA who worked at local health care facility until she was let go last year after her husband underwent sextuple (six-way) bypass heart surgery.
Hall is now the only breadwinner for herself, her husband and two teenage boys, and she hasn't been able to find anything more than the occasional temporary job.
"If you don't know anybody, you can't get a job anywhere here in Walker or Catoosa County," she said.
Their family is left with a hospital bill of over $100,000 and is unable to get any insurance company to take them on. "Now due to his previous health we can't get it at all."
Hall wishes that the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as 'Obamacare,' would have been available to her family last year.
"It would have definitely helped us out," she said.