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RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA-Shop owners and department stores used to be on their own when it came to hiring workers for new malls, but a job fair that was staged here to staff the new Victoria Gardens open-air shopping center illustrates just how much times have changed when it comes to hiring for a new retail venue.

More than 2,500 applicants showed up looking for jobs when the city of Rancho Cucamonga, other government entities and the management of the Victoria Gardens shopping center conducted the job fair Aug. 21 at nearby Los Osos High School.

Tenants at the new, 1.3-million-sf combination mixed-use center, which is scheduled to open Oct. 28, will hire approximately 3,000 workers to staff the 120 or more retail shops, restaurants and other businesses slated to open at the project, which is a development of Cleveland’s Forest City Enterprises in a joint venture with the Upland, CA-based Lewis Group of Cos. “The crowd was unbelievable,” Victoria Gardens marketing director Glenn Miller tells GlobeStRETAIL.com. “I don’t think anyone anticipated how large a turnout we would have.”

Rather than being on their own, Miller says, Victoria Gardens tenants and management had lots of help in the hiring fair. “On a lot of properties, the center’s own on-site team has to spend a lot of time devoted to pulling off the job fair, but the city and the county took the lead on this one and did the majority of the work,” Miller says.

The job fair was the biggest single-day hiring event in the 27-year history of the city, according to Linda Daniels, Rancho Cucamonga redevelopment director, who has been with the city for 20 years. “We have retailers come in all the time and we work with them on an individual basis, but we’ve never had anything like this where we worked collectively with such a large group,” Daniels tells GlobeStRETAIL.

Mike Nelson, senior redevelopment analyst for the Rancho Cucamonga Redevelopment Agency, tells GlobeStRETAIL that the estimate of 2,500 attendees at the job fair was very conservative and that the number was probably at least several hundred more than that. Nelson explains that quite a few job-seekers were not counted in the official tally because they entered the event without filling out a job fair form that was being used to count the number of attendees.

The redevelopment agency got the word out about the job fair ahead of time through news releases and other promotional activities. The promotional efforts included a page on the city’s web site called “Victoria Gardens Career Quest” that was up and running before the job fair and provided a flyer describing the event, along with directions to the job fair. All of the Victoria Gardens major anchor stores (JC Penney, Macy’s, and Robinsons-May), as well as a large contingent of in-line retailers and restaurants, signed on to take part in the one-day event.

No tally was available on how many workers were hired at the job fair, but Nelson says an area that was set aside for employers to interview applicants was busy all day. More than half of those who attended were from the city of Rancho Cucamonga, and the balance from other parts of the region. The employers were seeking workers for the gamut of shopping center jobs, from retail sales people and stock clerks to shift supervisors, restaurant workers and all the other staffers required to keep a center going.

Miller says Victoria Gardens management, which was seeking to fill jobs on the center’s in-house engineering and maintenance staffs, interviewed applicants at the job fair and hired a number of employees from those interviews. Most of the other Victoria Gardens services, such as security and guest services, are outsourced to independent contractors, who also attended the job fair and were seeking to fill several dozen positions, Miller says.

Besides the Rancho Cucamonga Redevelopment Agency and Victoria Gardens management, the job fair was sponsored by the County of San Bernardino’s Jobs and Employment Services Department, the Baldy View Regional Occupation Program, and the State of California’s Employment Development Department. The city is continuing to maintain the Victoria Gardens Career Quest website, Nelson notes, and is regularly adding links to tenants’ web sites as well as other contact information for job seekers. “We’ll maintain the site for as long as the merchants want us to keep it up there,” Nelson says, noting that one department store reported at least 50 applicants soon after the web site was launched.

The Rancho Cucamonga event was one of a number of job fairs that Forest City has conducted either on its own or in concert with cities and counties in recent years. In preparation for the September 2003 opening of its 1.2-million-sf Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, VA, the company sponsored a “Job Stop,” which was a one-stop, on-site facility where potential employees could complete applications.

The October 2001 opening of the 1.3-million-sf Mall at Stonecrest in Lithonia, GA was preceded by a job fair sponsored by the county and state at a local high school, and the 1.2 million-sf Mall at Robinson in Pittsburgh, PA featured an on-site, one-day job fair sponsored by the city and the county before its opening in October 2001. Forest City also lists job openings at its properties on the company’s website.

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