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By Jordan Hensley Hickory Daily Record

HICKORY— Veterans from across North Carolina gathered at the Hickory Metro Convention Center over the weekend, hoping to find employment in the Hickory-area.

The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce and Catawba Economic Development Corp.  collaborated with North Carolina for Military Employment to bring 40 military families to Hickory for a weekend-long hiring event they call “Welcome Home Hickory Metro.”

“Hiring events like this usually happen at the bases, but we knew we had to do something bold,” said Chamber President Lindsay Keisler. “It’s not like a job fair where you walk around and just meet employers. Veterans are actually interviewing for positions today.”

That “something bold” happened to be an all expenses covered event, where instead of just interviewing for jobs and going home, veterans have the opportunity to experience the Hickory community they might call home sometime soon.

“We’ve been to job fairs before where we try to explain what Hickory is, where it is and why they should consider finding a job and moving here, when we realized, ‘why don’t we just bring the veterans here?’” Keisler added.

Nineteen employers, like Pro Staffing, People’s Bank and Catawba Regional Hospice among others, interviewed veterans to possibly fill at least 50 different positions.

North Carolina for Military Employment had a crucial role in the event by coaching veterans on how to apply for jobs, educating companies about how to hire veterans and matching veterans with possible employers.

“Everyone was pre-matched with at least three interviews today,” said Program Manager James Schading.

He said hiring events like “Welcome Home” have a 30 percent day-of event success rate and 50 percent total success rate.

The veterans who participated in the event are either newly retired or soon-to-be retired, ranging in age from mid to late 20s to mid to late 50s from various branches and ranks.

Army veteran Lance King said it was his wife Ashley King, who saw the event online and convinced him to sign up.

“I was intrigued,” he said. “We didn’t really know what to expect.”

Lance King has been out of active duty since January after serving for 15 years, but is still apart of the reserves.

“This has been an exciting and fun event,” he said.

He had several interviews, said he made some connections that he feels good about and he and his family were excited for the rest of the weekend’s events.

Check-in for the event began Friday morning, and by early afternoon the families had several different, free excursions to choose from before the welcome celebration,  like a Craft Beer and Distillery experience at Foothills Distillery and Blowing Rock Brewing or a family-fun excursion to the Catawba Science Center and Dilishi Frozen Yogurt.

While the adults were at the hiring event and touring Hickory, the children were taken to the YMCA for a day of superhero fun before rejoining their parents in the afternoon for dinner and another fun excursion.

“I’ve been to several events like this, and this one is outstanding,” said soon-to-be retired Lt. Col. Keith Rapp from the North Carolina Army National Guard.

Rapp’s wife is a Hickory native, whose family are the founders of The Vintage House restaurant. Rapp said he and his family plan to move to Hickory soon, it’s just a matter of if it’s a few months from now, or a few years from now.

“I’ve never seen this level of effort,” he said, about the event. “You can tell they’re doing more than just trying to sell you a job, they’re trying to sell you a life.”

While nothing is official, Keisler said “Welcome Home” will hopefully happen again in the near future.


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