Sun Citian Sue Thomas has been unemployed since March and says any chance to speak face-to-face with recruiters and hiring managers for sales-related jobs is a huge advantage compared to playing the waiting game when submitting online job applications.

Thomas hoped her sales background suited the needs of Rioglass Solar Steel, a Spain-based solar glass manufacturer building its U.S. headquarters and plant in Surprise. The company played host to a job fair Wednesday afternoon at Surprise City Hall, attracting an estimated 600 to 700 people.

A line of hundreds of job seekers, many of whom were unemployed or underemployed and looking for an opportunity of any kind in a still-troubled economy, could be seen snaking around City Hall and the Communiversity during the job fair. Rioglass was looking to fill more than 100 positions.

“This is a big opportunity,” said Judy Gilpatrick of Surprise. “It makes you appreciate how much the city recognizes the need to bring jobs to the community.”

Recruiters with Adecco Staffing, which hosted the event along with Goodwill of Arizona and the city of Surprise, ushered 50 people at a time into the Mayor’s Atrium at City Hall so the candidates could drop off their resumes, ask questions and find out more about Rioglass through a short video presentation.

Job seekers then met one-on-one with recruiters to evaluate their skills and determine whether Rioglass officials would seek a formal interview later this week.

Surprise resident Bill Baer retired about nine years ago after a Tempe financial company he worked for closed its doors. While his wife works and makes a good living, Baer said the economy has forced him to return to the workforce.

Baer, 63, has an MBA and more than 40 years experience as an accountant, but is quickly discovering “not many opportunities exist for seniors” as companies are looking to fill positions with a younger generation that won’t command high salaries and benefits.

But Baer, who has lived in Surprise for the past nine years and no longer wants to drive a 90-mile roundtrip commute to work, said he’s not looking to make “a lot of money” and would even settle for part-time work as long as a job with Rioglass or elsewhere is close to home.

Baer’s concerns echoed those of many at the job fair, who said proximity is of utmost concern as gas and food prices continue to increase.

Jeff Mihelich, Surprise’s community and economic development director, said the city agreed to have the job fair so the company can hire as much local talent as possible and do away with the label that Surprise is a “bedroom community.”

It’s estimated that 84 percent of residents commute out of Surprise every day for work, while many others represent the 9.5 percent of Arizona residents currently unemployed.

Surprise is waiving more than $1 million in fees and infrastructure improvement costs for the construction of the company’s headquarters, which will be located north of Peoria Avenue, between Dysart and Litchfield roads. In addition, Rioglass also received $10.6 million in federal tax incentives to locate its manufacturing facility in Arizona.

Mayor Lyn Truitt, who attended the Rioglass job fair Wednesday and shook hands with prospective job seekers, said city leaders are “truly reinventing the local economy” with the creation of jobs in renewable energy and manufacturing never seen before in the West Valley.

Surprise’s efforts are receiving notice as city leaders recently visited Washington, D.C. to share how they were able to entice Gestamp Solar Steel and Rioglass to relocate and set up their U.S. manufacturing headquarters in the burgeoning West Valley city of less than 120,000 people.

“To have these renewable and manufacturing jobs is big for the city,” Truitt said. “I believe our success is representative of a community with growing needs. I’m proud of our accomplishments. We have a lot of good news to share.”

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or

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