Civic Center hosts Hiring Our Heroes

By WEEK Producer

July 12, 2012 Updated Jul 12, 2012 at 10:07 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Big Yellow had a big presence at the Peoria Civic Center on Thursday.

Caterpillar was one of more than 50 employers extending a hand to veterans looking for work at an event called Hiring Our Heroes.

CAT even went a step further, investing $100,000 in the program.

"We find veterans can do a lot of the jobs we have," said Kelly Wojda, director of talent acquisition for CAT. "We're looking for people in manufacturing, we're looking for people in engineering, we're looking for people in logistics, purchasing, IT, and we find that the veteran community has a lot of those skills."

Ryan Hubbard knows that first hand. A senior project engineer at Caterpillar, he spent 9 years in the Navy. There were no initiatives like this when he left the service.

"You get exposure with a lot of different employers instead of just trying to find an address and drive to it and meet one person at a place," explained Hubbard.

Mikel Zimmerman finished his commitment with the Army just last month. He was optimistic about landing something here.

"Game Stop was looking to hire for an assistant manager. They took one look at my resume and they said that they're definitely going to consider that in their review," said Zimmerman, who grew up in nearby Washington.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the unemployment rate for veterans who've served since 2001 is about 12-percent. Organizers hope programs like Hiring Our Heroes, initiated 16 months ago, will reduce that figure.

Employers are also encouraged to hire veterans through certain tax credits that are available.

"There's a federal tax credit worth between $2,400 and $9,600 for each qualified veteran that's hired by an employer," explained John Hess, who was at the event representing the firm RetroTax.. "And then the state of Illinois just this week signed legislation that provides a $5,000 state tax credit for employers."

Over 10,000 veterans have found work through the Hiring Our Heroes initiative, which is scheduled to hold hiring fairs in roughly 400 communities this year.

Organizers say a total of 250 job seekers attended Thursday's event.

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