With spring break on the horizon and Dollywood set to reopen Saturday, many Sevier County businesses are preparing for a spike in tourism after a slow period following the wildfires.
More than 70 companies and organizations registered at the Sevier County Job Fair Tuesday. Sevier County Economic Development Director Allen Newton said it was among the largest job fairs the county has held in 20 years.
He said demand for workers is at a peak.
“Dollywood is back and they’re open March 18, so they're really hiring up, as well as everybody else,” he said. “So it really is going to start the hiring process for those seasonal jobs earlier than it ever has."
January through March has historically been a slow period for Sevier County businesses, but Newton said the region’s job market has since changed.
“Most of our jobs are not seasonal anymore, so you don’t have as many layoffs as you used to back in the early 2000s,” he said. "There are more fulltime positions available now than there ever has been."
But more than three months after the November fires, some people are still struggling to find work.
Shannon Lemmon has been living at a friend’s home ever since a hike in rent priced her out of her weekly rental unit following the Sevier County wildfires.
She has been unemployed since losing her job at a popular fast food chain, but because her home didn't technically burn, she hasn't qualified for public assistance. She was among hundreds who attended Tuesday’s job fair at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Pigeon Forge.
“It's just been really hard,” Lemmon said. “So I just want to get a job and move on, and forget all the fire stuff."
Allen Newton said an estimated 30 to 40 positions are available to Sevier County wildfire victims thanks to a recent $5 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"So anybody who has been affected by the fire can come in and, under this HUD grant, there are a lot of various jobs with the National Park, with the city of Gatlinburg," he said.
The Economic Development Council is also handing out Mountain Tough Recovery Cards to wildfire victims. Until Sept. 30, those cards will give wildfire victims a minimum of a 20 to 25 percent discount at more than 60 participating businesses.
Visit mountaintough.org/participate to apply.