For Ruby Barnett, the four-page job application she was handed this morning at the local YMCA meant far more than a chance at landing a clerical job at the new credit card center going up in this economically depressed industrial town. It was the ticket to her dreams.
"I want a home," said the 34-year-old mother of three. "My husband and I rent now, but with this extra income I think we could really afford one."
More than 2,500 others, sharing similar thoughts of steady work and good pay, streamed into four locations around the city today as officials of the giant Citicorp banking company began passing out applications for the 750 jobs that will be created next year when the credit card center opens.
By the time the four makeshift application offices close this week, Citicorp officials estimate that more than 4,000 people will apply for clerical, secretarial and data processing jobs that will pay from $4 to $7 an hour.
"Today has gone exceptionally smooth," said Richard G. McCrossen, president of Citicorp credit card services. "I was anticipating more people standing in lines, but there has been none of that."
The giant New York-based bank holding company agreed to open the center in Hagerstown earlier this year as part of a deal that led to the passage of a bill in the state General Assembly granting Citicorp the right to open interstate bank branches in Maryland.
To the county, the credit card center represents more than jobs. It means a break from its smokestack industry past and the beginning of what local officials hope is an economic boom.
Recession-prone heavy industry makes up more than 30 percent of Washington County's economic base. Last year, Fairchild Industries, once a major employer, closed its manufacturing plant here in a move that furloughed 1,000 workers and sent the unemployment rate soaring to 13.3 percent.
Unemployment has since subsided to 7.9 percent compared to 9.8 percent a year ago. But the rate is still higher than the 4.8 percent state rate and the 7.1 percent national rate. In all, more than 4,000 people are jobless here out of a work force of 51,581, according to the most recent state figures.
"We've been hard hit by double-digit unemployment and it's been constant over the years. This has been the kind of diversification we've been looking for," said County Board of Commissioners President Ron Bowers.
The $25 million center is expected to generate $250,000 in local property taxes annually and millions more in spinoff economic benefits to the community, said Leroy R. Burtner, director of the county's economic development commission.
The legislation authorizing interstate banking went into effect today, and Citicorp officials chose the occasion to begin accepting job applications, even though it will not start hiring for at least six months, said McCrossen.
Applications were handed out at four locations to cut down on lines, and for the most part, the strategy worked. Small queues of 40 to 60 people appeared outside the offices before the 8 a.m. opening time, but no one camped out overnight, officials said.
For eager job seekers, dressed in everything from blue jeans and T-shirts to smart-looking outfits, it was a day for dreaming, even though only a fraction will get interviews that may lead to a full-time slot.
"I don't know some American words, but I am bilingual," said Intawon Maeda, 25, an unemployed native of Thailand. "If everything works out I'm going back to college."