Wisconsin Car Dealership Hiring Despite Times

A Milwaukee area car dealer says, believe it or not, people are buying his GM cars. He held the second of a two-day job fair Wednesday to try to find dozens of new salesmen and auto techs to staff his dealership.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

The auto industry has also had a rough time of it lately. Chrysler and GM officials slunk back to Washington yesterday to ask for another $14 billion to stay afloat. But there's a car dealer in Milwaukee who is ignoring all the depressing news. He's so sure that he can sell cars that he's hiring dozens of people to help him.

Erin Toner of member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports.

ERIN TONER: When you're at a Russ Darrow car dealership, you kind of have the feeling that all is right with the world. Recession - what recession?

NORRIS: It's a great day at Russ Darrow. This is Tara.

TONER: Yep, that's the way they answer the phones at all 15 Russ Darrow dealerships in Wisconsin. In fact, the company is so optimistic about the car business that it's on a hiring spree.

U: Good morning.

U: Good morning. I'm here to fill out an application.

U: Okay. We're interviewing today for sales people, technicians and collectors.

TONER: There's a job fair today at the company's Cadillac GMC dealership in Waukesha, just outside Milwaukee. As a mix of rain and snow settles on new Escalades, Acadias and Envoys in the lot, job seekers stream inside to fill out applications and have interviews. Laverne Donald(ph) was the first one here. She's out of work and today is applying, along with her husband, for a sales job.

NORRIS: 'Cause I know sales. I've been in sales for too long. I know sales. I'm a good salesperson.

TONER: And you have to be to make it in the car business, Chris Olson says. Olson's with the company's corporate office. And he's the one running today's job fair.

NORRIS: Well, January, we had a few stores that experienced record sales in January.

TONER: That's kind of hard to believe. But Olson's line is that a good sales person is recession-proof. And that's the way the entire company is behaving, hiring 55 new people as if the economy is just roaring along nicely.

NORRIS: Mr. Darrow has a favorite saying and that's, I'm not signing up for the recession. And he says while you can - you can sit on your hands and do nothing, or we can be proactive. I have an old boss of mine from years ago. He always used to say, do something, even if it's wrong, but do something.

TONER: As we're talking, the showroom fills up with more people hoping to get a job today at one of the Russ Darrow dealerships. They're sitting at tables around gleaming Cadillacs, with balloons attached to their windshield wipers. Patrick Garrison(ph), in a camel-colored suit and a brown turtleneck, is waiting to be called for his interview. Garrison has a temporary accounting job, but is afraid of getting laid off.

NORRIS: Cars have always been my passion since I was a kid. So, I was like, well, why not? I'm big into speed and luxury. So, this would be a good opportunity for me to get into that sector.

TONER: Some came seeking a career change, others just a paycheck. Patrick Stevens(ph) drove an hour to apply for a job as a mechanic. He got laid off from a Goodyear store last week, but wore his Goodyear coat and Polo shirt today, anyway.

NORRIS: You know, if I don't find a job soon, I could end up losing my house, losing my truck, 'cause I just, you know, recently got that about a year ago. And if I do lose all of that, I got no place to go.

U: Well, they're looking for technicians, is that something that you're interested in?

NORRIS: Either technician or service provider.

U: Okay, well, why don't you just stay and talk to somebody?

NORRIS: As the morning went on, I found Rebecca Larson(ph) watching a couple who came in the showroom to look at a Cadillac XLR convertible. Larson is applying for job at the dealership because her insurance business is tanking.

NORRIS: I sell health insurance. Come on, if I can sell that, I could sell cars.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TONER: Fifteen people hired yesterday will try to do just that. And dozens more will likely get job offers here today.

For NPR News, I'm Erin Toner in Milwaukee.

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