Steamboat Springs Ron Spangler left Colorado this week for Houston and a job fair he thinks will be different from any he's attended.
Spangler is the human resources manager for Peabody Twentymile Coal Company in southwestern Routt County. When he gets to Texas, he hopes to offer good job opportunities to people who had their lives turned upside down earlier this month.
"I'm meeting with hurricane transferees -- I don't like that word refugees -- who would have an interest in working at the mine," Spangler said.
Spangler hopes to hire 80 underground miners between now and November, as the mine west of Steamboat Springs ramps up production. Before leaving for Houston, he visited a job fair for engineers at the Colorado School of Mines, as well as fairs at Invesco Field at Mile High and at the former Lowry Air Force Base, where others who fled Hurricane Katrina have been housed.
Spangler knows he's not likely to find experienced coal miners among the people temporarily living near Houston's Astrodome. However, he's optimistic that he'll find people who could fit in at Twentymile as they attempt to put the pieces of their lives back together in the wake of the disaster.
People with experience in related fields -- heavy equipment operators, commercial electricians and mechanics, for example, potentially could make the transition to underground mining, Spangler said.
"It would be terrific if we could offer some of these people a job and a chance to move to Colorado permanently," Spangler said. "We've got a pretty great area" to live in.
At least as important to Spangler as identifying people with experience in related fields is finding people with the right makeup.
"We're looking for people with good, strong values," Spangler said. "That's family values, and that's work ethics. They need to have a personality that's conducive to teamwork, because everything we do at the mine depends on teamwork."
New miners also must be comfortable with a working environment that's dirty and confining.
"It's can be wet, dusty and muddy," Spangler said.
Spangler knows what he's looking for, but he's also getting help on the ground in Houston.
"The Texas state employment offices have been aggressively helping us," Spangler said. "They're pre-screening applicants for us."
For the right applicants, work will start at $20 an hour with the opportunity to move up to $25 an hour within a year, plus significant overtime. Some miners at Twentymile earn about $60,000 a year, Spangler said.
Twentymile Coal Company's hiring efforts come at the same time Peabody is shutting down a surface mine in Routt County -- Seneca Coal Company.
Spangler said the surface miners at Seneca are being given full consideration for the jobs at Twentymile.
There's a possibility Twenty--mile will be doing more hiring in the years to come, Spangler said. The company is studying two sites in Northwest Colorado, where new mines could be located. The company has reserves on a collection of federal, state and privately owned parcels at a site south of Hayden and one closer to Craig, Spangler said.
In the meantime, Spangler hopes he can find some hard-working people among the "hurricane transferees" in Texas.
"My heart goes out to those folks," Spangler said. "If we can help remove one piece of the puzzle," that would be a rewarding experience.