Published: Sep 09, 2010 11:36 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 09, 2010 7:19 PM EDT

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - As Southwest Florida's unemployment rate stays at record highs, one Punta Gorda company has a plan to expand, and they're making sure, only people from our community are a part of it.

Finding work is a challenge for Jeff Master's Electric. "We went from a 12-man shop down to about a 4-man shop," Electrician Jason Masters said. "We haven't done hardly any new construction the last several years."

But that's changing. Palm Auto Mall is building brand new 6,000 square foot showroom, and the Helphenstine family, who has owned this company for more than 50 year, is "keeping it local."

"It's been our intention all along to use local contractors and local sub-contractors, and as much local talent as we can possibly use," Founder/Owner Joann Helphenstine said.

General Contractor Perry Hoff Construction enlisted about 10 local sub-contractors. "A lot of people haven't worked for a long time. We have people coming here, begging us to sweep the floors and pick up trash and we tried to help as many as we could," Perry Hoff said.

Once it's built, who's going to be hired to run the facility? You guessed it - local people! "We're looking for another 10 people for sales positions, F and I positions, mechanics, anything we can do to help our business and help the area," Jody Lombardo of the Executive Committee said.
Recent numbers show 12.6% unemployment in the Punta Gorda area, but there is some good news. The Labor Department reports total U.S. job openings in July rose to 3.04 million, a 30% increase since last July.

"This is a great opportunity to get out there and show people what we can do," Perry Hoff Construction employee Jared Stahlman said.

Palm Auto Mall hopes to have the building finished by the end of the year. But, they're hiring right now. To apply, see Tonya Blair at Palm's Toyota store at 1801 Tamiami Trail.