Colorado dealers' recruiting plight reflects that of many U.S. dealers

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Dealers in Colorado are hungry for hired help.

So hungry that for the first time, the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association will run a career fair at this year's Denver Auto Show.

The fair starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday. It'll occupy just 600 square feet of the 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, said Tim Jackson, president of the dealers association.

But the small space is a big deal for the six dealership groups and one independent dealership that have signed up for it, Jackson said.

That's because Colorado dealers are joining many dealers nationwide in the hunt for new hires as vehicle sales rapidly rise.

In Colorado, new-vehicle registrations in January rose 11 percent from January 2011, Jackson said. The state's unemployment rate has tracked lower than the national average since March 2011.

The sales growth combined with unemployment that is lower than the national average should be good news, but it has created a problem for many dealers who dramatically cut staff during the recession, Jackson said. Dealers are scrambling to fill an expanding sea of openings from a small pool of talent.

Across the country, dealers face a similar challenge, especially in attracting young people who embrace technology. Dealers want experienced or educated people who want a career in the auto industry.

The need for qualified people in Colorado is so extreme that one dealer is driving seven hours from Durango to Denver for the career fair, hoping to lure talent to his smaller market, Jackson said.

"He doesn't have anybody local he can hire," Jackson said, "so he has to pull them out of a bigger market."

And there's another cruel irony, according to Jackson: "I have some dealers saying, 'We need to be at the career fair, Tim. But we don't have anyone we can send right now because we're so short-staffed.'"

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter

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