ALBANY -- B.J. Fletcher is a woman who believes in putting her money where her mouth is.
So when Fletcher, the manager of the Ole Times Country Buffet restaurant in Albany, issued a challenge to businesses in the community with 15 or more employees to hire on one more person to help ease unemployment numbers as the holidays approach, she was the first person to answer the challenge.
"We really didn't need to hire anyone, but when I started talking about it with my staff, the ones working 43 or so hours a week said they didn't mind giving up their overtime if it meant giving someone else a job," Fletcher said. "So I'm bringing on three more employees. And that's three more families that will have a better Christmas, that won't have to choose between eating and buying needed medicine.
"The health department told me there are 585 licensed restaurants in Albany. Wouldn't it be great if the larger ones could bring on one more server each? Wouldn't it be great if businesses like Miller, P&G, Wal-Mart and Sam's became the leaders in hiring new employees?"
Fletcher is so inspired by what she's calling a "grass-roots movement," she's created a "job barometer" that will list the new jobs added by area businesses in the coming weeks. She said she plans to update the barometer regularly.
Her goal is to record 500 new jobs by Christmas.
"In fact," she declares, "I'll give the local business that hires the most new employees one free lunch a week for a year."
Fletcher said she's already begun contacting other businesses and city/county officials about her plan and has gotten nothing but favorable responses so far. Catherine Glover, the president/CEO of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, said Fletcher is in the perfect position to lead such a grass-roots effort.
"What better place to start a movement like this than in the hospitality industry, which is the first to suffer job losses in a down economy?" Glover said. "I think most successful campaigns such as this are grass-roots campaigns where people get personally and actively involved.
"I think such a challenge has the potential to do a lot of good for the community, particularly with something as profound as unemployment."
Fletcher said it was the "minimum of 15 people a day" who called her seeking employment that spurred her to challenge other businesses.
"By noon, I've had to turn down as many as 15 people a day calling about jobs," she said. "It tears me up, especially when I have to say no to a senior citizen.
"People talk about the gangs in our community, but I just don't believe our kids grow up wanting to be gang members. They turn to gangs when there's nothing for them to do. We can address some of those problems if we make more jobs available."
In addition to the jobs she's created at Ole Times, Fletcher said she has been looking seriously into locating a country-style restaurant in the city's downtown district.
"People want us downtown," she said. "That's one of the things I don't think our leaders are really paying attention to. People don't necessarily want to leave Albany, but they need reasons to stay here. That's where our leaders should be doing everything they can to promote ideas like this one to create jobs.
"We've got the base here for a great community; we just need leadership. If somebody would stand up and lead, I'm ready to walk with them hand-in-hand."
Business owners who answer Fletcher's challenge by hiring on new personnel can contact her at (229) 439-1600 or (229) 854-9443.