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Jobs abound, if you have a place to sleep

During recovery, high pay lures some back to New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- Nicole Guinchard left home with a fine arts degree nearly two years ago to find work in Alaska. Now she's back, hoping to land a job waiting tables at a top restaurant and support family members who lost their homes.

''The reason I left was because there weren't many job opportunities in New Orleans," she said. ''It took a hurricane to change all that." Shipbuilders, fast-food restaurants, and construction companies are desperate for workers, enticing job seekers with free laundry service and signing bonuses.

Jobs are so plentiful and pay so well that some residents are returning after fleeing from Hurricane Katrina. Many are stymied, though, because there are few places to live and rental rates for undamaged apartments have doubled.

''People are begging you to come to work," said Charles Dupre, of Baton Rouge, a former salesman who said he was willing to make a two-hour commute each way because the wages are so high. He spoke with recruiters from a shipyard and from Home Depot about a sales job. ''I can go blue collar, or I can go white collar," he said. ''Before Katrina, you couldn't find a job."

Guinchard, whose family is living in a trailer, said she should be able to make $300 a night waiting on tables. ''People in Alaska thought I would be going to a wasteland," she said. Instead, signs advertising job openings are nearly everywhere. Ads for debris cleanup jobs promise a year's worth of pay for a month's work. Retailers are setting up makeshift job fairs in parking lots.

''It's capitalism at its best on the employees' side," said Jonathan Temple, of the city's Office of Economic Development. The city is working with employers to find homes for new hires.

Fluor Corp., an engineering and construction firm based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., plans to hire 4,000 workers to set up trailers across the Gulf Coast. Some employees and their families are living in tents, while others are staying in motels repaired by the company.

About two out of every three businesses in New Orleans remain shuttered, while one-third are closed in its suburbs, according to state estimates. The lack of prospective employees has delayed many restaurants and retailers from reopening. Most of the jobs are in the restaurant, hotel, retail, and construction industries.

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