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Seeking Direction in New Life at the Slaughterhouse

It’s not as though Window 1 was getting a ton of business Tuesday at the Santa Ana Job Service on South Grand. Maybe being 80-some degrees outside had something to do with it. Or, maybe it’s because the window was for people interested in taking an entry-level job at a slaughterhouse in Iowa. In any case, before you walk up to that window and give the man your name, you want to do some serious thinking about the direction of your life.

Twenty-four-year-old Ian Andrews says he’s done some serious thinking and the way he sees it, he’ll walk up to that window sometime today and ask for an application form. And if the job sounds OK to him, and if he sounds OK to the hiring man, Andrews--who came to California when he was 5 and never left--says he’s ready to pack up his girlfriend and their 2-month-old baby and point the ’78 Firebird her mother says she’ll give them in the direction of Iowa.

I ask Andrews what he knows about Iowa.

“I know absolutely nothing about Iowa,” he says. “I don’t even know where it is on a map. My girlfriend said, ‘Where’s Iowa?’ I said I had no clue.”

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The Santa Ana Job Service is run by the state. For four days this week, Iowa Beef Processors, known as IBP, is recruiting men and women who are willing to work for $8 an hour and relocate to Iowa. IBP, which is actually headquartered in Dakota City, Neb., has 42 plants in North America and employs 38,000. Sometimes, a company spokesman says, unemployment rates are so low in its natural Midwest base that it goes outside to recruit.

The company was hiring a month or so ago in Orange County and snagged three people, according to Santa Ana office manager Peggy Crawford Dougherty. About 75 interviewed at that time, but she isn’t sure how many were offered jobs. Until this recent burst of recruitment activity, the company hadn’t recruited here in about three years.

I ask Andrews why he’d consider a move to a packing plant in Iowa. “I have no education, no college. I don’t even have high school,” he says. “I don’t have a certificate in anything. I’ve done odd jobs, labor. I’ve worked off and on for the last five or six years.” With a resume like that, he says, it’s hard to find a job that’ll pay enough to live in Orange County.

He heard about the Iowa job through an employment counselor in Garden Grove. At that point Tuesday, he didn’t have the bus fare to make it over to Santa Ana.

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“It didn’t matter what the job was,” he says. “It was just to get to where rents are cheaper, because if I have to support a baby and a girlfriend at an entry-level position, they don’t pay much. Eight bucks an hour. You can’t live in Orange County on that, with a kid and a girlfriend.”

So, this is all about rent, I ask.

“It’s also to get away from Orange County,” he says. “I’ve just been here my whole life. I don’t like it anymore. I’m tired of city life, the rat race. My impression of Iowa is that it would be countryside, farmlands.”

As a Nebraska native, I felt obliged to ask him if he knew much about cold weather. “I like the snow,” he says. “We used to go up to Big Bear and stuff. We’ve been in snow.”

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I ask Crawford-Dougherty if she thinks the locals are sufficiently aware of the culture and climate shock of moving from California to Iowa. When out-of-state companies recruit here, she says, her staff tries to ensure that applicants learn as much as possible about such things. She said IBP is somewhat unique in its efforts to hire entry-level workers, rather than to target specific job-level workers as some other companies do.

Her staff tries to make sure that out-of-staters spell out just what the applicants are getting into. As for the IBP positions, she says, “This is not just packing food into cans. This is slaughtering and cutting up and working in cold environments. We’re not trying to make it look like a job nobody would ever want to do, but we don’t want them to be surprised after they’ve gone to all the trouble” of making a move to Iowa.

IBP says the salary can rise to $8.50 an hour after six months and to $9.35 after a year. It offers training in different languages and points out that the job may involve prolonged standing and the need to lift as much as 145 pounds.

Andrews, who says he’s worked in steel mills and construction sites, isn’t put off by that. “That’s pretty much what I know how to do, hard labor,” he says.

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Andrews hasn’t made any firm decisions about moving to Iowa, even if a job is offered. So far, though, he says it sounds like just the break he needs.

Which leaves only one other matter of business. I ask what his girlfriend thinks of the possible move.

“She’s a little skeptical of it,” he says. “But she wants to get out of Orange County too.”

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com

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