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Originally published January 6, 2011 at 9:57 PM | Page modified January 7, 2011 at 9:04 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

In this economy, young man hopes for job

Shelby Burford, 22, saw Flight 1843 from Chicago on New Year's Day as the jet on which his dreams would take off. Not only was it carrying him to his new, chosen home of Seattle, but it could be the place to land a job before landing.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Airplanes aren't really the centers of industry.

There's barely enough room to lift a cup, much less a pen, and most people would rather snooze than strategize.

But Shelby Burford, 22, saw Flight 1843 from Chicago on New Year's Day as the jet on which his dreams would take off. Not only was it carrying him to his new, chosen home of Seattle, but it could be the place to land a job before landing.

Burford, who graduated from Baylor University in Texas three weeks ago, boarded the plane with 250 cocktail napkins printed with his abridged résumé — including his seat number, 3B.

After flight attendants completed their beverage service, Burford took to the aisle to pass out his "résumé" to the 160 passengers.

So far, no bites — but plenty of response from passengers who admired his creativity, and his professional pluck.

The times demand it. Unemployment is still high, but as the corporate freeze starts to thaw ever so slightly, one needs to break through the ice in any way possible.

"If there wasn't this barrage of people applying for jobs, I would have been able to stand out in a normal market," Burford told me the other day. "But because there are seasoned adults looking for work, it takes a stunt to get attention."

Burford chose to stunt his way to Seattle because of the city's entrepreneurial spirit.

"Seattle has a lot of big thinkers," he said. "Former Microsoft people have started things and created value in the marketplace. ... I want to be the right-hand man to someone who is doing that."

Burford grew up in Indiana and Kansas, where, despite the plains around him, he saw opportunities rising everywhere.

One day, his pastor father left a young Burford and his sister home alone while he performed a funeral service in the adjacent church. Burford saw a captive audience in the mourners — and put on a garage sale. ("Very tactful," he said).

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He was an eighth-grader — just 14 — when he started his own graphic-design business, Shelby Burford Designs.

He said he netted a steady $5,000 a year and had clients in 18 states by the time he got to Baylor, where he kept the business going and was recognized as one of StartupNation's best dorm-based companies in 2008. He was also featured in the "Entrepreneur Issue" of USAA's U-TURN Magazine. He shut down the business in May.

His time at Baylor was, for the most part, funded with scholarship money, including a $10,000 annual check from the McKelvey Foundation, established by Andrew J. McKelvey, the founder of Monster.com. The money stopped in 2008, when McKelvey died of pancreatic cancer — but not before he took Burford and four other scholars to his mansion in the Dominican Republic for Thanksgiving.

And now this with the cocktail napkins.

"I am not at all surprised," said Paul Orefice, the creative director at the watsons, a Manhattan advertising and design firm where Burford was an intern in 2008. "He came from the Midwest with his eyes wide open and he fit right in. He's a business guy, but he is also really creative.

"For these times, it's the perfect story for how to get out there, how to get noticed," Orefice said.

Burford's parents can do nothing but be supportive and wish him well.

"Shelby just thinks outside the box," said his mother, Claudia, on the phone from Kansas City. "He's not a cocky kind of kid; it's more like he finds the opportunity and then says, 'This could work!'

"It makes me cry," she said, her voice breaking a bit. "Hopefully, we've laid the groundwork. Kids have to be their own people and find their wings, right?"

Absolutely. And if those wings are on a plane headed to the place where you want your life to begin, well, it doesn't hurt to take some extra napkins.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

Shelby Burford: Shelby_Burford@baylor.edu

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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