Detroit Auto Show: Workers Keep Cobo Center Running Smoothly Behind the Scenes (PHOTOS)

01/10/2012 11:54 am ET | Updated Jan 10, 2012

While many of the people who will attend the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit will dazedly explore Cobo Center's wonders -- the latest models and concept cars -- others are toiling long hours to make sure the event runs smoothly and the vehicles stay shiny.

From the setup crews and floor washers to the caterers and product specialists, hundreds of people are laboring behind the scenes. ShopAutoWeek.com estimated that more than 5,000 people in a variety of roles worked at last year's auto show, and that doesn't include those staffing each of the exhibits.

By 6 p.m. on Monday (the show's first day for the press), caterers with Black Ties Staffing were wrapping up 14-hour shifts; some talked about snagging foot massages before reporting back at 5 a.m. the next morning. Black Ties president Jeff Gappy, who had been at Cobo Center since 3 a.m., was scrambling to find four more people to add to the nearly 200 employees he had working all over the building.

For Dallas-based Jill Brownfield, who has worked for Porsche since June and travels the country representing the luxury carmaker, this is her first time in Detroit. One of Porsche's 14 product specialists in the United States, Brownfield has learned everything there is to know about Porsches, so she can answer the questions of avid fans. And yes, she's test-driven all the cars on the auto show floor.

"It's a cross between being a salesperson and a model," Brownfield said. "We're [the consumers'] first contact with the brand, so it's our job to have current product knowledge."

Detroiters are also scoring jobs at the auto show. Glen Hill, 21, is working the event keeping the Mercedes-Benz cars dust free. Having enlisted in the Navy in September, he will soon have to report for duty, but landing a temporary job through staffing company ABM was a stroke of luck for him.

"It's a lot of fun. I get to look after amazing cars," Hill said. "I clean up after them like they're my own."

With the auto show bringing in more than $350 million to the city last year, according to North American International Auto Show statistics, the two weeks of wages are providing a reprieve, though short term, for many of the people on the floor. After various promotional events, the show will open to the public Jan. 14 and run through Jan. 22.

Anna Garcia, 18, is also dusting cars at the show. She had been looking for a job since September, when she was kicked out of high school. She's glad to be working but frustrated that in two weeks she'll have to start looking for another job again.

Jena Smart, a promotional model who was not permitted to name the exhibitor she was representing, just graduated from Michigan State University in December. A native of the Detroit suburb Roseville, she plans to obtain a master's degree in youth development, but in February she's traveling to South Korea to teach English. "There's no jobs here," Smart said.

This is Smart's first time working at the auto show, though she has previously had modeling stints for BMW and GMC. She likes having the chance to talk to people and appreciates the pay, $15 to $25 hourly, but doesn't plan to talk up products forever.

"I love doing it, but my heart's in nonprofit work," Smart said.

While the next two weeks offer companies the chance to show off cars and the talented designers and engineers who brought them to life, it's not fun and games for everyone. So, while you're ooh-ing and ah-ing the cars next week, don't forget to tip your hat to the guy wiping off the fingerprints from the glass.

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