Julia Morrison, East Mississippi Community College's special projects coordinator, left, talks with Khadijah Harrison, of West Point, about job opportunities at Peco. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
September 22, 2018 10:04:52 PM
Hundreds of people from across the Golden Triangle and beyond converged on East Mississippi Community College's Mayhew campus on Saturday for a job fair for the new Peco Foods plant in West Point.
The job fair, which lasted from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., drew more than 300 people by noon. Peco conducted interviews for maintenance technicians, management supervisors, management trainees, forklift operators and refrigerator technicians.
Jordan Townsend, plant manager for the West Point Peco Foods facility, said the company was also handing out applications for production workers at Peco's Brooksville facility.
Saturday's job fair is the first for the West Point/Brooksville area, Townsend said. For now, the company is looking to hire workers for the refrigerated warehouse on the facility, which is expected to be in operation by November or December. A partial fry plant that will employ significantly more people is expected to open by December of next year.
"Right now ... we're looking for 30-40 members for the warehouse that we're ready to hire," Townsend said. "For the (partial-fry) plant, that's where the number grows to that 300 number."
Townsend said Peco's jobs will pay an average of $17 per hour.
Peco Foods announced its facility -- a $40 million investment -- with the Golden Triangle Development LINK and Gov. Phil Bryant's office in early May. The new Peco location, which will have workers preparing and freezing chicken products, will be located at the former Americold freezer facility on West Church Hill Road -- a 185,000 square-foot facility on 37 acres. It was announced at the time that the project has received $3 million in state funding to help with roof repairs and worker training.
In the months since then, Townsend said, it's been easy to see the community's hunger for jobs at the plant.
"I've been on site since May 21," Townsend said, "and I will say there's not a day that goes by that someone doesn't swing by the building to say, 'Where do I start at? When can I start?' I think the interest level right now is awesome.
"Being that Americold and Bryan Foods shut down, it's giving us a lot of opportunities to bring people back to West Point," he added.
Mitzi Thompson, director of EMCC's West Point Center, said the college has seen a tremendous amount of interest in the jobs Peco will offer. She added the job fair, and the number of companies coming to the Golden Triangle, are a validation of the work the college has done on workforce development.
"It's just another feather in our hat here in the Golden Triangle area, that people believe we have what it takes to have a good workforce," she said. "There are people in our area that are hungry for jobs."
Laduante Hodges was one of the hundreds of people who turned out for the job fair on Saturday. Hodges, who is from Prairie and currently works for Cooper Tire in Tupelo, said he heard about the job fair through a friend and wanted to apply to be a forklift operator with Peco.
He said he hopes to get a job with a more consistent schedule than his current one, which sees him working two-week blocks of day shifts, then two weeks of night shifts.
"I'm trying to get away from that and do something steady -- a straight, steady night shift or a day shift," he said. "I'm just trying to do something to better myself so I can be home with my family more often."
Hodges said he thought it was good to see so many people out at the job fair, even though they'd be competing with him for jobs.
"It's good to see them trying to better themselves," he said. "It's a lot of competition but, you know, I'm not worried about that. My record is going to speak for itself."
Khadijah Harrison, from West Point, learned about the job fair from her sister, who shared a Facebook screenshot with her.
"I'm already working in Tupelo," Harrison said. "I'm just trying to find something closer to home."
Dominic Henn, of Starkville, had completed his interview with Peco by midday. Henn is an EMCC student studying electric technology, and applied for a maintenance technician position. He's hoping to set himself up for work before he graduates in December.
"It was my first interview ever," he said. "So I'm a little shot on nerves, but I think it went well. ...I'll be graduating in December, so anything I can do to kind of secure my future before that graduation would be really nice."
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