LUMBERTON — The Sanderson Farms Inc. job fair is lining up job seekers from Robeson and surrounding counties who have packed the the Madison Room of the Holiday Inn to discover what the Mississippi poultry company has to offer its prospective employees at its rising St. Pauls plant.
The three-day job fair ends today with sessions at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Prospective employees should arrive early, as the meeting room doors close precisely at those times, and any late arrivals will be encouraged to attend the next session.
Some hopefuls arrived Wednesday with experience in poultry processing at Mountaire and House of Raeford, while others are new to the industry. All shared a desire for good benefits and better pay.
Brothers Demond and Kiontre Regans arrived too late for the 1 p.m. session on Wednesday, but were determined to make today’s first session. Gaining employment with Sanderson Farms is a family affair for them, as their mother, Cynthia, also hopes to land one of the positions at the new, $115 million plant, set to be in full operation early next year.
“I was an inspector,” Cynthia said of her prior poultry experience. “I’m a single mom just trying to get my feet under me.”
Alex Locklear and Jessica Lowery traveled from Hoke County to attend the job fair. Currently working in construction, Locklear said he has experience in sanitation from House of Raeford. In addition to improved pay and benefits, he said he wants to “get out of the heat.”
Zachary Locklear of Lumberton is about to graduate from Robeson Community College and hopes to get his foot in the Sanderson Farm door for IT work.
Ricketta McLean of Maxton emerged from Wednesday’s 1 p.m. session with an Oct. 19 interview. Also experienced in poultry production, McLean said Sanderson Farms’ stock options are highly attractive to her, as are the hours and the company’s willingness to work with good employees.
In a recent interview, Bob “Pic” Billingsley, the company’s director of development and engineering, said 2,500 people attended a job fair in Hoke County, and the company expected a similar turnout in Lumberton.
The company plans to hire about 1,000 hourly employees, and has already started hiring salaried positions. Entry-level pay for line operators is $11.50 per hour, though there are also upgraded positions. The opening of the processing plant on N.C. 20, as well as a $17 million hatchery in Lumberton, should make a dent in Robeson County’s unemployment. For 2015, Robeson County’s unemployment rate was 8.5 percent, with 4,365 people out of work.
According to a statement from Sanderson Farms, along with a competitive starting wage, employees who have been employed with Sanderson Farms for three months or longer are eligible for pay hikes based on their tenure with the company. Employees receive a benefits package, including medical coverage for individuals and families, free basic life insurance, affordable dental and vision insurance, as well as prescription costs of $15 or less.
The benefits package also includes a 401(k) plan and employee stock ownership plan that employees are eligible for after one year of employment. Sanderson Farms contributes to the employee stock ownership plan at no cost to the employee. In addition to eight paid holidays, employees are eligible to earn up to 20 days of paid vacation time based on length of employment. Sanderson Farms employees are also eligible for continuing education programs such as tuition reimbursement after one year of employment.
Billingsley expects that salaried management will move into the hatchery in September and eggs will be set in October. Processing training will begin on a limited basis in November at the plant, which will process about 1.25 million chickens per week.
As of now, no new chicken houses are expected in Robeson County to supply the plant.