The lure of jobs making quartz kitchen countertops and tile brought hundreds of people to the Richmond Hill City Center on Tuesday, where the Georgia Department of Labor held a job fair for Caesarstone Technologies, the Israeli-based company building its first U.S. manufacturing plant at the Belfast Commerce Centre.
Officials estimated any where from 450 to nearly 1,000 job-seekers made the trek to the back of J.F. Gregory Park to meet with Georgia DOL representatives and Caesarstone leaders during a process aimed at initially filling 120 production jobs by March. That number is expected go up to 180 once the facility is running full speed in July, Caesarstone Technologies President Jacob Dory said.
Dory, who was among the company’s managers meeting prospective employees at Tuesday’s job fair, said he was pleased with the candidates, who won’t know whether they made the cut for about two weeks.
“They were outstanding candidates,” he said, noting he and plant human-resources director Beth Nelson interviewed people seeking a wide range of jobs, “from production-floor employees to engineering, and they were all very, very good candidates.”
Nelson said she was “impressed by the skills we’re seeing here. I’ve seen a lot of college degrees.”
The company will have more jobs fairs in the future once it ramps up production to full speed, Dory said.
It made a $120 million investment in its new plant, which not only is its first the company built in the United States, but also the first in the Belfast Commerce Center. Caesarstone isn’t necessarily looking just for experience in manufacturing, Dory said, but also wants smart employees who can learn.”
“We’re looking for the right character, the right ability to learn,” he said. “Most important for us is the ability to grow with us and to learn in the right direction.”
The plant actually will start operations in mid-January, but mass production isn’t scheduled to start until March. And time is of the essence, Dory said, adding that competition is fierce in Caesarstone’s market.
“Right now, the way it’s going, we are happy, but you know at the end of the day, I’ll be happy if we’ll be able to begin to produce and to sell,” he said, as Caesarstone looks to recoup some of its announced $120 million investment in Bryan County. “We have to make a lot of money back, and we have to do it very quickly.”
Tuesdays’ job fair was the second held with both the GDOL and Caesarstone. An earlier fair for managerial positions was held in Savannah, as the company built its management team to begin recruiting workers and put together compensation packages that, while not announced, will be competitive, Dory said.
“We are working hard to create the right package and the right environment for our workers,” he said. “Even the way we design the little things, like the size of employee lockers, the showers, the cafeteria, the work environment, air conditioning … we are putting a lot of thought into all of it. It’s a very tough industry. We’re going to work shifts of 12 hours, so we’re putting a lot of effort to creating the right environment and the right spirit for all of our workers.”
Good-paying manufacturing jobs don’t exactly grow on trees in Coastal Georgia, and among those who made the trek to J.F. Gregory Park on Tuesday was Hinesville resident Roberto Failey. He said he’s currently employed but is looking for better opportunities.
“Jobs like these are rare around this area,” he said. “Some don’t pay well. They pay just enough to keep your head just above water, and a lot of us are tired of living just above water, scratching the surface. I’m looking for a job where I’m able to grow and learn within the company and move forward.”
Failey felt he had a “50-50 chance” at getting hired, but better than what it would have been had he not attended the job fair.
The GDOL does the fairs to help both job-seekers and employers, said GDOL regional coordinator P.J. Schneider, who works out of Midway. At Tuesday’s event, candidates were asked to fill out an application and a color-coded checklist that included preferences and qualifications. Next, they were asked to watch a film on the company before meeting with one of 14 members of a GDOL special workforce action team — or SWAT — who helped screen candidates.
Those GDOL SWAT team members manned various tables, each for different jobs, and job hunters, who were able to list as many positions as they were interested in applying for, then met with the GDOL employees.
“They review the applications and make sure they meet the qualifications the employer is looking for,” Schneider said, and the GDOL will help try and find a match if an applicant doesn’t meet qualifications for one job but does in another offered by Caesarstone.
“We help them not only pick what they want, but also look for other jobs they’re qualified for,” he said.
Those who passed the screening then met with Caesarstone representatives, who will take the data from the job hunters and then do more interviews, Nelson said.
Dory said he was grateful for the help of both the DOL and the Richmond Hill City Center, and was impressed by the way the job fair was set up and run by both, and at the patience of job-seekers, who early on had to stand in line.
He also had praise for the community. Like a number of Caesarstone’s leaders, Dory made the move from Israel to Georgia.
“What I like the most is there are very friendly people here, people who have helped us a lot,” Dory said. “The community gave us a big hug — the authorities, the education system, all of them really gave us a big hug, and it’s a big help for us. We are going to be working, but while we are doing that, our children, our wives, our husbands, they have to be taken care of. There are a lot of people here who have helped us (feel at home).”
And that, apparently, could lead to more business.
“When you begin with this kind of circle of good bonding, it helps you make better business with other places,” he said.