Modesto manufacturer's jobs ad attracts overrun

980 people apply at SunOpta to get one of 30 positions

April 13, 2009 

New Modesto manufacturer SunOpta Inc. learned that if you advertise jobs, they will come -- and in droves.

The soy milk production and packaging company recently placed an ad saying it was hiring for 30 jobs at its new plant. It received about 980 applications.

"We weren't expecting this," said Kim Hulsey, SunOpta office manager. "We expected a couple hundred, but we found out really fast that we were wrong. It was overwhelming. We definitely had our pick."

She said the level of interest is indicative of the economic climate in the Central Valley, especially for jobs that don't require college degrees. The unemployment rate in Stanislaus County in February was nearly 17 percent.

SunOpta took over the site of the old Tri Valley Growers' Plant 1 on Mariposa Road in the fall. In November, it began hiring its office staff and management team.

Last month, the plant opened its first round of hiring for positions including machine operators, warehouse workers, downline operators and lab technicians.

All the response came from a three-day classified posting last month in The Bee and its affiliated national jobs Web site site, CareerBuilder.com.

The hiring, which ended three weeks ago, brings the company's employee roll to about 50. The plant is ramping up to its planned May 11 manufacturing start date.

SunOpta makes aseptic packaging for soy milk, almond milk and brewed tea. The Modesto plant will begin by producing soy milk for Costco, Starbucks and other food service companies.

Hulsey said in six months they hope to hire 50 more employees.

"I've posted ads with previous employers in newspapers and CareerBuilder, with no luck," she said. "But with this we had so much to pick from. There were some really great people we interviewed."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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