KALAMA — Traffic along West Marine Drive was busier than usual Friday as more than 500 job hopefuls packed the Port of Kalama’s administrative offices for McMenamins’ open hiring call.
The huge turnout shattered attendance records set at previous events, according to representatives for McMenamins, a family-owned chain of brewpubs, breweries and historic hotels around the Northwest.
With the port’s main parking lot full, a parking attendant wearing a yellow rain slicker directed a steady line of vehicles to an expanded lot near the $10 million Harbor Lodge, which opens April 20.
The chain expects to employ about 130 regular staff at the property during the peak summer season.
Applicants hustled through a light drizzle late Friday morning to wait in a 30-minute check-in line inside the port’s foyer. By late afternoon, some people had waited up to four hours for an interview.
After signing in at a table in the port’s interpretive center, hundreds of people wearing focused expressions filled out applications on clipboards while seated, standing or sitting with their backs against the wall.
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” observed Mark Wilson, the port’s executive director. “This is what job creation looks like.”
Standing next to a table collecting completed applications, McMenamins Human Resource Manager Lisa Kinsley said the purpose of Friday’s open hiring call was simple: “To get hired up.”
With the interpretive center still packed 5 minutes before the event’s 4 p.m. cutoff, Kinsley called Friday’s turnout unprecedented.
“I have never had a hiring call this big before, and I’ve been working in HR for McMenamins since the mid-90s,” she told The Daily News.
The surprising number of job seekers underscored how fragile Cowlitz County’s job market remains, despite an official drop in unemployment into the 5-6 percent range in the last year.
Kinsley said the company planned to interview everyone who checked in before 4 p.m. People who showed up late were given applications to finish on their own time.
While many applicants waited for hours, the day was also a marathon for hiring managers, who also had to make hiring decisions late Friday night.
Kinsley said experience is welcome, but McMenamins prizes personality above all else.
“You can teach people tasks and skills, but you can’t teach people how to have a positive attitude and enjoy being of service,” she said.
Once hiring decisions are made, successful candidates will train at one of McMenamins’ numerous Washington- and Portland-area locations in the run-up to Kalama’s grand opening.
“It’s going to be great for small businesses,” mused applicant Nikki McGinnis, 48, who moved to Kalama from Ridgefield a year ago.
McGinnis said she’s hoping to get hired as an assistant front desk manager at the hotel or assistant manager in the gift shop.
For 18-year-old Dane Waters, McMenamins has a special meaning. The Longview resident said visiting different McMenamins locations with his father, who recently passed away, was a tradition.
“It’s been a pretty big part of my life,” he laughed.
As the lead housekeeper for Community Health Home and Hospice, Waters is hoping to find work in housekeeping or as a food runner.
Longview 19-year-olds David Staehman and Jay Stello are roommates who drove to the hiring call together. The unemployed teenagers said they would gladly take any job next to the river.
“Housekeeper or laundry attendant, front of house or back of house in the restaurant ... basically anything,” Stello said when asked what type of job he’s looking for.
Meanwhile, Mary Flagge, 26, of Woodland said she’s aiming to land a job in the restaurant’s kitchen. Flagge, who now lives with her fiance in Kalama, said the couple wants to get married at the Kalama location.
Flagge said she expects the small town’s new waterfront attraction to draw people from near and far.
“It’s gonna be legit,” she said.