Market Basket hires over 600; looks forward to opening early October New supermarket fills positions, but elsewhere in the area new jobs are scarce

Jon Silva and Market Basket Manager Paul Quigley go over some last-minute checklists as the final items are stocked on the shelves. Market Basket employees are preparing to open the grocery store in the North End of New Bedford. Peter Pereira/The Standard-Times

By Brian Boyd

Market Basket has come bearing gifts to a region where jobs are hard to find.

The supermarket chain hired more than 600 people to work at their New Bedford store, which is expected to open in the next month or so. In a sign of the times, the new hires were chosen out of a pool of more than 2,000 applicants.

“We had phenomenal turnout,” said David McLean, operations manager for Demoulas Super Markets Inc., which owns Market Basket. “We did all of the hiring on site.”

About 80 percent of the new hires are from the city. Up to 25 percent of a Market Basket store’s staff is typically full-time employees. The company is not planning to increase the staff at this time, McLean said.

With the area’s unemployment number hovering close to 13 percent of the workforce, more employers will have to expand their staffing to bring down the jobless rate.

Some local employers are planning to cautiously increase their staff in the coming months, while others are expecting to maintain their current levels as the country slowly recovers from the recession, according to several of the region’s major employers.

Suit maker Joseph Abboud Manufacturing, which currently employs 460 people, has added about 80 new employees since the beginning of the year, and it will likely bring aboard another 10 people in the next few months, said Anthony R. Sapienza, chief executive officer of parent company JA Apparel Corp.

“The economy has gradually turned around,” he said. “We had a good year for hiring, but we certainly have not returned to the level of employment we had prior to the recession.”

The company has been careful in hiring more people, since existing staff can fill gaps in production. It has increased the number of hours existing employees work each week, Sapienza said.

“It’s a weak recovery,” he said. “The consumer is not back in the market buying clothing as vigorously as we like, so we’re very cautious about hiring until we see stronger signs of growth and stability.”

Massachusetts’ private sector added 4,000 jobs in August, and the statewide jobless rate fell from 9 percent to 8.8 percent, according to the state Executive Officer of Labor and Workforce Development. (The local August numbers will be released Tuesday.)

A recent report by the Federal Reserve said there are positive signs for the New England economy, though the outlook varies from mostly upbeat for manufacturing and software to mixed for commercial real estate.

“Some firms are hiring modestly or plan to hire soon, while others are still reluctant to hire,” the report says.

Massachusetts is enjoying a stronger recovery than the country as a whole, but the growth has not benefited the SouthCoast, said Michael Goodman, associate professor and chairman of UMass Dartmouth’s Department of Public Policy.

That is because high-tech business is driving much of the state’s growth. Meanwhile, many local unemployed workers are from the sectors hardest hit during the recession, construction and manufacturing, Goodman said.

For them, “it’s not looking like there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Those workers have a harder time taking advantage of growth in other industries, such as health care.

“If you are a displaced electrician, it’s hard to become a nurse,” Goodman said. “You can do it, but it takes a few years and you have to want to do it.”

Southcoast Hospitals Group plans to open the Fairhaven site of its Southcoast Centers for Cancer Care in early 2011, and it expects to employ about 55 staff members at the building, of which about 40 will be new clinical and support jobs.
“Southcoast expects to fill most positions that become available due to turnover in the coming six months,” said David DeJesus Jr., senior vice president of human resources, in a statement. “We always look at each vacant position to see if we need to fill the position because we are under ongoing financial pressure.”

In the manufacturing sector, Precix Inc., the former Acushnet Rubber Co., has added employees and expects to continue to do so in the coming year. Its president and chief executive officer, David Slutz, said as an automotive components supplier, the company is on the leading edge of economic upswings and has seen business rebound since August 2009.

“Our bottom was 195 people in December 2008, and we are now at 259 and headed north towards 280,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

The Acushnet Co., which makes Titleist golf balls, suggests there will be no major changes, one way or another, in its staffing since there is little growth in the golf industry at the moment. The Fairhaven company employs more than 1,800 people in the New Bedford area.

While there is potential for growth in Asia’s emerging markets, rounds of play and purchasing activity in the U.S. are slightly down year-over-year, said Jerry Bellis, president of Titleist Golf Balls.

“We expect our workforce count to remain stable both locally and worldwide as we continue to work through these challenging and unpredictable times,” Bellis said in a statement.

Since January 2008, the early days of the recession, the New Bedford Business Park has welcomed 10 new business, and four other companies expanded. The new activity created 800 jobs, and the park could add another 100 jobs in the next six months, said Thomas G. Davis, the park’s executive director.

However, he added, “Most of the companies in the park are feeling the impact of the recession.”
September 19, 2010 12:00 AM

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