Roughly 750 people visited the Jackson WIN Job Center Monday, where recruiters from Continental Tire held an “information session” with applicants. The Hinds County plant plans to hire 50 people by the end of this year and between 450 and 500 in 2020.

Vehicles lined Frontage Road’s southbound lane in north Jackson Monday morning as job seekers waited to enter the WIN Job Center’s parking lot. As traffic idled, some pulled over and parked on the shoulder adjacent the busy interstate.

Hundreds of people visited the center Monday for their chance to meet with a recruiter from Continental Tire, a German company that in 2016 received $600 million in state and local tax incentives to locate its $1.45 billion plant in Hinds County.

“That’s why they bring all these jobs down here, ‘cause they can give you a little money … They get a deal — cheap labor,” said Devon Hughes, who saw a flyer about Continental’s “information session” on Facebook and drove from his home in Birmingham early that morning to attend. Hughes works on an oil field in Texas.

Continental Tire, which employs 200 people in Hinds County, has promised to hire 2,500 at the plant by 2028 — 2,000 of those jobs will be in production. While the company has not provided a pay range for specific positions, Continental said the average salary for all plant positions is $40,000, almost the state median household income of $43,500.

Most job seekers cited the prospect of decent pay, benefits and consistent hours among the reasons they attended Continental’s information session and hope to get a job there.

“I’m ready, ready for Continental,” said Marisa Traylor. “I’ve just been waiting on an opportunity to better myself. I’m just ready to grow. I can’t grow anymore with the current situation.”

For nine years, Traylor has worked for various departments and vendors for the Nissan Canton plant and has not received a raise in three years. She earns $13.50 an hour and supports a household with three children.

“I was younger when I first started but now I’m older, so you mature and you want more for yourself (as) your family grows. Your family grows but you have no more pay, so that’s how you kind of get stuck in poverty in Mississippi,” she said.

Traylor said she Googled salaries at Continental and found they have a base pay of $18 an hour in production.

“That would be at least a $5 raise for me,” Traylor said.

Jamal Rule waited for a friend outside the Jackson WIN Job Center Monday after attending an informational session hosted by Continental Tire. Rule hoped to meet with a recruiter, but he did not earn the required score on a career readiness exam., which relies on users to self-report their pay, lists an average wage of between $12.15 and $16.35 an hour for production and manufacturing positions at Continental — about $25,272 to $34,008 a year.

The plant has seven positions open today, none of them entry-level, but will be hiring 50 employees by the end of the year and between 450 and 500 in 2020.

Traylor took the day off of work to attend the information session. She said she arrived before 9 a.m. and by noon, she was still waiting to meet with a recruiter.

Hughes was unable to see a Continental recruiter Monday because he hadn’t taken the National Career Readiness Certificate test, a roughly three-hour ACT-style exam Continental requires before moving forward with an applicant.

The WIN Job Center, one of 45 resource centers operated by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, typically serves people applying for unemployment benefits or using its computers to search for a job. It also offers space in a back office for employers to hold job fairs to meet with applicants — but only those proven qualified.

By 4:30 p.m. Monday, 750 people had visited the center and 375 were “verified” and able to meet with recruiters. The meeting served the purpose of a “phone screening”; the company was neither interviewing or hiring any visitors.

In reflecting on the large crowd, Mississippi Department of Employment Security spokesperson Dianne Bell said, “You have a lot of people that do not have certain types of skills. Those people that don’t have certain types of skills, whatever job that’s available, it’s a good job. It’s a very good job. If they can get a job and be independent, that means something to them.”

“Once they get the experience in that job, then the experience will compensate for the education. And that will allow them the opportunity to move up and get higher and higher. So that’s how success stories are made,” she said.

Job seeker Jamal Rule also said he didn’t know he had to complete the career readiness exam, which he took several months ago but did not receive the score required by Continental. He was one of 125 people who signed up at the center Monday to take the test again soon.

Rule, a roofer, said he’s looking for more consistent employment. “We might be working two weeks here, we might be off two weeks,” Rule said. “I want a job job. I don’t want nothing that’s temporary … I need something that’s going to be everyday. I can get up and go everyday and I can get a check every week.”

Rule said when his cousins left Mississippi to find work in Texas and other states, they secured jobs almost immediately.

“When they find out you’re from Mississippi, they’re going to hire you anyway, because they always say, ‘If you had a job in Mississippi working for peanuts, what we’re paying you, we know you’re going to be a hard worker working for us,'” Rule said.

“Mississippi just don’t have no jobs, where you can be the hardest worker in the world but it’s not going to show on Friday when you get your check. That’s why I’ve been wanting to get away from here for so long.”

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Anna Wolfe, a native of Tacoma, Wa., is an investigative reporter writing about poverty and economic justice. Before joining the staff at Mississippi Today in September of 2018, Anna worked for three years at Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s statewide daily newspaper. She also worked as an investigative reporter for the Center for Public Integrity and Jackson Free Press, the capital city’s alternative newsweekly. Anna has received national recognition for her work, including the 2021 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the 2021 Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, the 2021 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award, the 2020 Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award and the February 2020 Sidney Award for reporting on Mississippi’s debtors prisons. She received the National Press Foundation’s 2020 Poverty and Inequality Award. She also received first place in the regional Green Eyeshade Awards in 2021 for Public Service in Online Journalism and 2020 for Business Reporting, and the local Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism in 2019 and 2018 for reporting on unfair medical billing practices and hunger in the Mississippi Delta.