Bell & Evans ready with jobs for 'passionate' Puerto Rican workers

Written by Daniel Walmer/Lebanon Daily News | Jan 9, 2018 11:07 AM

Scott Sechler Sr., president of Bell & Evans, believes the organic chicken company will have jobs for new Puerto Rican residents of Lebanon County. (Photo: Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News)


(Lebanon) -- A sudden influx of new residents might normally leave Lebanon County business leaders scrambling to find enough jobs - but the recent migration of Puerto Rican residents following Hurricane Maria has one of the county's largest employers smelling opportunity.

"The plant probably wouldn't run today without folks from Puerto Rico filling many of the jobs on the floor," said Earnie Meily, vice president of organizational development at Bell & Evans.

The Fredericksburg-based organic chicken producer's employee needs are only going to grow. It plans to add about 1,800 jobs by 2020 as it builds a new processing plant, expands its facility at 2929 Route 22, and constructs a new wastewater treatment plant.

President Scott Sechler Sr. said he became even more confident in those plans recently, since the economy improved and Congress passed a tax bill that allows businesses to deduct more capital expenditures.

"The timing is pretty good here," Sechler said. "We need people now, because we have a booming economy, and they're coming in now."

Sechler said many of his Puerto Rican employees are among his most passionate and disciplined workers. Bell & Evans provides all the training needed for most jobs, and all workers receive pay rates "well above" minimum wage and only pay $10 per week towards their health insurance.

The Bell & Evans expansion isn't the only reason community leaders are optimistic that the county's new residents will be able to find jobs. 

Not all of those who are coming to Lebanon are unskilled workers, said Kenny Montjio, CEO of the United Way of Lebanon County. Some are teachers and others who can contribute professionally, and many are coming with assets.

"It's not a poverty migration," he said.

There are challenges, particularly the language barrier that hampers Spanish-only speakers from taking certain jobs, community leaders said. It is also difficult for some people to become connected with jobs, which is why Puerto Rican native Millie Hernandez, who has lived in Lebanon for 15 years, is working hard at CareerLink to learn their skills.

"I'm trying, if they have a background as a nurse, or something, to try to see what they can do if they want to stay, because we need professional (people), you know, and I don't want people to stay here getting only food stamps," Hernandez said.

Organizations like CareerLink, HACC Lebanon, and the IU 13 are developing ways to connect the new residents with the right resources for finding jobs, said Susan Eberly, president of the Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corporation. If people can find the jobs, there will likely be enough available to meet the demand, she said.

"I think that the answer isn't necessarily all that easy, but I think that there's so many good things in place that the transition for some will be rather smooth," she said.  

About 90 percent of the people from Puerto Rico who have applied for jobs with Bell & Evans to this point learned about the jobs from friends and families who already work there, Meily said. However, the chicken company also works closely with PA CareerLink to find applicants.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Lebanon Daily News

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