BRISTOL, Va. — The first day of a two-day job fair brought a steady stream of job seekers to American Merchant on Friday, as the advanced manufacturer tries to secure its first round of production employees.

“We’ve gotten a lot of candidates. The response has been so good that we’re going to have another session; we’re planning it on March 1-2. We want to be fair — we don’t really want to make it first-come, first-served,” said company Chairman Robert Burton. “We’ll continue the process, have some interviews on the first and second and make some decisions after that.”

The company set up a website for people to register for a time slot for an interview on Monday, and all of this week’s slots were filled by Tuesday. People who just walked in were allowed to leave resumes or applications and contact numbers for the March session.

“We don’t want to discourage people from coming in and applying,” Burton said. “Over the course of the next two weeks, we’ll be interviewing and looking at candidates.”

American Merchant is a startup manufacturing firm that plans to produce high-quality towels inside the former Ball Corp. plant on Old Abingdon Highway. The company has nearly all of its machinery in place, expects to begin test production in the second quarter of this year and have its first shift operating in the third quarter, Burton said earlier this week.

Initially, 20-30 employees will be hired, and that number is expected to reach 100 by year’s end. At full capacity, the plant is expected to employ about 400.

Burton said the company wanted to protect the identities of all applicants, since many of them may currently have a job.

The company is working with the Virginia Employment Commission, Virginia Career Works and the commission’s veterans employment program, Burton said.

“They’re looking for their first hire of production folks, so we helped them design an event and market it, and we have partners here providing staff support,” said Kimber Simmons, business services coordinator for Virginia Career Works. “We try to help the company find a solution that will work for them.”

The interest stems from multiple reasons, Simmons said, including this being a startup business.

“I think it speaks to a lot of things. To the interest in the company, and we had a significant loss of positions with Bristol Compressors going out last year,” Simmons said. “It’s exciting to have a new company; there are some great advanced manufacturing positions here. The machinery they have is top of the line. … And it’s a great way for people to get in with something new.”

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