LANCASTER — More than 500 people submitted applications Thursday for 35 jobs coming to Garrard County this summer.
Mine Shields LLC accepted applications at the former headquarters of the Christian Appalachian Project, a building on Crab Orchard Street that will house the new factory.
When it opens sometime in July, Mine Shields will make mine refuge chambers, the metal compartments with enough air, food and water to protect trapped coal miners for up to four days.
Mine Shields CEO Connie Hendren said 564 people attended the job fair advertised and staffed by Central Kentucky Career Center. The jobs will pay a minimum of $16 an hour.
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"It's been unbelievable," Hendren said of the response.
The majority of applicants came from Garrard County, but a few came from as far away as Maryland and Illinois. More than half of the applicants were older than 50, Hendren said, and about 75 percent were unemployed.
Michael Preston, a certified welder who lives in Lancaster, said he was interested because "it's close to home and it will be good money." He was laid off about a year ago from a plumbing company in Lexington.
"It's been heck trying to find a job," Preston said. "I can't find one anywhere. I've put applications in every business around here. Nobody's hiring."
Preston anticipated that there would be a big crowd, "but I didn't expect this many."
Darlene Spicer of Lancaster, who was laid off from plants in Nicholasville and Danville, was pleased to see a manufacturing employer come to her city.
"Jobs are hard to find, so when you get one, you need to keep it," Spicer said. "I've worked in factories all my life. I was a material handler, team leader and I did quality control, so I think I've got a pretty good chance."
Mine Shields hopes to add more jobs if it can receive certification for its chambers from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. That certification would be a boon to the company as it seeks to put multiple chambers in the country's 13,000 mines.
In its pursuit of that certification, the company plans to build a vessel that will test whether the refuge chambers can withstand an explosion equal to 15 pounds per square inch and a fire of 1,900 degrees, Hendren said.
The company also hopes to sell mine refuge chambers to China, South Africa and other countries.
In the meantime, Mine Shields will go through the applications taken Thursday to decide which people to call in for interviews.