DELAVAN

The general manager of the future Mills Fleet Farm in Delavan says he’s having no problems so far filling some of the 150 positions needed to open the store by mid-fall.

That’s despite nearly record-low unemployment in the region.

Joel Garcia said hiring has been brisk, with at least 20 applicants a day stopping by the storefront in a Highway 50 strip mall that is serving as Fleet Farm’s recruitment and hiring office. More are applying online.

The office sits just north of where the 218,000-square-foot store is being constructed. The company says the store should be up and running by mid-October.

Garcia said even though Walworth and Rock counties have unemployment rates around 3 percent—the lowest in more than 20 years—the applicant pool he’s seeing is from a 25-mile radius, including the population centers of Janesville and Beloit.

Some people applying for jobs at the new Fleet Farm want to cross over from jobs in other areas, such as factory work, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of luck (getting applicants) from the surrounding area,” he said. “Racine County, Walworth County, lots of applicants from Burlington, Janesville, Beloit, Darien and Delavan. We’ve had some people from a retail background, but also other industries, including the food industry and manufacturing.”

Garcia said since June, he and a human resources manager have hired mainly store managers. About a week ago, the store opened hiring for full-time and part-time rank-and-file positions. Garcia said many applicants initially showed interest because they’re familiar with the property where Fleet Farm will be located.

The farm supply and retail center is being built on the former Geneva Lakes Kennel Club and greyhound racing track property, just east of Interstate 43 and Highway 50.

NRB Land Development Group bought the property in 2006 and has turned it into a 200-acre, mixed-use development.

Garcia said the store could open with 150 full-time and part-time workers, but he believes it will hire more—maybe 175 to 200 eventually.

A Racine native, Garcia has worked for Mills for about a year, with his last job as manager of the Marshfield Fleet Farm store.

Wisconsin-based Fleet Farm has expanded into southern Wisconsin over the past few years. It is opening five stores this year, including one in Delavan and one in Kenosha.

The large-format retail stores Mills is opening include gas stations and convenience stores in separate buildings on the property.

Garcia believes applicants, particularly Delavan-area residents, are impressed by a company he says is bucking recent trends of downscaling and closing stores.

“When you’ve got a company that’s seeing growth, people see that. They recognize it,” he said.

The Delavan store should be open in time for “Orange Friday,” a shopping holiday set for the Friday before hunting season starts.

“That’s a big draw for Fleet Farm,” Garcia said. “We know Wisconsin loves deer hunting.”

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