| June 19, 2010 9:00 PM
POST FALLS - As an electrical engineer and being able to speak three different languages, Juan Marechelli admits it felt a little awkward walking out of the Wal-Mart hiring center on Friday.
But, after having no luck at area high-tech companies, he's thankful just to have a shot at a job.
Even if the jobs for the retailer's new stores in Post Falls and Hayden such as cashiers, stockers and maintenance workers are posted at $7.25 per hour, the state's minimum wage.
"I'm trying to support a family," Marechelli said softly. "It's work."
The manager at the hiring center and the company's public relations offices declined to say how many people applied during the first week and other information on the applicant pool. About 350 employees will be hired for the new stores, according to the company.
A steady stream of job hopefuls either applying or interviewing were at the center on Friday, the fifth day it was open.
Applicants say they will find out if they get a job at the Post Falls store near Cabela's in the next two to three weeks. That store opens Aug. 18.
Hiring for the Hayden store, set to open mid-September, starts in mid-July.
"The hiring process is going very well," said Joey Smith, manager of the new Post Falls store. "We have interviewed dozens of qualified applicants this week and we are excited about providing these new job opportunities to people in our community."
The center, which will remain open until mid-August, will handle hiring for both stores and applicants can indicate which store they're interested in working at or both.
"I feel very proud that I have the opportunity to work," Marechelli said.
Despite the local jobless rate dropping in recent months to 9.9 percent in May, he isn't convinced the economy has improved.
"I don't believe the job situation has changed," he said. "On one hand, you hear there's jobs. But, on the other hand, you can't find any."
Hayden's Julia Hannah said her husband's hours were cut at his job and she wasn't getting enough hours at her part-time position, so she has been on the job trail about two months.
"Anything I can do to help ease the pain," she said. "I'm capable of working, and I'll take whatever I can to supplement the income."
Hannah said that she's especially attracted to jobs that offer benefits, even if the pay is low.
"Even part-time people get benefits, so that's a big draw," she said of the Wal-Mart positions.
Associates are eligible for performance-based bonuses, health and dental coverage and 401(k) plan/profit-sharing plans. The waiting period for benefits is one year for part-time associates, and six months for full-time.
Hannah said she believes two new Wal-Marts in the area is a good thing.
"I do think we need the jobs," she said. "A lot of people are struggling to find work, even if you're over-qualified."
She also said strong businesses will survive, the new stores will ease congestion at the existing Post Falls store, cut down on travel and Wal-Mart's prices are competitive.
"The truth is, we need that," she said. "And it's the way the world works."
Applicant Jerry Breakenridge, from Coeur d'Alene, formerly worked at Wal-Mart and was a manager at Sam's Club, Wal-Mart's affiliate that sells items in bulk.
"It's not for everybody, but I've never had a problem with Wal-Mart," he said.
Breakenridge said his doctor has recommended that he stop driving trucks.
"I'm not looking to get rich," he said. "I'm collecting Social Security and I need something to do besides sit around the house."
Jan Voit had her second interview on Friday and she's hoping to be called back for a third in about two weeks.
"It's something to get me out of the house with three kids," Voit said. "It's time."