LARGO — Walmart gets plenty of criticism, but there's no shortage of job seekers eager to work there.
That's apparent as hundreds of applicants make their way to a hiring center for a Walmart Supercenter that will open in January at the southeast corner of U.S. 19 and Roosevelt Boulevard.
Roughly 300 jobs are being filled by the hiring center, which will stay open through November in an office building near the store site.
"Right now, every position is open," said Ron Freitas, manager of the new 127,000-square-foot store. "We have four hiring kiosks here, and they're full all the time."
Expect to see more. Walmart is actively expanding its presence in Largo and the rest of Pinellas County.
In addition to the supercenter at U.S. 19 and Roosevelt Boulevard, next year Walmart also plans to open:
• A regular-size store at Missouri Avenue and Rosery Road in Largo
• Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery stores at Ulmerton and Starkey roads in Largo; Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Belcher Road in Clearwater; Gulfport Boulevard in South Pasadena; and 22nd Street S in the Midtown area of St. Petersburg.
So, what kinds of jobs are these?
Most of the positions are part-time. Some are full-time.
Walmart's average full-time wage in Florida is $12.98 an hour. The company considers anyone working 34 to 40 hours a week full time.
Full-time associates are eligible for health and other benefits after six months. Part-timers can get them after one year if they work an average of 30 hours a week.
Who's applying? Men and women, the young and the old.
"Some are jobless. Some are looking for a second income," Freitas said.
Perhaps because Walmart is such a large retailer, there's no shortage of horror stories about working there. Just recently, the irreverent website Gawker published several rounds of "true stories" from disgruntled Walmart workers trashing the company.
But many applicants are drawn by the potential for advancement at Walmart, which is the world's largest private employer, with more than 1.3 million workers nationwide. About three-fourths of Walmart's managers started as hourly associates.
"We're a large company and we're opening a lot of stores," said Freitas, a 15-year company veteran. "They want to get in."
That jibes with what many applicants at the Largo hiring center say.
"The benefits are great and the employees are personable," said Charles Griffith, 38, of Clearwater, who just landed a job in the new store's sporting goods department.
"I'm going to try and move up in the company," said Brian Schwan, 23, of Clearwater, who's applying to be a cart pusher. "It's a career more than a job."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151.