In three weeks, Dave Mathison will pay 150 people to pick his 40 acres of cherries growing in a Finley orchard.
The harvest season only lasts about 10 days, so Mathison must have his workers lined up to get the early crop of Chelan cherries to market.
He just may have his crew in place after spending about 31/2 hours Saturday talking to applicants at WorkSource Columbia Basin's annual agricultural job fair.
The owner of Camp David Enterprises, a fruit company located outside of Wenatchee, got 110 signatures from prospective employees and said many of them had family members at home who would help fill the remaining slots. He also expects some people to show up at the farm when they start work between June 10 and 12.
"It's really given us a good starting point for the base crew," Mathison told the Herald. "We're really grateful to the (WorkSource Columbia Basin) for doing this again, working on Saturday overtime to help the farmers."
The agricultural job fair has been organized by the Kennewick agency for seven years, and Mathison said this was his third year participating. Though he did see some return people Saturday, Mathison said none of his prospects -- men and women of all ages -- are required to have prior experience because he trains them on ladder safety and other harvesting duties.
"The immigration is getting so tight that there is a shortage of workers and it's hard to get people to come and work for 10 days. No one wants to do it," he said. "... It's not easy work. It's hard work. They're going to do some sweating, and not many people want to do that."
Like Mathison, WorkSource officials Joe Perez and Fabian Naranjo considered Saturday's job fair a success. They acknowledged the numbers were down from last year -- with about 220 showing up Saturday compared to more than 500 last year -- but said that some people may have been working during the weekend or already have jobs in place.
The day started with 102 people in line at 10 a.m., filling out applications as they waited for the doors to open, said Perez, the WorkSource operations manager.
The job fair was aimed at finding full-time seasonal workers for everything from field production to food processing. Applicants are able to save gas and see what all is available by having about a dozen or more Benton and Franklin County employers in one location.
"We had employers that felt this would be a good way of recruiting workers, and at the same time job seekers felt it was a way of connecting with employers," said Naranjo, a WorkSource employment specialist.
Since the weather has been nice, the production season is starting and people are seeking work to get them into the fall.
"So far, from what the employers who are here today have said, they've collected a lot of stuff. It's been a good turnout for them, so if they're happy, I'm happy for them," Naranjo said.
Robert Castaneda with the receiving department at Broetje Orchards in Prescott, along with orchard foreman Juan Manuel Ortega, met with people in hopes of putting them to work immediately.
The company has 500,000 acres of apples and cherries at the main ranch, and workers need to start thinning the trees this week, Castaneda said.
They were a little short on workers last year, so Castaneda said they were hoping to "expand our horizons" and get the Broetje Orchards name out there more.
David Flynn of west Pasco is the owner of a carpet-cleaning business, but he says that is his secondary income and he would like more stable work. He was at WorkSource Columbia Basin searching for job prospects when he learned of the fair and decided to return Saturday.
Flynn said he hopes to get on with Camp David Enterprises next month in Finley, but also had his eye on J. Lieb Foods for a forklift position in the warehouse.
"I wouldn't mind a quick two-week paycheck to buy some time until somebody gives me a call," he said of the cherry work. Flynn said he has reliable transportation and believes it was important to attend the job fair to get that face-to-face interaction with companies, versus just submitting applications.
Clod Roverzo, 17, just moved to Finley from Atlanta and has realized he can't enjoy hanging with his friends if he doesn't have any cash in his pockets. So Saturday, he was in search of any warehouse work.
"It's time to make a change. Money doesn't make you happy, but I will be happy because I can buy my own stuff and be independent," he said.
People who missed Saturday's event but are interested in agriculture-related work can contact Naranjo at 734-5285 or stop by the WorkSource Columbia Basin's Kennewick office, 815 N. Kellogg St.