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A Graduate of the Walmart School of Hard Knocks

Walmart Manager Joe Ferguson says Atmore residents have shown great hospitality to his new employees.

Walmart Manager Joe Ferguson says Atmore residents have shown great hospitality to his new employees.

Photo by Todd Douglas

Walmart, the biggest employer in the United States with a workforce of nearly 2.2 million people, didn’t have to look far to fill management ranks at its new shop in Atmore.

Out of eight salaried managers at the new 70,000-square-foot retail outlet opening this summer, seven started as hourly associates with the company, according to store Manager Joe Ferguson. The Walmart will be at 911 N. Main St., about 5 miles south of Interstate 65.

Ferguson, a 33-year-old resident of Bay Minette, has worked for Walmart since getting out of high school in 1999, first as a temporary gardening associate and then as Christmas help. He eventually put in seven years as an hourly associate, as Walmart calls its employees. After that he did seven years of salaried management at different stores.

While some communities have acted out over the arrival of big box competitors, Ferguson says he and his fellow managers haven’t heard a single negative remark since arriving in Atmore, where Kmart and a Vanity Fair mill made their exit some years back.

Mayor Jim Staff scoffs at the notion of Walmart pushback. “We’re delighted to have them. We’ve been wanting a Walmart ever since Kmart left,” he says, adding that the town offered land incentives, but Walmart declined.

The town has seen a revival with the Wind Creek Casino and Hotel, which has expanded regularly since opening in 2009. “The Poarch Creek Indians have done a great job of expanding with a theater, bowling alley and other family entertainment,” Ferguson says.

The new location is something of an “experimental store,” according to the mayor, branded as a Super Walmart with a full line of groceries and merchandise but no automotive services. “It’s because they’re surrounded by four bigger Walmarts,” Staff says, all about equal distances away, in Brewton, Bay Minette, Monroeville and Pensacola.

The store will employ 150 people, though Walmart declined to say how many would be full time. “Most of our associates are full time,” Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz said in an email. “Walmart’s wages are very competitive within the retail industry, with full-time and part-time associates making, on average, close to $12 an hour.  All associates — full and part time — receive quarterly bonuses based on store performance.”

Wertz says that about 75 percent of store management team members start as hourly associates. Managers earn on average between $50,000 and $170,000 a year.  

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