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Sam Kavkewitz, right, speaks with Wacker representative Jeff Zierenberg at a career fair at Chattanooga State Community College. Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Hundreds of job hopefuls crowded through the door at the Chattanooga State Career Fair to shake the hand of Jeff Zierenberg, manager of human resources and training for Wacker Chemical Corp.

Other employers such as Komatsu, Krystal and Mars Chocolate attracted some interest. But a line of eager faces stretched from Zierenberg out through the double doors of the event room, and continued to get longer through the morning.

Wacker is hiring 70 lead chemical operators, and has mounted a marketing blitz to attract the best and brightest to job fairs in Chattanooga and Cleveland. The company will eventually employ 650 workers at its $1.45 billion Charleston site.

"This will be the first-line leadership roles at the plant," Zierenberg said. "If you've got a degree, that's preferred, and if you have supervisory experience, that's preferred."

Sam Kavkewitz, an economics major from the University of Tennessee, decided to attend the career fair on his spring break.

He was attracted to the job after he learned about Wacker's focus on green energy.

"I'm just trying to keep my options open," he said.

Though the pay is good, the work will be difficult.

"This is not for the weak-hearted or the uncommitted," Zierenberg said. "To go to school eight hours per day and have to study for a year is hard."

Workers will go through six months of full-time training at Chattanooga State or Cleveland State, then will be sent to Germany for an additional six months of training. Training starts Aug. 1, according to Zierenberg.

The company has said it will pay workers a starting salary of $15 per hour during training, which could rise to $21 per hour if they perform well over six months.

By comparison, Volkswagen of America is paying its production workers hourly wages from $14.50 to $19.50.

Students in the Wacker training program won't be required to speak German, Zierenberg said. But they will train side-by-side with Wacker's 10,000 employees in Burghausen near the Austrian border, studying German customs and work habits.

Brittany Taylor, a freshman at Chattanooga State, came to Wednesday's job to get information for a friend who's "a workaholic."

"He wants the experience, but he really doesn't want to travel," she said.

She added that he'd get over it when the paychecks started rolling in.