OXFORD – Based on the number of applicants for retail jobs at a new tractor store, the employment scene in the Oxford Hills area is pretty grim.

Tractor Supply Co. got 524 applicants for 17 jobs – only six full-time – at its new store on Route 26.

“Every one of them is local,” said store manager Jeff Hines of the employees from West Paris, Buckfield, Norway and Waterford. He said by far the largest number of applicants were from local manufactured housing businesses that have closed.

The Oxford Hills region, which encompasses Norway, Oxford, Paris and a number of smaller towns, has lost several hundred jobs over the past few years with the demise of Oxford Homes and Burlington Homes, both on Route 26.

Oxford Homes, which is now owned by Excel Homes, is expected to make a decision about reopening sometime in the first quarter of the year, according to the owner.

The Tractor Supply Co. store, set to open March 7, is one of four opening in Maine this year.

One is opening in Augusta on March 21, another on Lisbon Street in Lewiston this summer, and one in Bangor next fall, Hines said. There are already stores are in Scarborough and Skowhegan.

Groundwork has begun on the Lewiston store. Hines said he expects as many as 200 to 250 applicants. About that many applied for the Augusta store, he said.

Tractor Supply Co. of Brentwood, Tenn., is the largest retail farm and ranch store chain in the United States, with more than 800 retail stores in 40 states and more than 10,000 employees, according to its Web site.

Fifteen of the 17 jobs in Oxford are considered permanent at this time; six are full time and nine part time, Hines said. There may be more permanent positions if sales are good, he said.

“I do hope to have a lot of sales to increase my payroll budget,” he said.

Generally, each store will hire between 16 and 20 people to get the store up and running and then reduce the numbers for permanent positions, Hines said. The employees are told this before they come on board, he said.

Entry-level employees will be paid more than $1 above minimum wage, which is $7.25, he said.

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