It was 10 years ago when Walmart’s massive distribution center opened on Alfred Plourde Parkway in south Lewiston. The scale of that project was unprecedented for Maine in terms of land moving and construction of a building bigger than 20 football fields.

However, it’s not the physical structure that is being hailed as most significant on this first-decade anniversary.

It’s the people.

A few days ago, four associates and four managers sat down in the center’s Red Sox Conference Room, next to another that’s called the Patriots Room. They were there to discuss their experiences in recent years. The four managers have worked at the Lewiston facility since its startup. Four have advanced to management positions in steps from hourly employment.

Rich Bourget, who is general manager at the Lewiston facility, said over 60 percent of the overall management team at the Lewiston Walmart distribution center moved up the ladder from initial hourly employment. He said the facility’s 519 associates include 271 associates with more than five years on the Walmart team.

These managers in the conference room were relatively young men and women, but the distribution center’s overall workforce runs the whole range of ages.

“We invest a great deal of time on development which leads to engaged associates and managers,” Bourget said. “These are the people who drive engagement.”

There was a common theme of pride and accomplishment as the managers related their experiences.

Jaime Barry recalled her start at Walmart, working mostly in receiving.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she would fit right in. From that start on the loading docks, Barry moved through four different areas of human resources and production.

Karen Murphy, who is a dry receiving hauler, began her employment at the Lewiston facility in May of 2005. She was at the loading dock and she moved the very first pallet of dry goods that came into the huge distribution center.

Brittany Parker, who is dry receiving area manager, came to Maine from Pennsylvania to join this Walmart team. She had a nursing background. When the Walmart facility began advertising for associates, she said she decided this presented a good opportunity for her and, she added, she was ready for “something different.”

Parker said in the very first month she was convinced she wanted to advance with Walmart. That proved to be true for her. She has been a manager for the past eight years.

“There are so many avenues you can go down,” Parker said. “It makes me proud to be working for such a respected company.”

Jena Kivus, who is the central receiving office manager, was a young mother in 2005 when she came to the brand-new Walmart operation. She began in central receiving and moved on to maintenance. She had high praise for Walmart’s education programs.

“They give you confidence in your abilities and chances to move on to the next level,” she said.

Ransom Hoar, who is a dry shipping order filler, began his employment in October of 2005 as an order filler in dry shipping. The gigantic structure is divided between warehousing for dry non-perishable food items and a refrigerated section for produce, meat, dairy, deli, and frozen items.

Hoar commented that he was impressed from the beginning in the way Walmart’s workers, from hourly associates to management, are always helping each other. He also said it’s gratifying to see the company’s involvement in the community.

Nesa Perron, who is the freezer dairy deli receiving manager, said her first day at the huge distribution was a bit frightening.

“I thought I was going to get lost,” she declared. She soon realized that “the opportunities were fantastic.”

Karen Murphy was among the very first group of employees to join the new distribution center. She was there to receive the first pallet off-loaded from a tractor trailer. It was a big change from her background of 12 years as a waitress, but Murphy remembered how excited she was with her totally new future.

Murphy also said she had a six-year goal.

“I wanted to be one of the first people to train others,” and she has attained that goal. She has trained many Walmart associates and managers on power equipment.

Laurie Bureau, who is an asset protection associate, started at the distribution facility in 2006. She expressed appreciation for the way the Walmart operation in Lewiston “seems like a family.”

Howard Jones, a freezer dairy deli receiving associate, remembered his first thoughts when he began his employment.

“Maybe this could become a career for me over the coming years,” he said.

Jones recognized that the distribution center offered solid job security. Not only does it provide its people with job security, it also serves to create more and more jobs.

Michelle White, a quality assurance associate, recalled how she moved up from hauler to order filler, along with Murphy and Parker.

White said the distribution center’s managers constantly aim “to find what works best for you.”

They all commented on the company’s commitment to rewarding good workers with appropriate pay raises.

“That’s a big thing here,” Hoar agreed. He pointed out that good work earns awards and recognition, as well as advancement up the pay scale as well as in responsibility. “The associates here are not taken for granted,” he said.

Jamie Barry said she is confident that all the associates throughout the Lewiston facility “have respect for the management.” That comes from managers being truly concerned about the people they work with, she said.

The managers’ comments also included thoughts from Jillian Fox whose career path included positions in receiving and human resources. She’s now the general manager’s assistant.

There’s quarterly training for all managers, with the ultimate goal of making the Lewiston distribution center a clean, safe and productive operation. In addition to that, Bourget said it’s important that all associates enjoy their work.

A majority of the Lewiston location’s associate are residents of Lewiston, Auburn, and several surrounding community. Bourget said some commute a significant distance to their jobs here. One worker has a two-hour commute. That’s an indication that they place a high value on Walmart employment, Bourget said.

“I’m working for them; they’re not working for me. There are great opportunities to learn and advance here,” according to Bourget. He noted that Walmart’s footprint is global which presents a tremendous opportunity for advancement.

Each day they deliver products to 130 Walmart stores as far north as Presque Isle in Aroostook County and as far south as New Haven in Connecticut.

“Because of the efficiencies here, we play a big role in keeping the costs of goods down,” Bourget explained. “We are impacting millions of people in our service area.”

There were some similar comments from others around the table.

About four months ago a feature story in the Lewiston Sun Journal by staff writer Dan Hartill outlined the $60-million project’s development and its immense scope. The article said it was necessary to move almost six-trillion pounds of earth at the site before construction could begin.

The Lewiston facility is one of 158 such facilities in the country, according to the Walmart website. Only three centers exist in New England. The other two are in New Hampshire.

Each is larger than 1-million-square feet with up to 12 miles of conveyor belts moving 5.5-billion cases of merchandise. According to the website, every distribution center supports 90 to 100 stores in a 200-mile radius.

Lewiston officials worked hard to maintain confidentiality before the project’s block-buster announcement.

In Hartill’s article, Phil Nadeau, Lewiston’s deputy administrator, is quoted saying, “Walmart delivered exactly what they promised.”

The story also had high praise from Greg Mitchell, who was Lewiston’s deputy administrator 10 years ago at the start of the project and is now Portland’s economic development director.

Mitchell said, “It was definitely a game-changer in the community. I don’t know that people today understand that or appreciate it. It changed people’s lives.”

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