Selmian lives the American dream

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 2, 2004

Work hard, save your money, manage it well, get ahead &045; that’s the American Dream and for some it comes true.

It is certainly in the process of coming true for native Selmian Kelvin Cunningham, a graduate of Selma High School who is currently plant manager at Microwave Roasters, a small firm in South Dallas Industrial Park which manufactures a line of healthy snack foods that are heated in the microwave.

On Monday, Cunningham officially begins a new job. He’ll be working for Hyundai. He leaves for Seoul, Korea, Jan. 27 for six weeks of training. He will be responsible for training new employees as they are hired during the time when the plant is preparing to open.

His position is to be a team leader on the production line, which means he will have charge of a group of workers.

As it turns out, Cunningham just may be the first person hired from Selma to work in the new plant, which is scheduled to begin production in March 2005. He was told that there were 100,000 applications for the first round and that he was one of the first 100 selected for employment, and he was the only Selmian in that group.

Cunningham said he started the application process for employment at the Hyundai Hope Hull plant &045;

called Hyundai Motors Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) &045;

south of Montgomery about eight months ago, right after he read an article in The Selma Times-Journal about the start-up of the recruitment process. In passing, he said that he was an avid reader of The Times-Journal and credits knowledge of this opportunity to the paper.

Both he and his wife, Jacqueline, went through the initial stages of interviews and then one day an envelope from Hyundai came &045; with his name on it &045; announcing that he had been selected to continue the recruitment / training process. That process began Sept. 18 in the evenings at Hope Hull.

With Hyundai, he said, it’s not a matter simply of turning in your paperwork, having an interview and getting hired, but a process that involves interviewing, instruction, and hands-on experiences, with the decision gradually being made. He described it as a weeding out process.

Cunningham said he finally felt confident that he really was on the Hyundai team when he received the invitation to go to Korea for training.

Cunningham immediately went to work out of high school for the now defunct American Candy Co. After 16 years he had moved himself up the ladder from candy striper to fork lift operator to supervisor of the repack department. During a number of those years he worked part time at Wal-Mart seven days a week.

That’s when Steve Grossman, founder and owner of Microwave Roasters who at the time was part owner and in charge of operations at American Candy, took notice of Cunningham.

Grossman left American Candy 13 years ago to found his new company and in 2001 he hired Cunningham to be his shop manager.

Steve Grossman has that &uot;happy-for-you, sad-for-us&uot; feeling about Cunningham’s leaving. He’s happy that Cunningham will make a significant advance up the career ladder, and Cunningham himself is delighted that his family income will now allow him to put three children through college, an opportunity he felt he did not previously have.

On the other hand, Cunningham has been Grossman’s right-hand man at the plant and his leaving is going to leave a large gap.

But plans for filling the gap have already been made. Today is Kelvin Cunningham’s last day at Microwave Roasters. Monday his replacement begins her first day as new plant manager at Microwave Roasters. He’ll be on hand to advise her, though. It’s his wife Jacqueline.

Jacqueline says she will truly miss her husband, who’s never been out of the country, during his six weeks in Seoul, but during that time she will have her hands full learning the job that he has done so well for the past two years.

Of Cunningham, Grossman said, &uot;I’m going to miss him and would take him back anytime he wanted to come. But it’s such a special opportunity for him to be working for a world-class organization like Hyundai. His quiet leadership skills are outstanding. We will miss him and wish him all the best.&uot;

A postscript: Kelvin and Jacqueline belong to Second Baptist Church and have been extremely active volunteers in Habitat for Humanity.

They built their own house, along with about 18 others in Faith Park. They moved into their new home in 1999, and consider that experience to have been very valuable in moving them forward in their careers.