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Concord, North Carolina Tourism Officials Discussing Ways to Find 600 Person
 Workforce for Five New Hotels Opening, Including 409 room Great Wolf Lodge
By Josh McCann, Independent Tribune, Concord, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 27, 2008 - KANNAPOLIS -- With five new hotels scheduled to open along Concord's Bruton Smith Boulevard by March of 2009, Cabarrus County tourism officials are discussing ways to develop the hospitality workforce.

The full-service, 409-room Great Wolf Lodge resort and indoor water park has moved up its opening date by several months to better capitalize on schools' spring break schedules, said DeSales Wagster, president and CEO of the Cabarrus County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Four other hotels are also planning to open around the same time.

With about 1,000 rooms combined, the new hotels should require at least 600 employees, said Terry Crawford, general manager of Concord's Embassy Suites, which opened last year along the same corridor. Crawford said he was challenged to find and hire the 350 employees who work at his 300-room facility. Unless local officials and businesses begin planning now, the new hotels will likely struggle to do the same, Crawford said.

"It's very difficult to find those folks over a short period of time," said Crawford, also a member of the Cabarrus County Tourism Authority's board of directors. "To do that, I think we're going to need a pipeline."

At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the board broached several possible solutions:

--Further education to train potential workers who are not currently qualified.

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College officials have identified training for the hospitality industry as a likely future need, said Jeff Lowrance, the school's director of college relations. RCCC officials would be interested in talking with hotel management if needs are developing more quickly, Lowrance said.

--Better public transportation to allow residents from the surrounding area to get to and from the hotels.

Wagster said a Great Wolf location that recently opened near Dallas bused employees in from surrounding communities, and Crawford said he has already met with Charlotte Area Transit System officials about extending bus service to the Cabarrus area.

Cabarrus officials are also exploring the prospect of extending light-rail service from Charlotte.

--Collaboration between hotels to ensure each understands the needs of the others. Crawford's hotel receives about 100 unsolicited applications per week, but he said he expects to lose some of his employees to incoming competition. Tourism Authority board members asked Wagster if a database or committee could be formed to address such issues.

Shortly after those are scheduled to open, the Embassy Suites is planning a 125-room expansion to be complete around July 2009, Crawford said.

Great Wolf, which Wagster likened to a "cruise ship on land," plans to employ about 400 people.

Wagster said 275 of those employees will staff the hotel portion of the operation, under construction behind Garden Ridge and BJ's Wholesale Club.

Limited-service hotels, which do not have amenities such as extensive meeting space or food and beverage service, require about 35-40 employees each, Crawford said.

Also at the board meeting:

--Great Wolf officials shouldn't have to worry about filling their Concord resort and indoor water park during two traditional slow periods. The chain's resorts generally see lower occupancy in September, May and October, Wagster said. Down the street from the developing Concord resort, Lowe's Motor Speedway annually attracts throngs of fans for NASCAR races in May and October.

--Three new events with a projected economic impact of more than $1 million each are listed as "pending" on the bureau's monthly report. The events are listed as the Amateur Athletic Union karate national championships, the national collegiate wrestling championships and automotive event Hot Import Nights.

The karate event would bring 1,800 room nights and about $1.7 million in economic impact, the wrestling event would bring 2,070 room nights and $1.4 million in impact, and Hot Import Nights would bring 2,200 room nights and $2 million in impact.

The pending designation means bureau staff members are attempting to book the event but haven't reached a formal agreement.

--Contact Josh McCann: 704-789-9152

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To see more of the Independent Tribune or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.independenttribune.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Independent Tribune, Concord, N.C.

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