|By Mark Peters, The Hartford Courant,
Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 24, 2008 - MASHUNTUCKET -- -- Katie Grieco is looking for some top-quality chefs who no longer want to live in New York -- or Los Angeles, Boston or Las Vegas for that matter.
"You're not likely to find a young, single guy -- which a lot of chefs are -- who wants to move out to suburban Connecticut," she said.
Starting this weekend, Foxwoods Resort Casino and associated businesses, like the Craftsteak boutique restaurant group that Grieco works for, will start hiring 3,000 workers for the new MGM Grand resort.
Foxwoods needs 2,000 employees for its MGM Grand expansion taking place next door to the existing casino and resort. Another 1,000 workers will be hired by tenants of the almost 2 million-square-foot luxury casino and hotel.
Most of the new jobs won't be as challenging to fill as the top position at the steakhouse, where dinner for two can cost about $200. But the sheer number of new employees that have to be hired before the scheduled May opening of the MGM Grand has prompted Foxwoods to mount a hiring campaign of rarely seen proportion in the state. Most of the jobs are entry-level positions such as cocktail waitresses, chamber maids and security guards, many starting at $9 an hour plus benefits. Foxwoods officials said they expect about a quarter of the hotel and casino jobs to be filled by existing employees.
The state's current unemployment rate is 5 percent. There is no comparable regional figure, but recent data show that unemployment in the New London and Norwich area is among the lowest in the state.
"It is going to be tough to fill that many positions, given tightness in the area," said John Tirinzonie, the state labor economist at the Connecticut Department of Labor.
Foxwoods is responding with billboards, job fairs, a new website and promises of training and advancement.
Although the MGM casino will be hiring some workers from New Zealand and Australia through a pilot foreign worker program, officials said they expect to find enough workers from within a 50-mile radius to fill their needs. That area includes Hartford, New Haven, Worcester and Providence.
The hiring spree is crucial to Foxwoods as it tries to build a luxury brand where the main attraction is not slot machines.
The huge new MGM resort expects to offer some of the glitz of Las Vegas, with celebrity chefs, modern hotel rooms and a fan-shaped outdoor pool with cabanas. It strives to be less about gambling and more about a luxury get-away pointed directly at the New York City market. Unlike the existing Foxwoods resort, the MGM gambling space is just a fraction of the overall property, which includes a 4,000-seat theater, convention center and 825 hotel rooms.
Exemplary service will be a crucial element to distinguish the MGM Grand and help bring a new clientele to southeastern Connecticut, Foxwoods executives said.
"The building is just a building," said Jason Guyot, director of operations and shared services at MGM Grand. "That will only get people to come one time. To get people to come back, it is going to be the service."
To find people to provide such a high level of service, the employment process will include a behavioral assessment to see if a job candidate's personality is compatible with the service industry. Casino officials say suitability for a service job could trump experience.
"What will make a difference, and bring that building to life, is the recruitment and the hiring of the right people," said Gillian Murphy, senior vice president and general manager for the new resort casino.
With competition cropping up in locations convenient to New York and Rhode Island, Foxwoods has seen its take from slots decline.
New competition in Massachusetts and New York is also looming.
"These larger gaming resorts have to answer the question, 'What are we giving the customers to bypass the slot machines closer to home?'" said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, a consulting firm outside Atlantic City. "Certainly, service levels are one way to differentiate yourself."
But will Foxwoods be able to find the new employees nearby, especially as Mohegan Sun casino gears up to hire an estimated 800 people for an expansion set to open in August?
And will workers want to take jobs while Foxwoods is fighting with table game dealers who voted in November to unionize?
Both casinos are confident the workers are there. Foxwoods said that, without advertising, its inquires are already up threefold. Mohegan Sun received over 1,200 applications for jobs in December alone.
"I think they'll probably make it, particularly since a lot of jobs they're looking [to fill] have a minimal skill level," said Edward Deak, a professor of economics at Fairfield University.
He added that the softening of the U.S. economy also should help as more people look for work.
Tirinzonie said the hiring at Foxwoods could squeeze smaller employers, making it more difficult for them to find and retain workers.
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