ELLENVILLE – The lights in the Ellenville high school auditorium were low at the start of Monday's Job Opportunity Briefing Session (JOBS) as Empire Resorts' executive vice president Charles A. Degliomini introduced the 90 or so in attendance to the casino in Sullivan County, which many in our area had once fought to have at the Nevele. Still, you could sense right away that the crowd was older than might have been expected. Where there weren't baseball or trucker caps in sight, whitening hair caught the glint of the presentation's project lights.
The idea, from the perspective of those up front, was to provide updates on the Montreign resort casino project's employment needs, hiring timelines, working benefits, and "how best to acquire the skills needed to be hired for these positions" as Degliomini put it.
"An estimated 2,200 jobs will need to be filled before the resort complex opens in March 2018," the VP said of the rising complex set to include a casino, an entertainment village, a golf course and a water park... once it gets its license from the state. "Our success is going to be your success. By virtue of the casino, we want to create a middle class. Sixty to 70 percent of the jobs will be well-paying union jobs."
Degliomini mentioned on-site daycare, the international and high-rolling draws of what was being built, and the fact that it was all "25 minutes down the road from here." He made a swipe at other project proposals around the region, noting that none would have the assured draw of what was happening in Thompson.
A glance around the scattered crowd, where many sat in the back of the room as they must have done during long-gone high school days, showed several well-dressed women among a majority of men, quite a few of them wearing ties. Some seemed to be under 40. The vast majority appeared to be over 60.
Empire Resorts' vice president of human resources Fran Kneisc described dozens of jobs in marketing and public relations, security and surveillance, culinary and pastry arts, hospitality, finance and accounting, information technology and gaming. She said the resort would be opening a dealer school to train the approximately 600 dealers it planned to hire, with a second in Orange County. But there'd be no pay for such training, she added when asked.
"The heart of our organization is our team members," Kneisc said. "We are looking for team members who want a career, not just a job, who are engaged, who will help us develop best practices. Our team members will be providing guests the best guest service experience in the world."
Specific job "competencies" included much about computer and math skills, calm decision-making, good interpersonal abilities, critical thinking, strong analysis, a need to write adept reports.
"Marketing, marketing, marketing," she repeated at one point, and at another, "communication, communication, communication." Much emphasis was put on the public face all would have to be presenting to the world, along with the corporation's push to get people "growing up through our ranks." As well as the need for most of those joining this "whole city of positions" needing to "disclose everything" for needed gaming registration.
"We need everything we can get on your background, employment histories, criminal records, financial stability," Kneisc said as all whispering on the sidelines seemed to cease. "We need to know if you've been in arrears on your taxes, in child support, on student loans."
Spirits rose somewhat when the project's fast timeline was discussed. Most jobs will be filled between November and next March.
When Degliomini quipped that anyone who could spell his last name would be assured a job, one could see the small lights of phones around the room as people checked.
When asked for shows of hands, about two thirds of the room agreed that they were looking for work. Another quarter were looking for others. Half were from out of town.
Questions were asked about how to become a dealer, and what the pay scales would be. That was being worked out still, said the Empire Resorts reps, excepting the fact that "it will all be competitive."
Someone asked whether there'd be part time work. Most jobs would be full-time and shift-based came the reply, with lots of work at holidays. What about retirement plans? That was being worked out, still. How about employees trying their hands at the slots or gaming tables? Not cool... although it might be possible to attend floor shows and other entertainment. Where would high rollers, sometimes known in the industry as "wells," come in? Stewart and helicopters or floatplanes from the City, Degliomini said. Plus Sullivan County's airport. Finally, someone asked about an appeals process regarding background checks, given the confusion Google and other online searches could cause. That would be possible...
Degliomini talked about discussions he's had regarding employee transportation to and from the Ellenville area, as well as Montreign's need for worker housing.
Afterwards, several local business, education and government leaders talked about what they'd just witnessed. All mentioned the lack of young faces. Several mentioned potential problems the employers might find due to the region's opioid and other addiction problems. Others spoke about how the region, especially Ellenville, had lost its middle class, as well as so many of its young people.
That, all we spoke with agreed, was what this might all be about in the final run, as Degliomini inferred.
"We've got to attract families back," one woman said. "If we can't do it with jobs for our people we do it by providing housing for those with jobs."
Like the old days, added another older man. Like the old days returning.