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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

CityCenter extending hope on a huge scale

14 January 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Shellshocked from months of fruitless searching, job seekers showed up Monday with scrubbed faces and sharp suits at a large building behind the Mirage.

As many as 700 people per day will enter the building to await a turn with CityCenter human resources staffers, who will hire a Las Vegas record of more than 12,000 people over the next several months.

CityCenter likely broke another record last week, receiving about 35,000 online applications in less than seven days.

There wasn't any good or bad news on Monday. Staffers made sure the online applications were filled out properly and determined whether the candidates are seeking the most appropriate jobs. The positions will be filled in August.

Even so, there was a nervous excitement and a hush disproportionate to the size of the crowd. They sat up straight, waiting for their names to be called.

Among the candidates was James Imes, a former auto parts manager with more than two decades of experience who has been out of work for five months, and Prit Bajwa, a management veteran with Hyatt and Marriott whose job search began in July.

These men aren't new to the job market. But they're new to unemployment, having worked through previous downturns without so much as a blink.

For these and similarly situated people, it's hard not to be pessimistic.

"I thought, with my experience, that finding a job would be a cakewalk," said Bajwa, who has applied for roughly 130 food and beverage jobs in the past few months. Such hopes faded as his job search stretched from weeks to months, taking him into several casino job centers including those for the just-opened Encore and the upcoming M Resort.

Bajwa, who most recently worked at a ski lodge in Park City, Utah, moved to Las Vegas in October because hotel jobs are more plentiful here. He worries that his lack of experience and connections in Las Vegas and the gaming industry will hurt him.

As an outsider, it seems that who you know matters more than what you know, he said. "I'm always asked if I have experience in Las Vegas," said Bajwa, 48.

"You never get a call back" from employers explaining why they didn't hire you, he added.

Imes, a 24-year purchasing manager laid off from jobs at Ford dealerships, sent applications to every major dealership in town.

For him, CityCenter represents the "future of hospitality" and a way to get out of the auto industry, which is "extremely depressed," Imes said.

Imes, who is supporting a disabled wife, said he is willing to take an entry-level job with opportunities to move up.

"We did everything people said you're supposed to do, by putting away three to six months' salary. But we blew right threw it. I've never seen anything like this in my lifetime," said Imes, 57.

This downturn has older workers seeking jobs alongside younger people who have also been upended by the economy.

Nicole Hinds, 29, lost her administrative job with a major homebuilder in March and has been holding out for a job at CityCenter, where her husband works as an electrical subcontractor. She's seeking a job as an administrative assistant.

Hinds moved from Southern California four years ago. The buzz about CityCenter is big, even in California, she said.

"MGM (Mirage) is held in high regard and could catapult me into something bigger down the road," she said. "This is a new chapter in building my career."

Applicants aren't just locals.

Catrice Wall, 31, a former cocktail server, is hoping to get a bartending job at one of CityCenter's hotels. Wall grew up in Las Vegas, moved to the Chicago area eight years ago and ended up at the Empress casino in Joliet, Ill.

CityCenter, she says, has given her a reason to move back to her hometown. "There are opportunities here. You just have to look for them and maybe be willing to start a new career," she said.

CityCenter officials know they won't have any trouble finding applicants. And yet, the company began an advertising blitz last week that includes ads in major newspapers, national magazines, local TV and Internet job boards and networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

It's an aggressive campaign, said Michael Peltyn, CityCenter's vice president of human resources.

"We're looking for quantity, quality and diversity," said Peltyn, who sought about 10,000 candidates for the Bellagio, which opened in 1998 as the most recent MGM Mirage property in Las Vegas. "We want to cast a wide net."

The job center resembles an airport check-in, with a small-scale model of CityCenter, flat screen TVs with looped videos of architectural renderings and facts about the development's massive scale. That is, if an airport had smiling greeters.

It's all part of CityCenter's sales pitch to job candidates, which is supposed to be as enthusiastic as the applicants seeking jobs, Peltyn said.

"We want people to know this is not just another resort on the Strip," he said.

On that point, the numbers speak for themselves. The majority of the 12,000-plus jobs are divided between the 4,000-room Aria hotel-casino and Vdara, a hotel-condominium with no casino. Only about 1,800, or fewer than 15 percent, of CityCenter jobs will be gaming-related. About 1,000 of them will be dealer positions.

Tony Kadirov, a waiter at Aliante Station, marveled at the highly regimented process Monday. Lured by more lucrative job prospects in Las Vegas, Kadirov moved with his fiancee from Key West, Fla., in August. His fiancee has yet to find a job.

"In Key West you go in and you talk to somebody and you get the job or you don't," he said. "Here, it's complicated. And there's a lot of competition."

Many job candidates seemed happy to at least be in line for a job, even if they didn't walk away with one. Actual interviews start in February for internal candidates and April for external applicants.

"I'm excited to be here, to be part of this day," Hinds said. "I have to stay hopeful that things are going to turn around. I'm an optimist. So this feels good."

"I'm angry with our government," added Imes. "But I'm excited about CityCenter. Las Vegas needs a change like this."