By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
With an 18-story atrium towering over the banks of the Potomac, Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center is reshaping the skyline of Prince George's County.
Now the hotel and meeting place, the largest to be built on the Eastern Seaboard, is set to transform the economic terrain of the county, which has struggled for years to lure major employers.
Gaylord posted more than 2,000 jobs on its Web site recently, and next month, the company plans a four-day hiring blitz that is expected to draw thousands of people. Hiring managers expect so many applicants that they are arranging shuttles to bring people to the site, just off the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Gaylord has told county officials that it will hire 30 percent of its workforce from Prince George's.
When it hosts its first guests in April, Gaylord will become one of the top employers in Prince George's and the only hospitality and tourism company in the county's top 30, a thought that delights local officials.
"Gaylord will really diversify our economic base," said Kwasi Holman, president and chief executive of the county Economic Development Corp. Some of the county's other major employers are Giant, Safeway, Verizon and United Parcel Service.
Most of the jobs at Gaylord National are service-oriented and include such positions as sous-chefs, safety officers, massage therapists, housekeepers, hair stylists, maintenance workers and banquet managers. "It's really across the board," said Jesse Stewart, Gaylord's vice president of human resources.
Holman said having Gaylord in Prince George's will give the county an opportunity to draw other businesses and workers in the hospitality industry. "It will mean that hospitality as a career path is definitely an option and the culinary arts are alive and well in the county."
As Gaylord prepares to opens its doors, Holman said one of the county's main challenges will be to make sure residents are prepared for the opportunities.
The county is working on that. Gaylord gave a $1 million grant to Prince George's Community College, which the institution used to set up a Hospitality and Tourism Institute offering a wide range of credited and non-credited courses.
The hiring blitz, scheduled for Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, will come about the same time the Washington Nationals will be hiring workers for their new ballpark. A team spokeswoman said the park will need about 450 ticket-takers, ushers, elevator operators and other hospitality workers. About half will come with the team from RFK Stadium, and the rest will be new hires.
At Gaylord, hotel officials expect 4,000 people to attend each day of the job fair, based on the 10,000 online applications Stewart said he has received and attendance at other Gaylord job events. According to hotel officials, 13,000 applicants showed up in Florida, and 12,000 attended a "grand hire" in Texas.
Gaylord, which is encouraging online applications and registration, will shuttle applicants from Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington to its facility to prevent traffic jams.
"This is probably like nothing we've seen in the county so far," said David Byrd, deputy chief administrative officer for governmental operations, environmental services and economic development. "It shows where we are going as a county."
Gaylord has hired 140 employees. Some have come from other Gaylord locations and other hotels and resorts. And others, Stewart said, "came without prior hotel experience but demonstrated an ability to learn."
Stewart said Gaylord offers competitive wages and prides itself on being a good employer that offers medical, dental and life insurance, 401(k) plans and education reimbursement. The company offers other perks, including subsidized meals in its cafeteria, an on-site fitness center and pet medical insurance.
"This is a golden opportunity for our students," said Shelton Rhodes, chairman of the department of management, marketing and public administration at Bowie State University. "We want more opportunity for our students, not only after they graduate, but for internships."
Stewart said the company has had a huge response even without its planned print advertisements, direct mailings and billboards in Metro stations.
The influx of jobs comes as the county is experiencing a slight uptick in unemployment. The jobless rate normally hovers around 3.5 percent, but current figures show an increase, up to 4.1 percent.
Peter Morici, an economist and business school professor at the University of Maryland, said Gaylord's benefit to Prince George's will be based in large part on whether the employees live in the county and spend money there.
Jonathan Seeman, the county's budget director, said $16 million in income tax could be generated from the project over 30 years if all of the employees live in the county.
But there is no formal agreement with Gaylord to hire a certain percentage of county residents.
County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) asked that 30 percent of the jobs be filled with Prince George's residents. Gaylord officials have said that they will exceed those expectations.
"The lion's share of our staff will be identified locally," Stewart said.
Still, some county residents said they are not certain that Gaylord can live up to its pledge to hire local residents.
Olatunde Babayale, a businessman and president of the Tantallon South Civic Association, said he worries about the number and types of jobs that will be available to county residents.
"Unfortunately, what will happen is, they will bring their upper management from elsewhere," Babayale said. "We just hope that the jobs will go to the people in the community."
Staff writer Daniel LeDuc contributed to this report.