Sandra LeBlanc rises with the sun. Before downtown District traffic gets congested, and before the morning news is over, the general manager of one of the area's largest hotels is already busy checking on customers and walking the silent halls.

LeBlanc, 44, spends her regular work hours -- and many hours more -- at the Marriott at Metro Center, 775 12th St. NW, where she oversees the hotel's happenings, from guest comments and complaints to daily revenue. Since 1980, when she was 25 and employed as a front-desk clerk at a Marriott hotel in Houston, LeBlanc has been a regular in the hospitality industry, which employs more than 10 million people across the country.

For the District's economy, it is the fastest-growing sector and the second-largest source of private employment. According to the Greater Washington Hospitality Association, the industry supplied 175,000 jobs in the Washington area and 75,000 jobs in the District in 1997.

Emily Vetter, president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., said the hospitality industry -- which includes hotels, restaurants and other service sectors that see to the needs of their customers -- will continue to show strong growth despite the predicted slowing of the economy. Several new hotels will be opening in the next few years.

"D.C. has just come out of a dark period of abuse where there was this negative perception of the city. Now there's just a lot more people coming to visit the area, which makes it easier to sell it as a destination," Vetter said. "And so long as people keep traveling, the industry will continue to grow."

The Marriott at Metro Center is LeBlanc's third hotel as general manager and the 10th in her career. All have been part of Marriott International Inc., the second-largest lodging company in the world (after Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.), with more than 1,800 owned or franchised properties.

Although LeBlanc didn't graduate from college, she said a college degree is preferred, although "you're not limited if you don't have one." Six months into her first Marriott job, she was promoted, which made attending college difficult. Since then, she has taken several college courses and leadership seminars, and her goals include "getting the degree I started to get a long time ago."

ON THE JOB: Hotel manager

Salary: $100,000 or more

Education: College degree preferred

Experience: Hospitality management experience can be gained through specialty schools or a variety of internships.