Prosperity has laid siege to Alexandria's newest luxury hotel, the Radisson Mark Plaza.
Confounded by Northern Virginia's 3.1 percent unemployment rate -- the lowest in the Washington area -- the hotel's management is scrambling to come up with a trained staff of 450 for its March 8 opening day.
"No sir, we didn't expect this at all," said Blaine Wilkinson, managing director of the Radisson. "We have high standards. We want the best people -- and I know we'll get them."
The Virginia Job Service, a state employment agency, had planned to conduct at least 1,600 interviews for the hotel by Feb 2. But by yesterday afternoon fewer than 800 candidates had turned up at Alexandria's William Ramsay Elementary School.
The first week of interviews brought only a trickle of applicants, so the Radisson's management decided to increase its advertising and make a special pitch in the District, where the latest available unemployment statistics show that 8.3 percent of workers are without jobs.
The Radisson's battle to find employes comes only a year after the management of the District's new J.W. Marriott Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue sifted through 11,000 applications referred by the city's Department of Employment Services. Long lines of unemployed workers waited to seek the hotel's 363 openings.
"It's not so much that people in D.C. won't go out to the suburbs to look for work," said Carolyn Jones, assistant director of the District's office of job services. "But the Potomac is a bit of a mental barrier. You need good public transportation and encouragement from employers."
Radisson officials says it has both. The Pentagon and King Street Metro stops are short bus connections from the shimmering glass and concrete hotel off Shirley Highway (I-395) near the Seminary Road exit.
But Ron Richardson, chief executive of the local hotel union, says that if workers shy away from the Radisson, it's something more than a transportation problem.
"The Radisson needs . . . experienced workers . . . . But the folks with the heavy experience are concentrated in the inner city and the vast majority are union members."
Employes of a union hotel would be reluctant to work for a nonunion hotel such as the Radisson, Richardson said.
Wilkinson said the Radisson would be willing to pay the going rate to employes from butchers to seamstresses to get the high quality that it has always attracted to its other hotels.
The hotel management also is offering on-the-job training, and English instruction for those employes who need to improve their speaking skills.
"I have looked all over D.C.," William Houston said earlier this week as he waited to fill out an employment application. "I would much rather work near home, but there is no work near home."
Houston, who lives in Southeast Washington, said he has restaurant experience and has been looking for work for more than four months.
The Radisson Hotel Corp. operates 44 hotels throughout the country and plans to make the 30-story Radisson, with 430 rooms and an executive conference center, its flagship.
Hotel officials have estimated that the payroll will be about $5.5 million this year, with Alexandria taking in about $500,000 in taxes and $600,000 going to the state.