Residents and minority-owned businesses in Prince George’s are getting their fair share of contracts in the construction of Maryland’s sixth casino, MGM National Harbor’s top executive told county officials Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a group of Prince George’s County businesses filed a lawsuit claiming that the casino giant has not complied with minority-business contracting standards.
So far, nearly one-third of contracts in the $1.2 billion project have gone to minority-owned businesses, Lorenzo Creighton, president and chief operating officer for the company, said during two hours of intense questions about MGM’s “best efforts” to hire locally. About half of the minority-owned firms hired to work on the project in 2014 were based in Prince George’s, Creighton said.
MGM officials did not say how many county residents have been hired, but they said 19 percent of the 96,000 total labor hours worked in 2014 were performed by county residents.
The contracting figures exceed promises MGM made in a community benefits agreement that was part of the negotiations last year when it sought approval to build the luxury resort at National Harbor.
“We are excited about bringing this economic development to Prince George’s County,” Creighton said, calling MGM an “industry pioneer in diversity.”
“As we continue, there will be many more contract and career opportunities for minority business enterprises and Prince George’s County residents,” he said.
Some lawmakers and residents have questioned MGM’s transparency in sharing information about its hiring efforts and contracting process and have urged it to step up efforts to give more county residents and firms the jobs they were promised.
County Council member Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale) said there are still many questions. “Telling us numbers means nothing,” she said, asking for a list of the firms that have been awarded contracts.
Council member Todd M. Turner (D-Bowie) asked if the agreement oversight committee was independently verifying MGM figures. A contractor paid by MGM has reviewed the report. The benefits agreement compliance officer also is being paid by MGM.
“Let’s be transparent as much as you can,” Turner said.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, a group of Prince George’s County businesses allege that MGM and its contractors have not complied with minority business contracting standards despite receiving federal money and made promises to state and local officials.
They allege that the defendants — which include the county government, MGM, Whiting-Turner Construction, Schuster and Bulldog construction companies — made false statements and conspired to award contracts among themselves and exclude local minority-owned enterprises.
Specifically, the Maryland Business Clergy Partnership alleges that a large portion of the contracts was awarded to Lanham, Md.-based Bulldog construction, a company it says is misrepresenting itself as a certified “minority business.”
MGM denied the claims. “The allegations in this complaint are absolutely baseless, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit,” spokesman Gordon M. Absher said.
According to MGM, the company spent $64.5 million on construction in 2014 and more than $20 million — or 31 percent — went to minority-owned businesses. The company’s goal was 30 percent, Creighton said.
The full report, which was issued to the county-appointed committee that oversees the agreement, was not made public Tuesday. Its release follows mounting pressure from residents and business leaders who have complained that several qualified and experienced black-owned businesses have bid unsuccessfully for contracts with the project.
Creighton said the company has learned lessons over the past few months on how to help interested firms win bids. It is still a competitive process, he said, noting that the company is moving quickly to complete construction for a late-2016 opening. But, he said, the company is making extra efforts to contact firms that may not be strong on the business side but do good work.
“Has it been easy? Absolutely not. But we made that commitment to the county, and we are going to live by that commitment,” he said.
Some of the unsuccessful bidders, he said, submitted late or incomplete bids. MGM National Harbor has held several outreach sessions to provide firms guidance on how to bid for jobs.
MGM is required to provide regular reports on its contracting and hiring progress as part of its agreement with the county. Following its first report, the county council asked for more transparency and a list of the selected contractors and it urged MGM to redouble its outreach and training efforts for county residents and firms.
MGM said it will begin hiring for the more than 100 job classifications in early 2016. The company’s goal is to start operations with a labor force that is at least 40 percent from Prince George’s.
Arelis Hernández contributed to this report.