Long before the doors officially opened at 11 a.m. Tuesday for a mega job fair in Prince George’s County, hundreds were in line to apply for the 900 openings at a new high-end outlet shopping center.
Tanger Outlets at National Harbor is slated to open Nov. 22, in time for the year’s biggest shopping season. It brings a collection of about 80 high-end outlet stores, including Coach, Michael Kors, Brooks Brothers and Calvin Klein.
“I am glad we have these new stores opening in our community. We need these jobs,” said Melisza Coates, 48, who arrived at 7 a.m. at the Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Complex in Fort Washington to find a line already forming.
“These days, you need more than one job,” said Coates, a post office worker who lives in Fort Washington with two daughters and is looking for a second source of income. “Even if it’s just a little bit — a little will help pay some credit cards, for child care, for after-school activities.”
The new stores bring new jobs to rapidly growing Prince George’s County and an opportunity for the county to boost its profile as a regional retail destination.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has promoted projects such as Tanger Outlets as crucial to his efforts to lure more jobs to the county. He said Tuesday that the new shopping center will make National Harbor an even greater employment hub and a bigger regional attraction.
“For the first time, people are going to come to Prince George’s County to shop,” Baker said. “It is just exciting.”
The project, planned to be completed after only a year of construction, demonstrates Prince George’s rise as a regional competitor and its commitment to attracting new businesses and jobs and expanding its commercial tax base, Baker said.
Baker is also trying to bring a high-end casino to National Harbor, which he says would grow the county’s commercial revenues and add thousands of jobs. The county also is projecting that the creation of a new storm-water management industry could generate 5,000 jobs in the next decade.
Between 7,000 to 10,000 applicants were expected at the job fair, which continues Wednesday. Retailers and housekeeping and security contracting firms handed out applications and held one-on-one interviews for part-time and full-time positions that need to be filled in the next two months.
“In order to get the stores up and running, the hiring is going to be a critical piece,” said Christi M. Wallace, general manager at Tanger Outlets at National Harbor.
There is growing demand for employment in the area after years of a struggling economy. The unemployment rate in Prince George’s stood at 7.1 percent in July. The retail jobs could increase the county’s employment base and reduce its standing as a bedroom community where six out of 10 working residents leave the county for work.
Janea Cook, 18, a District Heights resident and student at the Art Institute of Washington, was applying for a part-time job to earn some money while in school.
Her cousin, Alycia Drummond, 19, of Suitland, who attended college in North Carolina for a year but left because of financial difficulties, said she has been looking for a job all summer.
“This is a great opportunity. If I don’t qualify for one or two, I still have a chance to get in five others,” Drummond said as she filled out several applications.
“I have to be able to provide for myself while I am here,” she said. “My mama is not going to be able to help me forever.”
The $100 million, 350,000-square-foot shopping center is 100 percent leased, Wallace said, and most stores will be ready to open the weekend before Thanksgiving.
It will be one of 45 Tanger outlet centers in the United States and Canada and the closest to an urban center, said Bruce E. Fry, assistant vice president of operations at Tanger.
“We expect it will be one of our top-performing locations,” he said.
The shopping center, just outside the Capital Beltway on Oxon Hill Road, will give Washington area shoppers another alternative for bargain shopping and offer county residents retail options they have long been asking for.
Shoppers looking for outlet bargains now travel to centers in Loudoun, Prince William and Anne Arundel counties.
“The county is prepared to elevate its retail profile across the region,” said Aubrey Thagard, a top economic development aide to Baker. “For us, it represents the fruition of a lot of dreams and aspirations . . . of improving the commercial tax base and bringing the type of quality retailers to this county.”