Opinion

Editorial 2

A Region Ramps Up for MGM

Mike Mathis can’t promise you a job, although that hasn’t stopped people from walking up to him, the incoming president and CEO of MGM Springfield, and asking. But he can promise a fighting chance at some very intriguing opportunities.

In fact, that word promise is the heart of why MGM Springfield’s planned $800 million casino is appealing to so many locals. Take, for example, the host-community agreement forged with the city’s leaders last year.

The financial commitments — $15 million to Springfield up front, during the construction phase, and $25 million annually after that — are only the beginning. What really has locals excited are the 2,000 construction jobs expected in the short term, then 3,000 permanent jobs in the complex once it opens, as well as a commitment to spend at least $50 million dollars annually with local providers of goods and services.

Together, that amounts to a real shot in the arm for the local economy. The question is, will area businesses and job seekers take advantage?

It’s a more complex question than it sounds. On the vendor side, doing business with MGM — whether that’s opening up a restaurant or retail shop inside the casino or striking a deal to provide cleaning or groundskeeping services, office equipment or hotel linens, or dozens of other things — means meeting the needs of a large, Fortune 500 company and simultaneously jumping over the state’s regulatory hurdles aimed at anyone who does business in the gaming industry.

Neither is something many area small businesses are used to, and building capacity and navigating gaming-industry rules won’t happen overnight. That’s why local chambers of commerce are beginning to ramp up workforce-development programs for employers interested in securing some of those contracts.

Meanwhile, the region already struggles with a persistent ‘skills gap’ that has left many businesses struggling to find qualified help for job openings. Bringing another 3,000 positions into the City of Homes, although an obvious plus for job seekers, only exacerbates the skills gap, not just for MGM, but for the companies that will be losing workers to the shiny new casino and must scramble to backfill those resignations.

Thankfully, MGM will have a hand in this effort, with plans to participate in job fairs to promote the construction work and the permanent positions, as well as helping to fund training and workforce-development programs to lessen the skills gap, including endeavors to assist minority applicants, the disabled, and the chronically unemployed and underemployed.

BusinessWest, which supports the MGM project, has long believed that a casino, by itself, cannot be a panacea that will end economic stagnancy, but needs to be seen as one — albeit major — piece of a city’s long-term growth strategy.

We still believe that to be the case, and have been heartened by some of the other pieces falling into place downtown. And, if the Gaming Commission gives MGM the license (and if casinos aren’t overturned in a possible state referendum in November), more dominos will start falling as vendors ink deals, construction tradespeople get ready to go to work, and real-estate activity heats up downtown. And, of course, as thousands of area residents angle for jobs.

MGM is ready to come to Springfield — but are job seekers and small businesses ready to take advantage? It seems there’s work to be done on both counts. Let the competition begin.

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