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MGM Springfield

Looking at His Reflection

Mike Mathis, seen here with Anita Bird

Mike Mathis, seen here with Anita Bird, assistant general manager of the Starbucks at MGM Springfield, says the $960 million initiative has gone from being a campaign and project to being an employer and operator.

When Mike Mathis rode down Main Street with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno in the back of a Rolls-Royce (built in the city) on Aug. 24, it was the symbolic end to a journey that began nearly six years earlier. Or one stage of it, anyway. Indeed, Mathis, president and COO of MGM Springfield, made it clear that the journey continues, personally and professionally, as the casino works over the next few years to ‘hit its stride,’ as he put it.

Mike Mathis said there were so many high points during the journey to opening the $960 million MGM Springfield that he was having some trouble listing and ranking some that stood out above the others.

As for low points, well, he didn’t have any trouble at all with that assignment.

There was one stood out well above the others, and it brought with it some lessons — and humility — that served him well for the rest of the sojourn that climaxed on Aug. 24 when the resort casino opened, but is still very much ongoing.

It came in the fall of 2015 as the design of the casino, and, more specifically, its hotel, changed considerably — from a 25-story glass tower that would dominate the skyline to a five-story facility along Main Street that would blend in. And especially at a hastily arranged press conference to announce the change and the days that followed.

Mathis, named president and COO of MGM Springfield roughly a year and a half before that day, looked uncomfortable and quite defensive at that press conference, called after news of the design change leaked out in the local press and spurred a reaction he and others within the company were not prepared for after years of doing business in Las Vegas and other locales where such design changes aren’t really news, let alone confidence-shattering developments.

“Some of our naysayers took advantage of that and accused us of a bait and switch,” Mathis recalled. “Meanwhile, some of the folks that were more pessimistic about what our intentions were — despite years of goodwill I thought we had earned — seized on that moment.

“It was almost a condition of … this community had seen such a tough run that even some of our supporters thought that maybe MGM is too good to be true — the commitment is too good to be true — and used that change to say, ‘I told you so.’ That was challenging on many levels for me personally and the team.”

“It was almost a condition of … this community had seen such a tough run that even some of our supporters thought that maybe MGM is too good to be true — the commitment is too good to be true — and used that change to say, ‘I told you so,’” he went on. “That was challenging on many levels for me personally and the team.”

Elaborating, he said that he and his team members were all very visible in those days — and throughout the process — and some of those they greeted on the streets in the days following the announcement made their feelings known.

“I got a lot of personal flak on the streets, some of it not so gracious,” he recalled. “But that was a very small window and from a small majority, and that’s what I kept telling myself. And we weathered that storm, and we got the right information out. We didn’t handle it perfectly by any means, and I told the mayor that, but we got past it.”

Indeed, and on Aug. 24, Mathis and Mayor Domenic Sarno shared an energetic high-five as they opened the doors to the casino complex just before 11 a.m., capping a six-year journey that actually began in Brimfield, not Springfield, as some may recall.

Or at least the first part of the journey.

Mike Mathis says it takes two to three years for a facility like MGM Springfield to fully “ramp up.”

Mike Mathis says it takes two to three years for a facility like MGM Springfield to fully “ramp up.”

Building and opening the casino was obviously a long and difficult assignment, but it was just a step in the process, said Mathis, who told BusinessWest that MGM Springfield has gone from being a campaign and a project (one that officially ended on Aug. 24) to being an employer and an operator. And with that change, there are new responsibilities — for him and the team.

“That means thinking about the customer first, and everything flows from that,” he explained, adding that one of the things he’s most proud of to date is how the workforce, much of it without any experience working in gaming, has progressed. “There’s so much you can overcome in our industry with a positive attitude, and that’s been really gratifying to see.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Mathis, clearly the face of MGM Springfield, about the journey he’s on — the parts have been completed and the ones still to come.

A Solid Bet

As noted earlier, when Mathis, then vice president of Global Gaming Operations for MGM’s hospitality division, first arrived on the scene in Western Mass. with the goal of helping the company win one of the coveted casino licenses in the Bay State, the focus wasn’t on Springfield, but tiny Brimfield.

That’s where Mathis, who described himself as the “MGM advance Massachusetts guy,” first touched down and commenced learning all about Massachusetts politics, zoning, and more.

Eventually, he and the team would learn some other things — primarily that a Turnpike exit needed to make a Brimfield casino happen was not in the cards, as they say in this business, and also that Brimfield residents weren’t very responsive to the idea of having a project of this scale in their proverbial backyard.

“We mistakenly thought, because they host the antiques fair a few times a year that brings in hundreds of thousands of people a year, that they would be receptive to this attraction,” he recalled. “What we learned is that they like that a few times a year — to let their town get taken over — but they weren’t looking for that 365 days a year.”

Mathis and the team at MGM would learn many other things in the weeks, months, and years to come, especially the fact that they were not in Las Vegas anymore, and that things move much more slowly in the Bay State.

They also learned a lot about Springfield, which, in the early going, was emerging as a competitor to Brimfield. And the more they learned, the more they came to like the city and understand that whichever proposal emerged from the City of Homes would be a formidable candidate for the Western Mass. license.

Fast-forwarding a little, by late 2013, MGM’s plan to place a resort casino in Springfield’s South End was the only Western Mass. proposal still on the table after voters in West Springfield and Palmer rejected casino referendums and officials in Springfield chose the MGM option over two others placed into contention.

But still the fight wasn’t over, as MGM had to withstand a statewide referendum bid to ban casinos in November 2014, which it did, when 59% of voters gave the go-ahead to commence the casino era.

All that was left now was to design and build the facility, staff it up, meet a host of conditions set by the city and the Mass. Gaming Commission, and eventually open the doors.

“I remember the humility of Jim Murren walking into his [Sarno’s] office and saying, ‘mayor, we do these all the time, but we want to make sure we understand what your goals are before we even think about what we want to do here.”

Mathis, of course, was involved in every step of the process, and he recalls it as the most challenging but ultimately rewarding experience in his career.

“Seeing crowds enjoy this product that we created out of thin air, and seeing it serviced by a bunch of my friends and supporters and volunteers that I’ve been with since we were knocking on doors back in 2012 and 2013 … that’s as good as it gets,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s been the highlight of my career.”

As he looks back on that process, dozens, if not hundreds, of memories float to the surface — from attending neighborhood council meetings across Springfield to working with volunteers to summon the votes to defeat the ballot initiative on gaming, to visiting the Springfield Armory with MGM Chairman Jim Murren to learn about city history and architecture, and especially the influence of Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed not only Central Park in New York but Forest Park in Springfield.

And, yes, that uncomfortable press conference when the design change was announced.

Early on the in the process, when Mathis was still on the advance team and not yet the face of the project, he recalls watching senior-management members as they worked to develop a relationship with Springfield and its leaders — and learning from those experiences.

Mike Mathis and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno ride in style on opening day of MGM Springfield

Mike Mathis and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno ride in style on opening day of MGM Springfield — in a Rolls-Royce made in the city — at the symbolic end of a journey that began six years ago.   Getty Images

“My memory from those early days was how important it was for the chairman of our company to really understand what the mayor wanted,” he recalled. “I remember the humility of Jim Murren walking into his [Sarno’s] office and saying, ‘mayor, we do these all the time, but we want to make sure we understand what your goals are before we even think about what we want to do here.’”

All In

Actually, MGM doesn’t really do this all the time. It opened National Harbor in Maryland in late 2016, and another casino in Detroit a few years earlier. But it hasn’t opened many in this country, and hadn’t opened anything in the middle of an urban area like downtown Springfield.

So this was a pioneering effort in many ways, and for Mathis, who had previously done considerable work for the company overseas, in locales ranging from Singapore to Toronto, it was, quite obviously, a significant career stepping stone to be put in charge of it all.

To put that in perspective, he flashed back to the Gaming Commission session in early 2014 (he easily summoned the exact date, Jan. 24), when he was announced as the president of the project.

“There was a huge round of applause, and I recognized some of the voices in the audience saying ‘attaboy,’ and that was based on some of the relationships I had formed over the two years before that,” he recalled. “It was a special moment, and it really cemented for me how important this project was going to be for not just the company but the community, and they saw me as the face of it. And I thought that I owed them personally to deliver on the commitment; there was no way I was going to let these people down.”

He said the biggest challenges involved with coming to a new market like Massachusetts is understanding the local population’s experience with gaming, and its wants, needs, perceptions, and fears.

“We would go into neighborhood meetings and ask how many people had been to Las Vegas,” he recalled. “And not many had, and that told me that, to the extent that they know gaming, they know it in a regional way, and they don’t know some of the great things we do in Las Vegas, a lot of which is MGM.

“And that gives you some perspective on the group and the level of education you have to give them,” he went on. “Because I knew what the fear was — the fear was a slot box that would be cavernous and unimaginative and prey on the worst elements of the business. Overall, you have to identify with people on a very personal level and overcome some of the stereotypes people have from watching movies about what a casino operator is.”

Now that MGM Springfield is open, there’s been that shift he described, going from being a project to an operation. For him, the day-to-day is obviously much different, with a great deal of time spent on the casino floor.

“I view my role, especially in this early stage, as being quality assurance,” he explained. “I try to put on the eyes of the customer and walk through every space and observe every interaction.”

I do so with the mindset, ‘what is the customer experiencing, from the minute they enter our garage, or even further downstream — what are they experiencing as they travel on I-91 or the Turnpike?’” he went on. “‘What are they seeing for signage? What are they seeing in terms of access and traffic?’ These are all things I’m trying to see from their perspective.”

He said he will frequently engage patrons, asking them about their experience, their meal, and more. And many times, they’ll engage him because they recognize him from all those times he’s been in the news — and walking around the city, through the good times and the bad.

That’s when happens when you’re the face of the operation.

As for MGM Springfield as an operation, not a project, he said that, overall, it takes two to three years for a resort casino like this one to “hit its stride,” as he put it.

“That’s the typical ramp-up,” he went on. “There’s a lot of runway for us to do more business and more profitable business moving forward, especially as understand our staffing patterns, our peaks and valleys throughout the week and throughout the season, and what the customer wants and doesn’t want.”

Next Question

When asked what comes next for him — a prolonged stay in Springfield, a new assignment in another corner of the world, or something in between — Mathis said he really hasn’t had any time to think about that.

“The journey was amazing, and I’d be worried about trying to replicate it — if I could replicate it,” he explained. “This has been pretty unique, and it would be a mistake to think I could find another Springfield and do what we did here.”

And with that, he went back to the casino floor to engage customers and be engaged by them.

The journey has, indeed, been amazing, but in most all respects, this trip is far from over.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story

MGM Opens

MGM Springfield will open for business on August 24, thus ending a seven-year-long effort to bring a resort casino to Springfield’s South End and beginning a new era in the city’s history. In this special section, we’ll look at what brought us to this moment and what MGM’s arrival means to a wide range of constituencies, from those now working for the company to those doing business with it. (Photography provided by Aerial 51 Studios)

• The Moment is Here

Springfield Begins a New and Intriguing Chapter in its History

• From Their Perspective

Area Civic, Business Leaders Weigh in on MGM and its Impact

• An MGM Chronology

• Hitting the Jackpot

Dozens of Area Companies Become Coveted MGM Vendors

• MGM Springfield at a Glance

• In Good Company

Area Residents Find Opportunity Knocks at MGM Springfield

• Who’s Who?

The MGM Springfield Leadership Team

MGM Springfield

The Moment Is Here

groundbreaking ceremonies

Few in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremonies three and half years ago could have imagined how Springfield’s South End would be transformed by MGM Springfield.

Back about 1,300 days or so ago, several hundred business and civic leaders and other dignitaries gathered in bright sunshine in Springfield’s South End to witness the official ground-breaking ceremonies for MGM Springfield.

Analysis

Those in attendance that day would probably struggle now to remember what that area looked like back then. Maybe not. The former Zanetti School and the old correctional facility (known as the ‘alcohol jail’ to many) on Howard Street were considerable landmarks, and it’s not difficult to conjure up remembrances of them and other structures now gone.

More to the point, it was virtually impossible for anyone there that day to stretch their imagination and conceive of the complex that occupies that site now. We had all seen the renderings, but back on that warm spring day, those architect’s drawings were a long, long way from reality.

Indeed, even though the journey began well before that day, those groundbreaking ceremonies marked the official moment, for most of us, anyway, when the $960 million MGM Springfield project became real. And even then, it didn’t actually seem real.

This was (and is) Springfield after all, and in the minds of many, something this big, something this grand, something this potentially life-altering, just wasn’t going to happen here. MGM was going to change its mind. The Legislature was going to screw things up. Something bad was going to happen.

The city hasn’t really seen anything like this probably since George Washington picked that acreage on the hill above downtown as the site of the young nation’s first arsenal — what became the Springfield Armory.

But here we are, 1,300 or so days later. It is real, and is happening, even if for some it seems surreal.

That phrase ‘history-making’ is overused these days, to the point where it doesn’t mean much anymore. The talking heads at ESPN use it almost every night to refer to some relief pitcher, hockey goalie, or field goal kicker achieving some obscure statistical milestone.

But with MGM Springfield, it fits. The city hasn’t really seen anything like this probably since George Washington picked that acreage on the hill above downtown as the site of the young nation’s first arsenal — what became the Springfield Armory. The armory, as most know, changed the course of this city and this region in all kinds of ways.

The innovation and craftsmanship that marked the Armory’s early days — and all its days, for that matter — sparked waves of related businesses and an entire business sector — precision manufacturing. Meanwhile, the solid jobs available at the Armory spurred wealth and the construction of the large, beautiful homes that gave the city its nickname.

What kind of chapter in the city’s history will MGM author?

We really don’t know. No one does.

Back 30 years or so ago, the good people of Atlantic City hailed the gambling palaces being built there then as a renaissance, a rebirth for a city that had fallen on some very hard times. We all know how that turned out.

MGM Springfield is opening at a time when competition for the gambling dollar has never been stiffer, and the pace of competition will only accelerate as states and regions look to cash in on what appears to be a sure thing.

Only … there is no such thing, as anyone who gambles can surely tell you.

And while MGM Springfield is many things to many people, it is, overall, a gamble, and people shouldn’t ever forget that. And when you gamble, you can win, you can lose, and you can break even.

A lot can happen over the next few years or the next few decades, but we choose to believe that the city and this region will see this gamble pay off.

And while MGM Springfield is many things to many people, it is, overall, a gamble, and people shouldn’t ever forget that. And when you gamble, you can win, you can lose, and you can break even.

It will pay off in jobs, in vibrancy, in a trickle-down effect to other businesses in many sectors, and above all, in making this city relevant again, something it really hasn’t been for a long time. Remember, before that ground-breaking ceremony, there hadn’t been a significant private-sector development in downtown Springfield in almost 30 years.

Not every development will be positive; some businesses will definitely be hurt by the arrival of MGM, and there will be more traffic and hassles getting in and out of the city. And there is the very real possibility that many of those coming to visit MGM will get back in their cars, buses, and limos at the end of the stay and get right back on I-91 north or south and leave Springfield behind.

But for city leaders, the state, the Gaming Commission, this region as a whole, and especially MGM, this was a gamble well worth taking. In the end, we don’t believe anyone will regret putting their chips on Springfield and letting it ride.

Those are the kinds of words that can certainly come back to haunt someone, but we don’t believe they will. This is, as they say in this business, a solid bet — for MGM and this region.

BusinessWest invited area business and civic leaders to offer their thoughts on what the arrival of MGM Springfield means for this region. Maybe Peter Rosskothen, owner of the Log Cabin and a host of other businesses, all of them to compete with MGM in one way or another, said it best: “I am excited about the excitement.”

So are we.

George O’Brien is the editor of BusinessWest.

MGM Springfield

Editor’s Note: MGM’s opening on August 24 will cap a more-than-seven-year-long process of bringing a resort casino to Springfield’s South End. Here is a chronology of the events that brought us to this moment in Springfield’s history.

Original designs called for a 25-story large glass-façade hotel

Original designs called for a 25-story large glass-façade hotel; they were changed in late 2015 to include a five-story hotel along Main Street.

• Nov. 2011: Gov. Deval Patrick signs “An Act Establishing Expanded Gaming in the Commonwealth,” allowing for up to three destination resort casinos located in three geographically diverse regions across the state, as well as one slots-only facility. The act states that the Commonwealth will receive 25% of gross gaming revenues, and also creates an independent body, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, to oversee the implementation and licensing process.

• August 2012: MGM formally announces its interest in a resort casino in Springfield. In fact, a total of three proposals for casinos emerge in the City of Homes — MGM, which targets the city’s tornado-damaged South End; Penn National, which proffers a development in the North End; and Ameristar, which hones in on the former Westinghouse site.

• Dec. 2012: Ameristar withdraws its proposal for the Westinghouse site, leaving just two competing projects in Springfield.

• April 2013: Mayor Dominic Sarno selects MGM Springfield as the winning proposal for the city of Springfield, ending Penn National’s bid in the North End.

• July 2013: Springfield voters approve the casino project at a referendum, with 58% of voters in favor. The project is now one of three proposals competing to win the Western Mass. casino license, along with Hard Rock’s proposal in West Springfield, alongside the Big E fairgrounds, and Mohegan Sun’s proposal for Palmer, just off the Mass Pike.

• Sept. 2013: West Springfield voters block the Hard Rock proposal, leaving only MGM and Mohegan Sun in the race for the region’s sole casino license.

• Nov. 2013: Palmer voters follow suit, defeating Mohegan Sun’s project, leaving MGM Springfield as the only Western Mass. proposal standing. Had either Hard Rock or Mohegan Sun won voter approval, the Gaming Commission would have had to make the final decision — but the commission must still give the official go-ahead to MGM.

• Jan. 2014: Michael Mathis, vice president of Global Gaming Development for MGM’s hospitality division, is named president and chief operating officer of the MGM Springfield project. “I’m appreciative and grateful for this opportunity,” he said at the time. “There is much to be done in and around Springfield to bring this exciting project to completion. I look forward to continuing to build a team that will create a world-class urban casino-resort proposal and anchor a renaissance for this important Gateway City and the region around it.”

• June 2014: The Gaming Commission unanimously votes to grant the Western Mass. license to MGM. The commission’s decision comes after an extensive, two-year process of hearings and background investigations culminating in a final week of hearings and deliberations.

• Nov. 2014: The final roadblock for MGM’s development falls when a referendum attempting to ban casinos in the state fails, with more than 59% of voters giving the go-ahead to the Commonwealth’s casino era. The four-year process of opening MGM Springfield begins in earnest, with MGM planning to create about 3,000 permanent jobs to benefit the local job market.

• Jan. 2015: MGM Resorts International names Seth Stratton vice president and general counsel of MGM Springfield. Stratton, a Springfield native and Longmeadow resident, is responsible for overseeing legal affairs and government relations at the casino resort.

• March 2015: Brian Packer is named vice president of Development and Construction for MGM Springfield, and a groundbreaking ceremony is held at the site.

• June 2015: Springfield officials announce that Springfield will coordinate the casino project in the South End with the multi-year reconstruction of the Interstate 91 viaduct through the city’s downtown, which will delay the opening until 2018. The original target date was late 2017.

• Sept. 2015: MGM unveils a redesigned site plan for the project, abandoning the planned 25-story glass-facade hotel on State Street, in favor of a five-story hotel to be located on Main Street. The changes also include the reduction of the parking garage by one floor, and market-rate apartments being relocated off-site.

This rendering shows the revised design of MGM Springfield

This rendering shows the revised design of MGM Springfield, with this view capturing the landscape on State Street.

• Feb. 2017: MGM Springfield announces the terms of an agreement with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) and Spectra by Comcast Spectacor to become the exclusive venue manager of the MassMutual Center.

• March 2017: Hundreds of construction workers, city officials, MGM employees, and others gather at the future casino site to watch a crane raise the final steel beam into place in a topping-off ceremony.

• June 2017: Alex Dixon, a third-generation casino worker and former assistant general manager at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino, assumes the duties of general manager of MGM Springfield. “A big part of my role is to help facilitate and build a culture,” he told BusinessWest at the time. “And the only way you can do that is by touching people and having an opportunity to not only impart the vision, but listen.”

Alex Dixon was named general manager of MGM Springfield in the spring of 2017.

Alex Dixon was named general manager of MGM Springfield in the spring of 2017.

• Nov. 2017: The MGM Springfield Career Center officially opens for business, with mass hiring events commencing two months later — a period when most of the casino’s 3,000 employees will be hired. Under the host-community agreement, 35% of those employees will be from Springfield, and 90% from a combination of Springfield and the greater region.

• Dec. 2017: The Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, a joint effort between Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College, opens, with classes launching in February.

• May 2018: Passersby finally see signage for the casino and hotel, including the MGM Springfield sign atop the parking garage, highly visible from I-91. Meanwhile, a dome is raised atop the MGM Springfield hotel, just above the hotel’s presidential suite.

• June 2018: MGM Springfield hosts its final pre-opening hiring event, interviewing hundreds of applicants and hiring many of them on the spot.

• August 2018: Plans are announced for MGM Springfield’s Aug. 24 grand opening, which will be preceded by a parade down Main Street at 10:30 a.m. from the corner of State and Main streets, featuring the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales. The procession will arrive at MGM Springfield at 11 a.m., at which time the doors to the casino will officially open — never to close.

MGM Springfield

Hitting the Jackpot

For some, the contracts are truly life-changing, providing an opportunity to add employees, not cut back. For others, they amount to solid additions to the portfolio. In every case, though, status as an MGM vendor has brought with it a significant payoff.

Dennis King says that only a few weeks ago, he was thinking about selling off some vehicles and downsizing; a huge contract with MGM has certainly changed the trajectory of his company.

Dennis King says that only a few weeks ago, he was thinking about selling off some vehicles and downsizing; a huge contract with MGM has certainly changed the trajectory of his company.

Dennis King says that, from the day MGM first set its sights on Springfield, he became focused on doing business with the casino giant.

But he didn’t let this pursuit consume him, nor did he allow himself to get too excited, because, from the start, and to borrow a phrase from the gaming industry, King, president of Chicopee-based King Ward Coach Lines, considered himself a long shot. A real long shot.

That’s because Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield is his main competitor, and, outwardly, he thought his rival was, to borrow a phrase from his own industry, more or less in the driver’s seat when it came to winning a coveted contract to provide a variety of services to MGM.

“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought this was going to happen; I’m shocked we got this. I was told to my face that they were going to go with Peter Pan.”

So when he received that initial e-mail a few weeks back indicating that the casino giant would like to do business him, he stayed in his seat, but he was more than a little taken aback.

“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought this was going to happen; I’m shocked we got this,” he told BusinessWest, referring to a contract that will make MGM his biggest account. “I was told to my face that they were going to go with Peter Pan.”

The contract calls for King Ward to provide shuttle service from parking lots at the Big E to the casino the first few days it’s open, and also daily services (line runs) from Worcester, Brattleboro, Vt. (down through Hampshire County), the Berkshires, Holyoke and Chicopee, Hartford, and other Connecticut communities — three buses a day doing six runs.

To say that this contract is huge — the word King used himself a number of times — would be, well, a huge understatement.

Indeed, King, projecting that the opening of MGM Springfield would put a real hurt on the company’s line runs and charter service to the Connecticut casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, and coupling that with not getting the MGM contract (which, again, was his prediction), was preparing to make cutbacks.

“I had intentions of downsizing my company, selling off vehicles and reducing staff, because Mohegan and Foxwoods are big destinations for us,” he told BusinessWest, adding that now, with this contract in hand, he has bought additional vehicles — vans to handle smaller groups travelling to the casino but also other destinations — and projects that he will have to hire a new dispatcher and several more drivers.

Thus, MGM’s contract is a game changer in every sense of that phrase, and King is certainly not alone in seeing his future altered in a profound manner.

Rebeca Merigian can certainly relate, although the future is already here.

“The work is really starting to roll in; we’ve been preparing the wardrobe department for about three weeks now. We’ve broken records here.”

BusinessWest first caught up with her in April, when the ink was drying, figuratively but almost literally, on a contract for the fourth-generation dry-cleaning business she now owns to handle essentially every uniform to be worn by an MGM Springfield employee.

Rebeca Merigian

Rebeca Merigian says that a year ago, the focus at Park Cleaners was on survival. A massive contract with MGM Springfield has changed all that, and prompted her to buy new equipment such as the steam tunnel behind her.

At that time, she projected that the contract would double the volume of business at a company that had seen little, if any, growth in years, and add a few bodies to the payroll. When we circled back recently, as work was coming in from the casino in ever-larger amounts, her predictions were coming to pass.

“The work is really starting to roll in; we’ve been preparing the wardrobe department for about three weeks now,” she said earlier this month, adding that racks at the company are filled with chef coats, shirts for the table games dealers, suits for limo drivers, and much more. “We’ve broken records here.”

Not every business owner that is now an MGM vendor is going to have the kind of life-altering experience that King and Merigian are enjoying, but for dozens of companies, MGM, which is expected to spend $50 million a year on goods and services from local suppliers, has become a very solid addition to the portfolio, one that will give their products exposure to thousands of people a day and to individuals from across the country and probably around the world.

A partial list of these vendors includes a host of businesses, small and large, from brewers to produce providers; fruit-basket makers to a kitchen-supply outfit; a hand-dryer maker to a mattress manufacturer.

Some of the businesses, like Williams Distributing in Chicopee, have long histories, while others, like White Lion Brewery and the D-13 Group are startups or next-stage ventures.

As the casino prepares to open in a matter of hours, not weeks or even days, BusinessWest takes another look at one of the more important aspects of MGM’s arrival — the boost to be received by a number of area businesses across a host of sectors.

Lion Around

Ray Berry has already enjoyed a good deal of success with his craft beer label White Lion. Indeed, the brand has moved well beyond Western Mass., and is now statewide, having made deep inroads into the lucrative Boston market, with the north and south shores being the next targets.

Ray Berry, right, with partner Bill Collins, shows off King of Hearts Lager, to be sold exclusively at MGM Springfield.

Ray Berry, right, with partner Bill Collins, shows off King of Hearts Lager, to be sold exclusively at MGM Springfield.

But the contract Berry signed to provide MGM with an exclusive label, to be called King of Hearts Lager, is perhaps the most significant development in the brand’s short history because of the exposure it will provide.

“To be in a position to have our brand and lager in front of thousands of people on a daily basis extends our brand and our visibility tremendously,” he told BusinessWest. “And we believe that with the right approach, and the right strategic conversations, we’ll be able to broaden our relationship accordingly.”

“We wanted to present some brand standards that would be appealing to MGM Springfield and their team, and we presented them with several concepts. We went through several meetings, which also included some pilot taste tests, and we decided to move forward with the King of Hearts name.”

Berry said MGM and White Lion have been in discussions about doing business together for some time now. After the food and beverage lineup for the casino was finalized, that allowed the parties to take those talks to a higher level, with the focus on being creative, he noted.

The result was King of Hearts Lager.

“We wanted to present some brand standards that would be appealing to MGM Springfield and their team, and we presented them with several concepts,” Berry explained. “We went through several meetings, which also included some pilot taste tests, and we decided to move forward with the King of Hearts name.”

Thus, the bottle has two lions on it — the White Lion logo around the middle, and the MGM Lion on the neck. People will only be able to drink this label at MGM, but, as Berry noted earlier, visitors to the casino — and up to 10,000 are expected each day — will be introduced to the brand and, hopefully, compelled to look for it at home.

“When you think about the kinds of people who will be going to MGM — the global connoisseur, the festival goer, families, individuals coming in for events — all of them may encounter the White Lion brand,” he noted. “And when they get back to their respective geographic area, they may go to their local restaurant or package tour and be able to extend that experience.”

Bill Gagnon sounded a somewhat similar tone, only he was talking about a much different kind of experience — the one that takes place at the end of a visit to the men’s or ladies’ room.

Bill Gagnon says MGM Springfield’s order for 96 integrated sink systems will generate some real momentum

Bill Gagnon says MGM Springfield’s order for 96 integrated sink systems will generate some real momentum for D-13 Group, the startup venture he launched last year.

Gagnon is president of Natick-based D-13 Group, suppliers of Integrated Sink Systems, which, as that name implies brings a host of components together in one system, including the XLERATORsync Hand Dryer, produced in East Longmeadow by Excel Dryer, the company started and still led by his father, Denis.

MGM has ordered 96 of the integrated systems for its restaurants, hotel, and meeting facilities, said Bill Gagnon, adding the company and its signature product are still just getting off the ground, and MGM’s contract provides a huge boost.

“It’s a huge deal for D-13 Group, as a new company, to supply a brand and international entity such as MGM; to add them to our profile is a significant development for us.”

But the MGM corporation is actually a repeat customer, he noted, adding that the first real client for the integrated system was MGM’s National Harbor Casino in Maryland; the units at MGM Springfield are what he described as the “production version.”

“And in between, we’ve done some new jobs,” he said, listing the JFK Library in Boston, Red Rose Pizza in Springfield, and other projects. “It’s a huge deal for D-13 Group, as a new company, to supply a brand and international entity such as MGM; to add them to our profile is a significant development for us.”

Along for the Ride

The same could certainly be said for King Ward, the company started by King’s father, Robert, and partner Russ Ward. The venture turns 30 this year, and, as its president noted earlier, this wasn’t shaping up to be a great anniversary year.

Indeed, the company had developed a very solid business taking individuals and a wide array of groups to the Connecticut casinos and especially Mohegan Sun — it’s a few miles closer than Foxwoods and, said King, that makes a big difference (Mohegan has been the company’s biggest destination) — and much of that business was generated from the Greater Springfield area.

With the arrival of MGM Springfield, King was projecting that many of those customers would be gambling closer to home, and a decent number wouldn’t need a bus to get there. Couple that with not getting the MGM contract, and things were looking quite glum.

But then, King got that e-mail from a consultant working for MGM who essentially started the dialogue that led to the contract. Things didn’t happen overnight, or even over a few nights, for that matter — there were some serious negotiations over specific routes — but the deal got done, as they say.

And it’s a huge deal for King Ward, which is located just a few hundred yards from the runways at Westover Air Reserve Base and has carved out a nice business dominated by charters to destinations ranging from the Bronx Zoo to Fenway Park.

The contract provides a steady stream of income, said King, and the timing of many line runs — the buses drop off passengers at 9:30 and pick them up at 2:30 p.m. — allows the company to deploy its buses elsewhere during that stretch, perhaps for charters to MGM Springfield.

“This is the biggest thing that will ever happen to our company,” he said.

Rebeca Merigian could likely say the same thing. Park Cleaners has had big customers in the past, including MassMutual, but nothing like this. Each of the 3,000 MGM employees will have three uniforms, and Park will handle all of that. But there is also dry cleaning coming in from employees, and new business opportunities developing, such as work for the meeting facilities at the casino complex.

The volume became so great so quickly — “we’re pushing about 500 pieces a day, and they haven’t opened yet” — the company bought some new equipment, specifically a so-called ‘steam tunnel,’ and has plans to add additional workers. Regular customers are happier because the company is now open Saturdays and Sundays.

Meanwhile, the van the company has long used to make its deliveries is no longer sufficient, said Merigian, adding that among all the other things she’s doing, she’s researching 24-foot box trucks.

All this represents quite a reversal of fortune.

“A year ago, we were talking about survival,” she said. “Now, it’s about managing this incredible surge in volume; it’s amazing.”

Cashing In

While a comparatively small company, King Ward had already made its mark in this region, becoming the transportation provider for a host of area institutions, ranging from Mount Holyoke College to the Springfield Thunderbirds.

There are buses at the company’s terminal wrapped in those clients’ logos and colors, said King, and soon they’ll be joined by a few bearing the MGM lion.

The company won’t be charging MGM for the cost of the wrap jobs, he noted, adding that this perhaps the least he can do for a client — and a contract — that has changed the trajectory of the company in, well, a huge way.

There are a few other area businesses enjoying a similar life-altering experience, and for dozens more, MGM is providing a tremendous lift.

In a few days, visitors to the casino complex can dream about hitting the jackpot; several area businesses already have.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

MGM Springfield

Editor’s Note: From the beginning, MGM Springfield has touted its $960 million resort casino as, well, much more than a casino, and as the property gets set to open, one can clearly see that this is the case. Here is a quick glimpse at the South End property and all that it will offer visitors:

The Casino

The expansive 125,000-square-foot gaming floor will feature approximately 2,550 slot machines, 120 gaming tables, a poker room and high-limit VIP gaming area for a variety of experiences.

Accomodations

• The boutique-style five-story hotel will feature 250 eclectic guestrooms inspired by the historic significance, iconic architecture and literary legacy of its urban surroundings. Each space is punctuated by details such as quotations from the works of Emily Dickinson and whimsical Merriam-Webster-inspired works of art.

Dining Experiences

MGM Springfield will offer an array of new-to-market food and beverage spots, including:

• Cal Mare: Award-winning celebrity chef Michael Mina will introduce a must-experience restaurant to the New England dining scene with Cal Mare, an Italian concept evoking the vibrant seaside elegance of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. With accolades including James Beard Foundation “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage” inductee in 2013, Gayot Restaurateur of the Year 2011, Bon Appétit Chef of the Year 2005 and more, Mina continues to dazzle the culinary world with bold dining concepts. For Cal Mare, Mina and MINA Group are collaborating with San Francisco’s Chef of the Year Adam Sobel, for whom the concept has been a passion project for several years. Seafood from the Mediterranean and Pacific Ocean will be essential menu offerings, as well as fresh handmade pastas and brick-oven pizzas. Charcoal grilled fish, crudos and lighter Italian cuisine will inspire the restaurant’s colorful menu, while the beverage program will spotlight coastal Italian wines and an extensive list of Amari including house-made limoncellos and craft cocktails.

• The Chandler Steakhouse: The name and location of The Chandler Steakhouse hold a special place in Springfield history. The restaurant is located in the former Union House Hotel — later renamed the Chandler Hotel — which was preserved as part of the development of MGM Springfield and incorporated into the new resort. Guests will savor the finest seafood and steaks at The Chandler Steakhouse, which will be helmed by Hell’s Kitchen season-14 winner, Meghan Gill. The restaurant will offer cuts of meat made with 100% Midwest Angus beef that has been dry aged in-house for 21 days. Guests will watch their dinner as it is prepared over an open mesquite charcoal broiler through a glass-walled kitchen serving signature dishes such as northwest salmon, whole steamed lobster or a tomahawk ribeye.

• TAP Sports Bar: Building off the success it found at MGM Grand Las Vegas, MGM Grand Detroit and MGM National Harbor, TAP Sports Bar will make its mark on downtown Springfield. TAP will feature a 10-lane bowling alley, arcade, and beer garden, and fans can keep up with live game action on state-of-the-art HD TVs, as well as a massive video wall featuring 32 screens that can operate individually or as one giant image. Hundreds of hand-selected, vintage memorabilia pieces will be displayed prominently in the bar and dining areas, all carefully chosen to represent the surrounding area’s deeply rooted sports history. Adjacent to the sports bar, TAP’s arcade and bowling alley will be energetic and eclectic gathering spots for gaming, drinking and socializing. The space also will house a playful area featuring vintage video games, billiards, shuffleboard, air hockey and foosball. TAP will serve up Springfield-inspired menu items, including TAP’s Hall of Fame Burger, signature wings and Reubens. Beer aficionados will appreciate the vast varietals on tap and draft at TAP’s beer garden, which also will showcase local brewery partners.

• South End Market: Adding a gourmet twist to the classic food hall, the bustling South End Market will feature a variety of quick-casual dining spots. Located off Main Street, the Market will house Wicked Noodles, a pan-Asian restaurant; Jack’s Lobster Shack, offering lobster rolls and New England-style clam chowder; an all-American eatery at Bill’s Diner; and healthy options at the Hearth Grill. Additionally, guests will be able to sit and sip at a Wine & Cheese bar or satisfy their sweet tooth at a Gelato & Espresso counter.

Meeting Facilities

In addition to large-scale convention capabilities at MassMutual Center, MGM Springfield will offer approximately 34,000 square feet of space to accommodate meetings and events ranging from business to social gatherings. The meeting and event center will feature ballrooms, meeting rooms and boardrooms adjacent to a 6,200-square-foot outdoor terrace that will flood pre-function areas with natural light. All meeting spaces will incorporate sister property names highlighting the resort’s connection to other top destinations around the country: The 10,600-square-foot ARIA Ballroom; 5,600-square-foot Bellagio Ballroom; 1,000-square-foot Borgata Meeting Room; and the 1,000-square-foot Beau Rivage Boardroom. For larger groups, the nearby MassMutual Center offers 100,000 square feet of large-scale event space.

Retail

MGM Springfield will offer a retail lineup with a decidedly local flavor, with:

• Indian Motorcycle: The Springfield-born pioneers of the American motorcycle industry, will debut the brand’s first-ever apparel store as an anchor tenant of MGM Springfield. retail collection. The store will offer items from the brand’s casual apparel line, the Indian Motorcycle 1901 Fashion Collection, which includes graphic tees, sweatshirts, hoodies and jackets inspired by Indian Motorcycle’s rich heritage. Indian Motorcycle jewelry and accessories also will be available for purchase. Mirroring the aesthetic of the store’s product lines, the space will feature an industrial-yet-modern vibe with exposed, vaulted ceilings and concrete and wood elements.

•Hannoush Jewelers: Founded in Springfield in 1980, Hannoush Jewelers is a family-owned and operated business. The MGM Springfield location will be a flagship for the expanding brand that boasts more than 50 locations throughout Massachusetts. Guests can expect to find pieces from sought-after designers such as Tacori, Breitling, Alex and Ani, Pandora and more.

• Kringle Candle: Kringle Candle unites heritage and innovation in its signature line of all-white, ultra-fragrant, pure-burning candles. The Springfield boutique will be situated in the First Spiritualist Church space (a historic High Victorian Gothic church that was literally lifted from its foundation and relocated approximately 600 feet to its new permanent home). It will draw inspiration from Kringle Candle’s thriving Bernardston shopping destination, featuring candles, eclectic gifts, keepsakes and chocolates alongside a gourmet café offering sandwiches, salads and pastries for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Entertainment

The 8,000-seat MassMutual Center is MGM Springfield’s official entertainment venue, serving as the home for large-scale conventions and events. MGM Springfield also will partner with other local venues, such as Symphony Hall, for live events;

More Entertainment

Guests can tee up at MGM Springfield’s Topgolf® Swing Suite, a new social gathering spot featuring high-tech immersive golf simulators and a lively lounge with delicious food and beverage offerings. The resort also will feature an eight-screen movie theater complex; 10-lane bowling center; serene spa; and an 8,000-square-foot pool situated within a terraced rooftop garden.

Open Air Plaza

Inspired by the classic New England town common, MGM Springfield will create a lively outdoor plaza and thriving public space, with the iconic 19th century Springfield Armory at its center. The historic United States arsenal will provide the backdrop for the open-air marketplace, which will feature live events, local artisans, farmers markets and seasonal programming including an outdoor ice rink. The plaza will become the anchor for the neighborhood’s pedestrian crowd, encouraging guests to explore the many local businesses and attractions nearby.

Art

Woven through all elements of the resort, a public fine art program inspired by the industrial ethos of Springfield will feature a captivating collection of commissioned and hand-selected pieces by international and local artists from Springfield, the greater Berkshires, New England and beyond. The property also will feature an exclusive exhibit, “Cabinet of Curiosities: Springfield Innovations from the Springfield Museums,” curated in partnership with the Springfield Museums to showcase turn-of-the-century objects throughout the resort, such as a 1925 Edison Western Union Stock Ticker, a 1915 Springfield-made Telegraphone, and an 1895 Edison Home Phonograph.

MGM Springfield

In Good Company

Editor’s Note: From the start, one of the main focal points of the discussion involving MGM Springfield has been the employment opportunities it will bring to the region. Overall, MGM has had to fill roughly 3,000 positions, and it’s filled most of them with residents of the 413. With each job awarded, there is a story. Here are five of them:

Karisma Roach

Karisma Roach

Name: Karisma Roach
Age: 24
Residence: Springfield
Position: Cage Cashier

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

I’ve been looking for a better job opportunity for so long and it is finally here. When I came from St. Thomas a couple years ago I never thought I would have the opportunity to build my career at such an amazing company.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

This feels just like a dream come true. This is my first full-time and steady job. I remember I cried when I got the position, because I really needed it. I have no words to describe how I feel. But I feel like I’m part of MGM Springfield. I love the management and the staff.”

 

Keishla Morales

Keishla Morales

Name: Keishla Morales
Age: 21
Residence: Springfield
Position: Table Games Dealer

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

First of all, I think that MGM is one of the biggest companies worldwide, but most of all in United States. I am taking advantage of the opportunity of working for the first casino at Springfield. This is my reward for all my hard-work successfully completing the Blackjack and Carnival Games courses at MCCTI.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

This opportunity means EVERYTHING to me. I have never gambled before, but now I love dealing cards. I’m thankful for all the instructors that helped me out in the process. I’ve had so many struggles in my short life, but being part of this company makes me feel that I can finally take control and secure my future. It makes me feel that I will be able to raise and provide my daughter everything she needs. I’m very happy to finally be here. I look forward to being in the casino life and meet all my co-workers. This experience makes me feel excited, comfortable, but most of all thankful.”

Miguel Figueroa

Miguel Figueroa

Name: Miguel Figueroa
Age: 43
Residence: Longmeadow
Position: Executive Chef at TAP Sports Bar

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

I saw the opportunity to grow and the stability the company provides. It’s exciting to grow a concept like TAP. I’m very lucky to lead an outlet like this. I’ve been to Vegas a few times, and I thought it would be great to have something like that in Springfield. It was a no-brainer when I was asked to join the team.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

This means a lot. It solidifies that I have made it far, and my hard work has paid off. Running this operation means the world to me, and gives me a sense of pride. Leading one of the outlets the casino has is the ultimate goal as a chef. It separates the good from the great. I feel like I have arrived.

Timothy Mock

Timothy Mock

Name: Timothy Mock
Age: 40
Residence: Connecticut (Moving to Springfield)
Position: Security Officer

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

I wanted to be a part of the SHOW. I am a people person, and I love helping people. I wanted to meet different types of people from all different cultures, and MGM provides that. I wanted to be a part of it all.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

Working here allows me to be me. I’m fun-loving, outgoing, and I love life. This is who I am. I appreciate MGM for giving me this opportunity. It’s dear to my heart. Being chosen to be a part of this family is very special, and I get to embark on this journey of my life.

Jonathan De Arce

Jonathan De Arce

Name: Jonathan De Arce
Age: 32
Residence: Springfield
Position: Executive chef for the South End Market

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

Because I’m from Springfield! I heard about this property since the beginning. I went to Boston for five years, I gained experience, and as soon as I knew that this was real I knew it was my opportunity to come back. I know what MGM Springfield means to the area, I’m aware of where this city has been, and excited about where it is going to be very soon.

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

It means everything! The possibilities are endless. Learning from all the leaders, being able to receive training in Vegas, visiting other properties, meeting all the Executives, this is definitely an eye opener! Sky is the limit!”

MGM Springfield
Mike Mathis: President and COO
Mike Mathis: President and COO
Anthony Caratozzolo: Vice President, Food & Beverage
Alex Dixon: General Manager
Anika Gaskins: Vice President, National Marketing
Brian Jordan: Director, Surveillance
Monique Messier: Executive Director, Sales
Sarah Moore: Vice President, Marketing, Advertising & Brand
Marikate Murren: Vice President, Human Resources
Jason Rosewell: Vice President, Facilities
Jason Rucker: Executive Director, Security
Lynn Segars: Vice President, Slot Operations
Gregg Skowronski: Executive Director, Hotel Operations
Talia Spera: Executive Director, Arena Operations
Seth Stratton: Vice President and General Counsel
Courtney Wenleder: Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Robert Westerfield: Vice President, Table Games
The Casino Era

The Final Countdown

Alex Dixon stands just outside the entrance to the hotel at MGM Springfield

Alex Dixon stands just outside the entrance to the hotel at MGM Springfield, which is nearly ready for prime time and the Aug. 24 opening.

The almost decade-long process of opening the state’s first resort casino is entering its final days. There is a beehive of activity in Springfield’s South End, and that represents only what people can actually see. The process of not only opening the facility on schedule, but “making this place special,” as General Manager Alex Dixon described it, is humbling and exhilarating at the same time.

12,704.

That’s how many “discrete tasks” Alex Dixon said he and the ever-growing team at MGM Springfield must complete before the $950 million facility can open its doors to the public at 11 a.m. on Aug. 24.

12,704!

Not ‘more than 12,000.’ Not ‘12,700 or so.’

12,704. And you thought you had a lot of lines on your ‘to-do’ list.

“And those are just the things we thought about as we put together our critical paths,” said Dixon, general manager of MGM Springfield, who managed to find a few moments to speak with BusinessWest late last month (and he had to work hard at it). He couldn’t say how many of those tasks he and his team had drawn a proverbial line through, but he hinted strongly that, while considerable progress has been made, there were still quite a few (thousand) to go.

The giant MGM Springfield sign above the massive parking garage

The giant MGM Springfield sign above the massive parking garage is the latest addition to the Springfield skyline.

But he also spoke with the utmost confidence about getting it all done, primarily because of the team that’s been put in place.

“When you think about the breakdown of those numbers, it’s a lot,” he said, putting heavy emphasis on that last word, not that he really needed to. “But we’ve got a great project-management process, we’ve done this before in other jurisdictions, we have a lot of people who are seasoned and know what they’re doing, and we have a very experienced and highly trained management team.”

As for those discrete tasks, they cover 45 different “work streams,” as Dixon called them, and 431 key milestones, many, if not most of them, already met. And they come in every size and shape, from having permits in place for each of the restaurants to meeting the required numbers for each of dozens of categories within the MGM Springfield workforce; from the thousands of items on the construction checklist to making sure the warehouse in Chicopee is stocked with everything it needs to be stocked with.

Overall, Dixon described the process of opening MGM on time — meaning with those 12,704 tasks completed and all licenses and permits and employees in place — as humbling, but also exciting and exhilarating. But he kept stressing that opening the doors on schedule is just one part of the story — and one part of the challenge.

Indeed, he said he’s not losing sleep worrying about getting everything done by Aug. 24. But what does keep him at night — sort of, but not really — are the other two main categories for all those discreet tasks: ‘the things that will make this a great customer experience’ and ‘how do we make this special?’

“We’ll open our doors at 11 o’clock on August 24 — that was never a question,” he explained. “We’re in ‘how do we make this place special?’ mode. We’re going to open, but we’re also going to have a great customer experience. The things that keep me up at night are making sure that we deliver on the promise of a phenomenal entertainment.

“You want to be unique, you want to stand out; I want to compete, and I want to win,” he went on, referring to the considerable competition MGM Springfield will face. “And our team does, too; that’s what motivates me, and it’s what motivates all of us.”

For this issue, one of the last in the pre-MGM era, BusinessWest talked with Dixon about the daunting process of opening the doors, and also about what will happen in Springfield on Aug. 24 and the days to follow.

He couldn’t — or at least he didn’t want to — make projections on how many people will come through the doors on opening day. But he expected the facility to reach full capacity (10,000 people in the casino) and for Springfield to see a day probably unlike any other in its history.

“There has been a tremendous amount of pent-up demand for some time now,” he said, referring to the almost-decade-long task of getting the state’s first resort casino up and running. “We are preparing to make sure that we can do our best to help satiate that demand on opening day.”

Task Masters

As he talked with BusinessWest about these final few days until opening, but also the long, character-building process of getting to this point, Dixon said MGM Springfield has essentially evolved from a startup company with a handful of employees (granted, one with a billion-dollar construction project unfolding around them) into one of the region’s largest employers.

The metamorphosis has come slowly and greatly accelerated over the past several months, to the point where it’s much harder for him to keep track of additions to the staff and putting names with faces. But the culture that was created when the company was a handful of people working on the ninth floor of Monarch Place, and later MGM’s headquarters on State Street, still prevails today.

“You walk through the hall, you meet a new face, and they may not know who you are,” he noted. “So the small things you did at the very beginning to build a great culture with that small group are important; we’re doing our best to make sure we have the right structures and processes in place to ensure that this culture emanates to the 3,000 we’ll be welcoming over the next few weeks.”

Together, this growing team is drawing lines through items on the ‘discrete tasks’ list, dozens, if not hundreds a day, said Dixon, adding, again, that the process of doing so is as exhilarating as it is daunting.

When asked what a typical day is like, he gave the expected answer — there is no such thing, or words to that effect.

But he said there are some common denominators, such as the starting time — 6 a.m. — with a daily briefing from MGM on news stories that impact the company and individual properties across the country.

MGM has made great progress toward completing the 12,704 (and counting)

Alex Dixon says MGM has made great progress toward completing the 12,704 (and counting) tasks needed to get the casino and the rest of the complex open by Aug. 24.

“And as you can imagine, as of late, we’re driving a lot of news, especially with the properties in Las Vegas,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s always a great wake-up call; you read the news locally, but also read the news that’s impacting the business.”

From there, he’s often off to a meeting with one of the many groups he’s involved with within the community, such as the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau’s executive committee breakfast session he attended the day he spoke with BusinessWest. He prefers to keep such community work in the morning so as to free up the remaining hours for his day job — or his long-day job, the way things are going.

When he talked with BusinessWest, Dixon referenced hour-long meetings with members of the executive team to address what he called ‘mission-critical items.’ Then, they were meeting three times a week. Soon (if not already), there will be a session a day.

“These are things we need to execute on,” he explained. “And it requires some degree of acceleration or just an intense level of focus to get us over the hump.”

Labor of Love

As an example, he mentioned “fallout” in a particular job category, a situation where the company is struggling to make hires. In such an instance, and there have been some, the team will work closely with the human-resources director and the leader of the department in question to ramp up efforts to address the situation.

Hiring is obviously one huge component of the process of getting things ready for Aug. 24, said Dixon, adding that 3,000 people have to be brought on board across several dozen different positions. But to get to 3,000, MGM actually needs to have a higher number of people in position to be hired, he explained.

“Once you make a job offer, there will be some people who just don’t show up,” he noted, adding that this is a hospitality-industry-wide issue, not something unique to MGM Springfield. “Just because you offer someone a job, they don’t really work until they show up that first day and get into their position.

“That’s the case across the board in many of our front-line positions,” he went on. “So what we’ve done, in some cases, is over-hire to account for some of that attrition, be it in security, beverage servers, or table-games dealers.”

But hiring covers only a portion of those 12,704 discrete tasks, said Dixon, who said they cover three basic “journeys,” as he called them — ‘customer,’ ‘employee,’ and ‘supplier’ — with the ultimate objective of earning an operating certificate from the Mass. Gaming Commission.

To get that certificate, MGM Springfield has a long list of things it has to satisfy in order to show that it is ready to welcome customers safely and appropriately — and also account for the revenue it is expected to generate for the state.

“This is a big business for the Commonwealth,” he explained. “Our regulators are on-site, and we have to satisfy a laundry list of things in order to prove we’re worthy of that operating certificate.”

He offered some examples:

• The casino must make sure the slot machines are “talking” to the central system monitored by the Gaming Commission to ensure the integrity of the games;

• All of the cameras must be approved by the commission to ensure that the operation has the appropriate oversight of the games and other areas within the complex;

• The commission also must approve the internal controls that MGM Springfield operates against so that the operation can be held accountable;

• The commission also makes sure the operation has all the needed licenses from local agencies, for everything from pouring alcohol to serving food; and

• The security plan must be approved to ensure the operation is adequately securing the facility as well as the Commonwealth’s assets.

It’s Getting Real

As opening day draws closer, the team at MGM will take the process of being ready to a different, higher level, said Dixon, referring to what he called ‘play days’ and other types of dress rehearsals for the real thing.

And these auditions will set the stage for what are known as ‘test nights’ (that will be publically announced), during which the operation’s performance will ultimately determine whether the state grants that coveted operating license.

“At those activities, we have to simulate what it is like to operate with real money and be able to perform these functions,” Dixon explained. “The Gaming Commission is assessing our ability to execute those functions in a controlled environment. That’s the big, substantive, last step before we are issued that operating certificate.”

As for what he’s seeing in Springfield now, as opposed to when he arrived 18 months ago, and what he expects to see after the casino opens, Dixon said there has been a metamorphosis there as well, especially when it comes to perceived attitudes about the casino.

“It’s been fascinating to see how things have shifted, from doubt in some cases — ‘is this really going to happen?’ — to ambivalence in other cases, to quietly watching, to trepidation, to what you see now, which is excitement.

“Whether you see people buying their tickets to see Stevie Wonder [who will appear at the MassMutual Center on Sept. 1] to people coaching up a son, daughter, niece, or nephew for an interview, or hearing the excitement of someone getting their first job or getting back into the workforce … it’s fascinating to see the progression.”

Meanwhile, he said that one doesn’t have to wait til Aug. 24 to witness the impact MGM Springfield is already having in Springfield’s downtown.

“If you walk along Main Street around noon, you see the streets teeming with people,” he noted. “They’re well-dressed, new haircuts, looking good, sharp — and friendly. You see the impact of 3,000 people, and we haven’t even onboarded everyone. You see the streets come alive with energy.

“Downtown has been defined by the absence of people after hours,” he went on. “Now, we’ll be defined by the presence of people; and this will be people from Springfield, but also surrounding communities, and people who haven’t been to Springfield in a while. I just can’t wait for people who will walk into our facility and walk into downtown Springfield and have this immense level of pride, not just in MGM, but in the city and the region.”

On Aug. 24, there will be a parade down Main Street an hour or so before the facility officially opens at 11 a.m., he said, adding that it will involve employees, dignitaries, and some entertainers from within the MGM family.

After that? He said National Harbor, the $1.5 billion casino in Maryland that MGM opened roughly 18 months ago, reached full capacity within hours of opening. And MGM is preparing for just such a contingency.

“Knock on wood, we can only hope we’ve got more demand than what we’re able to accommodate in the building,” he said, echoing a belief certainly shared by the city, the region, and the Gaming Commission.

Playing the Numbers

Getting back to his sleeping patterns as Aug. 24 draws closer, Dixon said there are obviously days when he rests better than others.

“The hours are getting shorter,” he said, adding, again, that the ever-growing team working draw lines through those 12,704 discrete tasks are working simultaneously on hundreds on individual assignments, but also the very big picture.

“It’s truly amazing; it takes every individual person on this team to take care of their silo, but also keep their head above water enough to look horizontally and make sure we’re coming together in a cohesive manner.”

It all about the journey, or journeys, Dixon said, adding that the plural is most definitely needed, as they work as a unit toward a common goal — not just opening the doors on time, but making the place special.

And that’s why this process is as exhilarating as it is daunting.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

As the final countdown to the Aug. 24 opening of MGM continues, many in this region are circling that date and wondering just what life in downtown Springfield and beyond will be like.

And much of the speculation is somewhat negative in tone, focusing on such things as increased traffic, difficulty with finding parking spaces, longer and more difficult commutes, and how all of the above might keep people from coming into Springfield to do business.

Maybe some of that will happen — to one degree or another — especially in the first days and weeks that the casino is open for business. But even if it does, we choose to view these as only positive developments for this region.

Positive because these are all signs of vibrancy, indicators that a community or region is on the rise, qualities of a very healthy economy.

We’ll take them over the alternative any day of week.

And around here, we’ve had the alternative every day of the week — except when the I-91 viaduct was being rebuilt or the Big E is open for its annual 17-day run — pretty much for the past 40 or 50 years or so.

So this will be a welcome change. Sort of.

Again, people around here are used to breezy commutes. With rare exceptions, they don’t know what traffic jams are. They can’t relate to what their friends in Boston, New York, Chicago, or Atlanta are talking about. And unless Northampton is the destination, people around here have no problems whatsoever with finding cheap (often free) and very plentiful parking.

And they like it that way. It’s one of the reasons people come to live here. It’s quieter, there’s less traffic, and you don’t have to leave home an hour before work starts to commute 20 miles or even 10 miles, as some people do in Greater Boston.

But none of those things we like are indicative of a healthy, vibrant region, at least from an economic standpoint. Being able to breeze through Springfield at almost any hour other than 5-6 p.m. — which we can all do most weeks — is just not a good thing.

Ask anyone who lives in Boston, Cambridge, New York, or even Northampton, and they will tell you that traffic on your streets, parking shortages, and people complaining about how hard it is to get in and out of your city are all good problems to have. Really good problems to have.

They’re all signs that your community is relevant, which, for a long time, this region hasn’t been.

Think about it. Whenever there’s something happening in downtown Springfield, be it a college commencement at the MassMutual Center, induction ceremonies for the Basketball Hall of Fame, or a random Friday night when there’s something going at all the venues downtown — the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, and CityStage — people will complain about the traffic and congestion, but they don’t really regret it.

In fact, they’ll usually say something like ‘it’s good to see that many people downtown,’ or ‘Springfield was really hopping tonight … it took me a half-hour to get out of downtown.’ They’re not exactly happy, but they know there’s a good reason for their unhappiness.

People in the Northampton, Amherst, and Hadley area know this feeling well. Traffic on Route 9 can be very heavy at times (most times, in fact), but the businesses along that route and the communities themselves wouldn’t have it any other way. People know when it’s going to take forever to get over the Coolidge Bridge; it’s part of life there.

Will such traffic become part of life in downtown Springfield? Maybe. We might be in the minority here, but we hope so, especially if it’s traffic that will spread the wealth well beyond the casino, which it is likely to do.

We don’t have a crystal ball, certainly, and there has never been a resort casino in this region, so we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here. But we think the expected changes will be for the better.

Again, they beat the alternative, which is all many of us have ever known.