The Quapaw Nation’s Downstream Development Authority is keeping good on their promise to ramp up hiring for the Indian tribe’s trucking stop annex in Pine Bluff, launching efforts during and after the Labor Day weekend to fill “hard to fill” casino positions from a steady pool of applicants.
In Little Rock, the Downstream management and human resources officials are working with private and government workforce groups to hire workers for the Saracen Casino Q-Store, which will be located at the Pine Bluff trucking stop on land purchased by the Quapaw Nation business entity.
One of those groups, the nonprofit Arkansas Employment Career Center of Little Rock, specializes in working with finding jobs for applicants “needing a second chance,” Founder and CEO Carla Sanders told Talk Business and Politics at a recent job fair to screen and hire applicants for the Saracen Q-Store. That trucking plaza casino, which is expected to have more than 300 gaming slots, has plans to open for business ahead of the expected late 2020 or early 2021 grand opening for the larger hotel gaming and entertainment complex.
In today’s tight job market, with Arkansas’ unemployment rate at an all-time low of 3.4%, AECC has found a niche as a nonprofit that offers hand-on classes, training, assessment and employment services for workers that are traditionally “hard to hire.” Sanders said a typical employee AECC trains and screens may have been unemployed, laid off from another job, or could be a homeless veteran or a former incarcerated person re-entering the workforce.
“It has always been a dream of mind to reach out to individuals that are getting career choices or perhaps knowing what they are interested in,” said Sanders. “I started this business as a way of giving people that needed second chances …, a center where people of all ages and color can come and they can better themselves.”
AECC is working with Saracen on a contract basis, screening potential employees for the casino convenience store, gas station and trucking complex that will also include a fire and police substation for city and county use. At the Quapaw Nation’s Q-store near the Downstream Casino Resort on the Missouri-Oklahoma-Kansas border, the facility is open 24-hours a day and offers everything from gas and electric car chargers to food, alcohol and travel supplies.
To date, following a Labor Day weekend job fair with Saracen Casino’s HR officials in Little Rock, AECC has screened more than 300 applicants and hired 44 workers to fill jobs such as bartenders, servers and convenience store employees ranging from cooks and maintenance workers to cashiers. As a nonprofit, Sanders said she began working with Saracen after attending several local meetings with Quapaw officials in Pine Bluff.
“(Quapaw Nation) Chief (John) Berrey was very adamant about hiring minorities,” said Sanders, a black entrepreneur who founded AECC in 2017. “He has continued to advocate for minority vendors, but also in the area of electrical, construction and all facets of what it takes to promote for a casino.”
In early June, after receiving a gaming license for the $350 million Saracen Casino, Berrey told the state Racing Commission (ARC) that he spent considerable time and effort convincing Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson and local community and business leaders of the merits of the casino project that is expected to bring more than 1,100 permanent jobs to the region.
Based on the original blueprints from Quapaw Nation’s Downstream Development Authority LLC, the Saracen Casino Resort will be 570,000 square feet in size on 110 acres, including an 80,000 square-foot gaming floor, 300-room hotel, convention center and entertainment venue. Quapaw Nation officials have said the construction stage will produce more than 1,000 construction jobs, which is expected to take place over 18 months.
“We are a little different than another gaming company. We are a community-centric nation that believes in uplifting people,” said Berrey. “Even though it is about revenue, this is not for shareholders – it is for the community.”
Brad Stone, human director for Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, Okla., said the workers that have already been hired from the pool of applicants represent tribe’s goal of hiring a “diversified workforce.” Besides private groups like AECC, Saracen is also working with state workforce officials, and posting jobs on social meeting and online employment sites like Indeed.com to find workers for the Q-store annexation.
Stone said once those jobs are filled, Saracen will begin ramping up on the construction of south Arkansas’ first multimillion-dollar hotel and gaming complex. He said the Indian partnership’s casino resort in Quapaw, which also includes a golf course, will eventually need 1,100 workers to staff more than 200 different positions to fully operate the gambling resort at the crossroads of three states.
“We have not actively sought employees for the casino yet,” he said.
Although he is headquartered in Oklahoma, he and other Saracen managers are already on the ground in Arkansas preparing the way for eventually grand opening of the Pine Bluff gaming complex by early 2021. Once hiring begins, those positions will run the gamut, Stone said, ranging from environmental services, administration, security and surveillance to food services and table and slot operators.