Next Strip expansion to bring small pain

Big resorts on the Strip have caused big headaches for local small businesses.

Hiring among small companies took a hit in the months before the April 2005 opening of the 9,500-employee Wynn Las Vegas.

Numbers from SurePayroll, a nationwide paycheck-processing company, found that the average work force among companies with 100 or fewer employees fell 1.2 percent in the first four months of 2005, from 4.68 staff members in January to 4.62 workers in April. The small-company labor force shrank in early 2005 even as overall job formation jumped roughly 7 percent statewide.

Small operations could find themselves hurting for labor again in coming months as a four-year onslaught of megaresort openings begins in December, when the 3,000-room Palazzo opens on the Strip. The resort’s owner, Las Vegas Sands Corp., is looking for 4,000 workers for the property.

Also under construction on the Strip are the 2,000-room Encore at Wynn Las Vegas, which is scheduled to open in 2008; CityCenter, set to open in 2009 with 4,000 hotel rooms and 2,700 condominiums; and Echelon, a 5,000-room property scheduled for completion in 2010. In all, about 45,000 hotel rooms will come on line in Las Vegas by 2012, statistics from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority show.

Depending on the number of new residents moving to Southern Nevada in the next five years, those resorts could make staffing difficult for smaller companies.

“Big megaresorts pay good wages with good benefits,” SurePayroll President Michael Alter said. “(The new hotels) are going to force small-business owners to focus on what they’re offering workers in order to retain them. There may not be a war for talent today, but there likely will be one later. The best strategy is to plan for it.”

Smaller operations have trouble competing for labor because they often can’t give workers the rich benefits packages that big corporations can assemble, said Bill Werksman, managing partner of Resource Partners in Las Vegas. Health insurance, 401(k)s, paid vacation time, on-site day care, employee dining rooms, opportunities for advancement — such perks belong mostly to the major leagues.

Especially vulnerable to work-force competition are small restaurants, retailers, janitorial companies, landscapers, repair businesses and any other operations that rely on “semiskilled” or lower-skilled labor, said Cornelius Eason, president of Priority Staffing USA in Las Vegas. In addition, jobs in accounting, administration and information technology will be tough for small companies to fill as big casinos staff up their back offices, Eason said.

Any trend that causes recruiting problems for small companies could hinder Southern Nevada’s economy, because 97 percent of businesses in Clark County have fewer than 100 workers, reports the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“All businesses need to grow, and they need employees to produce more goods and services,” Eason said. “If small companies can’t find those employees and they have to cut back on their level of service and production, that will affect overall economic growth.”

So how can small businesses vie for the best workers?

Executives of small companies should start by considering how they present their business to prospective workers. Werksman recommended that they invest in small packets or brochures that describe the company and its working environment. Job proposals should be written and should look professional.

“Smaller businesses need to be very cognizant of the image they’re putting out to potential employees,” Werksman said. “Little touches can help them compete for people.”

Also, emphasize to job candidates the benefits of working for a smaller company. People who gravitate toward small businesses often do so for the flexible scheduling and the more “free-flowing environment,” Werksman said. Let hiring prospects know they could enjoy more leeway on their hours than a big company would offer.

And don’t discount the intangible benefits of joining a small business. Plenty of workers prefer a closely-knit “family” environment in the office, Eason said.

They want to wear multiple hats and avoid a strictly defined position, and they like the big role they can play in a small company.

“If you’re one of 15 employees, you can make all the difference in the world,” Eason said. “If you’re one of 5,000 employees, it’s hard to tell what your impact on the business is.”

Also, look for workers who want to avoid traffic on the Strip, and who don’t want to maneuver 100,000 square feet of casino floor just to get to their work space, Eason said. Some prospects would prefer to “drive right up to the front door and go in,” he said.

Finally, be creative in your employee search. If you stick to the traditional classified ads, job fairs and Web postings, you’ll be up against major corporations with many more resources, Eason said. So, network instead: Ask employees to refer their friends to the company, and check with business associates and even customers to see if they know any possible candidates.

Word-of-mouth works well for Creative Endeavors, a convention-services business in Las Vegas.

Tommy Licata, the company’s chief executive officer, stays in touch with salespeople throughout his industry, asking for leads on experienced hotel workers who might have grown tired of life at a big company.

“I pick up the phone and ask, ‘What’s out there? Give me the dirt for the day,'” he said.

Prospects who meet with Licata will hear about the family atmosphere he fosters at Creative Endeavors. The focus is on reducing stress and encouraging interaction among the company’s 20 or so workers.

“We just try to give them a happier environment,” the CEO said.

Tapping into industry contacts and maintaining a low-key office vibe also helps recruiting at Somers Convention Rental in Las Vegas. Referrals provide hiring leads, and company officials will hire candidates with potential and train them in key areas. Still, President Debbi Somers tries to keep the company at 20 employees, partly because a lean staff requires the teamwork that builds camaraderie and makes for a strong business.

“We treat our employees like family,” Somers said. “We do a lot of things together, and we’re cross-trained so everyone can handle each other’s job. We all work together to make a convention successful, and when we get done, we usually have a party or a barbecue.”

But a positive work-place mood by itself isn’t enough to bring in all the recruits a business needs, both Somers and Licata said.

They urged the owners of small companies to offer some of the same benefits that big businesses provide.

Licata furnishes his workers with health insurance and other extras. Somers makes her salaries competitive with megaresorts’ pay, and she also offers health insurance, paid vacations and other corporate trappings.

“You can’t afford not to have benefits,” Somers said. “People who take jobs without benefits will continue to look for a better job. You will be a training ground. You will do nothing but bring employees in only to have them leave you.”

This story first appeared in the Business Press. Jennifer Robison writes for the Business Press’ sister publication, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and can be reached at jrobison@reviewjournal.com.

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