By KIMBERLEY McGEE

The economy may be down, but there are still plenty of opportunities in career fields that are considered to be recession proof.

Despite a slumping economy and layoffs in many industries, there are a few local industries, aside from service, that are in high demand. They are expected to weather the recession better than others due to what they offer, particularly when the chips are down, so to speak. The best recession-proof jobs are those that are least sensitive to a wobbly economy and can maintain if not excel during a nationwide downturn. They tend to have the highest combined scores for good pay, projected work force growth, and a healthy number of job openings that are continually made available.

Locally, the Lee family is a prime example of a company that offers recession-proof jobs.

Lee’s Discount Liquor employs 160 full- and part-time employees at its 14 area stores, with plans to expand through next year. Co-owner Kenny Lee relates it to the product as well as the inexpensive entertainment value that can be contained to the home.

“Luckily for us, no matter how bad or how good the economy is people do not stop drinking,” Lee said. “Especially in a bad economy, people tend to entertain more at home. When they do, they want to serve up the top shelf items to their friends and family. I do believe that is the reason why my high-end spirits and wine still sell very well.”

The company plans to add three more stores in areas across the Las Vegas Valley. The first will be on the corner of Maryland Parkway and Windmill Lane in November. A second location will open in February 2011 at Blue Diamond Road and Decatur Boulevard. Finally, in spring 2011, Lee’s Discount Liquor will open an airport location inside the
McCarran baggage claim area.

Each location averages at least 10 to 14 employees. Lee said they plan to be hiring around 30 to 35 people within the next nine months to fill positions in the new stores as well as fill out empty slots in their existing stores as they expand. All positions for the new locations are still available. Each store consists of one store manager, an assistant manager, one wine manager and cashiers and stock personnel.

“We like to promote from within, but it really depends on the experience,” Lee said.

Employees go through a few weeks of training, depending on the position and their level of experience at the time of their hiring.

“We do also send our employees to wine and spirits classes held at our wholesale distributors,” Lee said.

Bethany Bachman has been working for Lee’s Discount Liquor for nearly two years, hired on during the holidays in 2008.

“This is the best company I have ever worked for,” the longtime resident said.

The Lee family’s ambition and motivation create a work environment that is overflowing with inspiration and spirit, she said.

“Working for Lee’s has allowed me to broaden my horizons as a developing professional seeking an undergraduate degree from UNLV,” Bachman said.

Lee’s Discount Liquor empowers its employees by providing them with the necessary tools and education to be successful in making progress toward fulfilling their ultimate career goals, she said.

“I have been fortunate enough to have the unique opportunity to attend various classes in wine, spirits and beer,” Bachman said. “The product knowledge that I have gained has led to improved sales, improved product knowledge, as well as allowed me to try some tasty beverages. I am certain that the rich and meaningful experiences I have gained here will be helpful to me throughout my entire life.”

The employees are one of the main reasons the company does so well, Lee said. Another is the tendency of those looking to pinch pennies to stay home and entertain rather than spend money on eating out or going to the local bar. Lee has seen it often as the economy dips and swells.

“During an economic downturn, spirit and beer sales go up and wine sales go down,” he said. “It might be due to either (people want to) get a buzz quicker with spirits for less money or for $10. Instead of a bottle of wine people are picking up a 12-pack of beer.”

However there is a bulk of good wines available to knowledgeable consumers.

“There is so much extra juice out there; it’s definitely a consumer’s market when it comes to wine buys,” Lee said. “There are many wines at $3 to $5 that are simply fantastic. We have a closeout store at Flamingo and Rainbow, and that location has some unbelievable deals on wines.”

For those looking to explore the world of wine and expand their knowledge, the company trains its employees to hold wine classes, which are available weekly at Lee’s 14 valley stores.

The trained wine experts of Lee’s will be available for lengthy chats during Lee’s Wine Experience Nov. 6 at the Las Vegas Hilton. Consumers can sample more than 1,000 different wines and over 150 spirits from around the world. Tickets are $40 and net proceeds go to Lee’s Helping Hand, the family company’s nonprofit organization that aids many different charities in the Las Vegas Valley, including Opportunity Village, New Vista Communities and Spread the Word Nevada-Kids to Kids.

“We are lucky to be doing so well,” Lee said.

On the other end of recession-proof jobs is local marketing research services company Precision Opinion, which is currently expanding and hiring, said Jim Medick, president of the firm.

“We are indeed a very fortunate company that is bucking the unemployment trend in Las Vegas,” Medick said.

Precision Opinion is a market research firm that conducts surveys for government agencies such as the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration as well as gaming and entertainment firms in Las Vegas and markets throughout the United States. Precision Opinion also works with the White House via the president’s pollster, Joel Benenson, conducting research for President Barack Obama since he held the position of senator in Chicago,

“We do not work for any local or state politicians, preferring to stay out of the fray and work outside of the insiders,” Medick said. “Our customers are outside of Nevada and we keep all of our work in Las Vegas. Quite candidly, there is no better feeling than being able to employ such a large base of locals, especially in this economy. “

Precision Opinion has proven to be local success story over its long history under Medick, mainly due to the employee’s dedication and the company’s constant upgrades to the latest technology available for research firms.

The business entrepreneur originally owned the research firm MRC Group for 10 years at its current Convention Center Drive location. After he sold the company a few years ago, his client base began calling him, asking for his return, he said. He came out of retirement and began Precision Opinion.

“In 2½ years, we have grown from 50 employees to now over 350 and moved back into our original office,” Medick said. “Not too shabby.”

Precision Opinion currently has two locations in Las Vegas in which they conduct telephone research. It employs nearly 350 full-time research associates and is in the process of hiring another 125 within the next few months.

Las Vegas plays an important role to Precision Opinion’s success, said Guthrie Rebel, vice president of Precision Opinion.

“Being located in Las Vegas, in addition to the large employment base, the Western time zone allows for two eight-hour work shifts with convenient daytime and evening calling patterns to all domestic time zones,” Rebel said.

The phone operations run seven days a week, with calls going out across the 50 states. All research associates are pulled from the local market and are trained in house to work the company’s specific computer software, CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing).

Requirements include basic computer skills, business casual attire and a flexible work schedule. Precision Opinion offers a 90-day pay increase with bonuses built in to the pay scale. Applications are accepted Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in person only.

“We are taking applications for telephone interviewers,” Rebel said. “We usually conduct new-hire training classes once a week.”

Training is vital to the operations at Precision Opinion, and why it has a low turnover.

“Our company operates under the management of a well-seasoned staff, the newest state-of-the-art telephone and Internet hardware/software and with a true dedication to the art of working hard, delivering quality and having fun while doing it,” Rebel said.

Precision Opinion interviewers are carefully selected for their communication skills and are trained to secure participation, to deliver high rates of completion and to avoid bias, Rebel said.

“Which is precisely why we are America’s most respected telephone and online market research company,” he said. “We train the best in the business and deliver quality data, on time and on budget. This is why clients trust us with their work.”

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