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First casino hotel job fair proves to be a success for many in area

Joanna Cook and Tameka McDougal took Bus No. 40 from Niagara Falls to Grand Island on Tuesday, then walked three miles to join hundreds of other people waiting in line outside the Holiday Inn.

They were seeking a job at the new Seneca Niagara Casino Hotel, which plans to hire 1,000 employees for its grand opening New Year's Eve.

Four hours later, the two single mothers had landed housekeeping jobs at the 26-story hotel.

"We got hired on the spot," said Cook, who is out of work and has a 6-year-old daughter. "This is like a huge weight off my shoulders."

"We're both excited and thankful," said McDougal, who has five children, ranging in age from 6 to 13.

Neither woman has a car, but that doesn't matter because they live in an apartment on Rainbow Boulevard across the street from the casino, and have watched the new hotel rise ever higher during the past two years.

"I've been looking at the outside for so long, I can't wait to see the inside," said McDougal. "And to think I'll be working inside. Unbelievable."

Several hundred people began lining up outside the Grand Island Holiday Inn on Whitehaven Road at 8 a.m. for interviews that started at 11 a.m., said Philip J. Pantano, the Seneca casino public relations manager.

Pantano said 400 people applied for jobs before 4 p.m.

Four other job fairs are planned through October, and the Senecas have no doubt they will more than fill their employment needs.

State labor figures show that as manufacturing jobs continue steadily to decline in the Buffalo Niagara region, the demand for service and culinary jobs is soaring. Service jobs account for 84 percent of all jobs in Erie and Niagara counties, said the Buffalo region office of the state Department of Labor.

In August, service-producing jobs jumped by 1,400, to a total of 456,000, while goods-producing jobs dropped 100, to 89,500.

A mix of men and women of all ages and backgrounds, dressed in both business suits and casual attire, applied for positions that include hotel operations, food and beverage, housekeeping, maintenance and security.

"This is a tremendous cross-section of the Erie and Niagara community," Pantano said. "And they all need work."

Executive chef Gary McHale, who oversees the casino's three restaurants and will add to his responsibilities three new restaurants in the hotel, said he hired six cooks on the spot Tuesday.

The Seneca Niagara Casino, which opened New Year's Eve 2002, employs 2,400 people, making it the second largest private sector employer in Niagara County, after Delphi Thermal Systems in Lockport, with a work force of 4,000. The Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamanca, which opened in May 2004, employs 850. The Seneca casino planned for downtown Buffalo is expected to hire up to 900 people, Pantano said.

The other area job fairs for positions at the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel will be held:

Oct. 2 to 5, Conference Center of Niagara Falls, 101 Old Falls St.

Oct. 12 and 13, Millennium Airport Hotel, 2040 Walden Ave., Cheektowaga.

Oct. 17 and 18, Conference Center of Niagara Falls.

Oct. 25 and 26, Hyatt Regency Buffalo, 2 Fountain Plaza.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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