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Siena Job Fair Draws Masses
by Joshua H. Silavent
Mar 09, 2011 | 3995 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Tribune/John Byrne Hundreds of people stood in line around the Siena Hotel, Spa and Casino and down Center Street in Reno on Tuesday morning awaiting their chance to apply for jobs being created by the business’s planned reopening later this spring.
RENO — A swarm of area residents, numbering perhaps in the thousands, turned out for day one of the Siena Hotel Spa Casino job fair in downtown Reno on Tuesday, hoping to land work in a hospitality industry besieged in recent years by a troubled economy and slow recovery.

A cross-section of the unemployed could be seen in a line stretching the length of the casino property, around a corner and across a bridge over the Truckee River. There were single moms with children in tow, homeless men with a deficit of luck, ex-cons looking to restart life, construction workers without anything to build and even former employees of the Siena who were laid off as the casino slipped into bankruptcy last October.

Some were nervous, others cool and collected, but nearly all seemed eager for the opportunity to make a steady wage as a food server, maintenance worker, card dealer or any one of 350 or so positions set to be filled between now and April 21, when the Siena is scheduled to re-open under new management. Grand Siena LLC bought Siena for $3.9 million last November.

“I’ve been broke for about a month and a half now,” said Steven Davidson, a lifelong laborer who lives in Reno.

Davidson, 50, waited near the head of the line just minutes before the job fair kicked off. He had arrived at about 5:30 a.m. after a fitful night of sleep, he said, but his spirits were noticeably high.

The prospect of capturing a janitorial position appeared to wash away any dread that might have accompanied the fact that Davidson does not qualify for unemployment insurance even though construction work has dried up.

“Go in there with a positive attitude,” was Davidson’s mantra.

Despite the tough times job seekers said they had experienced, many showcased a tempered sense of optimism, as if things could be worse.

“I suppose I’m better off than a lot of people,” said Karen M., a former blackjack dealer at the Siena who declined to give her last name.

Out of work for a year and a half, Karen said she began dipping into her retirement savings after her unemployment payments ran out about four months ago. She hoped her 22 years of experience in the casino business would help her cause.

Standing in line next to Karen was her friend Donna J., who also declined to give her last name.

Donna said she was in a similar financial position. In fact, she had grown to a point where living was sometimes confused with simply surviving, and she only hoped she could make her house payment on time each month.

Eric Boone said he knows all too well the meaning of hard times. Released from prison in January after serving a 12-year stint for a crime he said he regrets, the 48-year-old just wants a chance to prove he has changed for the better.

“I’m out here trying to do the right thing,” Boone said, though he acknowledged that finding a job wouldn’t be easy given his checkered past.

But with the right attitude, the possibility exists. That is the most important quality company officials said they wanted to see in prospective employees. And in order to find it, the job fair was designed with the intention of putting a face to a resume.

“We wanted to make it personal,” said General Manager Jay Meilstrup.

Applicants were hustled in scores at a time, given a brief orientation, allowed time to meet with department directors and finally asked to fill out an online resume. The job fair will continue from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday.

As the Siena prepares to re-open its doors for business next month, the last of some $5 million is being pumped into room, restaurant, casino and spa renovations, with an eye toward attracting a high-end, upscale clientele. This aim makes it all the more “paramount” that employees have the personality to match, Meilstrup said.

Though company officials said the large turnout is exciting to see, it does make the hiring process all the more competitive.

“I think we’re going to be forced into an unfortunate situation where we may end up eventually turning away good people,” Meilstrup said.

Of course, Siena’s success will be dependent on more than a good staff. The market, after all, will have the final say.

But company officials believe that at just 214 rooms, Siena’s comparatively small size gives it leverage to adjust to economic conditions.

“We’re rolling the dice on it,” Meilstrup said, “but we believe so strongly that not only is the Reno market going to support this type of property, but also the timing is right.”
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