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Delaware County Daily Times                                                                           June 7, 2005

Harrah's kickstarts revitalization

Casino CEO presents county workforce board with $500G check to help city residents land jobs at Chester Downs

By Josh Cornfield


            Chester – At first, those gathered at City Hall were told the $500,000 being given to Delaware County Workforce Investment Board to help prepare residents for jobs at the future racetrack in town came from Gov. Ed Rendall.

            That gave Harrah’s CEO Gary Loveman something to clear up when he rose to speak to the room full of suits and power ties.

            “It’s not the governor bringing the dough,” Loveman said with the exuberance of someone who just hit blackjack, “I’m bringing the dough.”

            And with that, came the big fat check (both for its size and the number written on it) and a sign that Harrah’s is serious about helping residents in Chester as it prepares to open Harrah’s Chester Downs and Casino next year.

            The $500,000 will go to the Workforce Investment Board to launch the “Chester Challenge,” a coordinated effort between the county, city, and other local organizations to prepare residents for the 900 or so jobs that will be available when the casino opens next summer.

            Groups that had been working on their own to set up programs to prepare residents for the technical and service jobs the racetrack and slot parlor will create, will now come under the umbrella of the county’s WIB.

            “Harrah’s is creating an opportunity for everyone to succeed,” said George Miller, one of the original partners in the Chester Downs site.  “You can’t ask a company to do any more.  Hopefully, we’re going to be able to affect enough lives to make a difference.”

            Agencies will provide technical training to those interested in working at the track, as well as training in the “soft skills,” things such as preparing a resume and going on an interview.

            Others will help expunge criminal records, the smallest of which could keep a prospective employee from getting a job at what will be a highly regulated workplace.

            “This is for the city of Chester,” said Lou Mahlman, head of the United Way of Southeast Delaware County.  “This is to help the residents of Chester take advantage of this opportunity.”

            According to Loveman, the grant to the WIB is a “ticket to ride” for residents on the Harrah’s job engine.

            “Harrah’s has a very proud track record in helping to revitalize the economic lives in many communities,” he said.  “Over the last 15 years gaming has proven to be a catalyst for economic growth in communities that need it most.”

            Loveman and others pointed to Harrah’s casinos in places such as Tunnica, Miss., and Joliet, Ill., towns similar in size to Chester.  Casinos there helped to spur local economies and lead to growth.

            “I think it’s just a huge indication of the commitment Harrah’s is making to the community,” said Vince Donlevie, the general manager of Harrah’s Chester Downs and Casino.

            Donlevie, a St. James alum, said people have to take advantage of the services which will be offered to prepare for the jobs.

            Monday also served as a ground-breaking ceremony for the racetrack.

            With shining silver shovels in hand, Harrah’s execs and local politicians dug into the dirt for the symbolic act at the former site of Sun Shipyard.  Construction has been under way at the site on the Delaware River for three months.

            State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-9, said the racetrack, which will pump millions into the local economy, will make Chester “the center of commerce in Delaware County, in this region and probably the poster child for what gaming can do for economic development.

            “The key to this is to make sure the people of Chester can participate.”

            “This $500,000 is the first step in training,” said state Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, D-159.

            “Folks have to understand the importance of taking advantage of the training.”



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