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Employment market not so hospitable

mississippi gulf coast — Where have all the jobs gone in leisure and hospitality in Mississippi?

The Coast has lost about 3,600 leisure and hospitality jobs between the summers of 2002 and 2003, and Jackson has lost 2,100 jobs in that category during the same period, according to labor force statistics from the Mississippi Employment Security Commission.

Several factors combined are likely behind the job losses, says Dr. Charles Campbell, a professor of economics at Mississippi State University:

• The economy has caused a decline in tourism. People may be taking three trips a year instead of four or five. Others might not be traveling at all due to losing their jobs.

• When large casinos or hotels change hands, you can see a decrease in employment because of efforts to cut costs.

• There is a trend towards using more part-time or people hired through temp employment agencies to avoid paying benefits.

Campbell said it isn’t only jobs at hotels where declines have been seen. Food, gas and restaurant sales are also impacted when fewer tourists are visiting the area.

“When you say hospitality related, it doesn’t have to be in hotels,” Campbell said. “Restaurants would be one of the main things to be hit.”

Are people spending less on hospitality? Campbell said likely there are reduced budgets even for people who are still traveling. And the gas prices are fairly high right now, which doesn’t encourage travel.

Campbell said the job losses are probably felt more on the Coast than in Jackson because there is a higher percentage of jobs in the tourism industry.

The Coast saw about 3,600 fewer people employed full-time in hospitality jobs in June 2003 compared to June 2002. Most of those jobs were in Harrison County, which had about 3,059 fewer employed in the hospitality industry in 2003 compared to 2002.

Because the hospitality industry on the Coast is heavily tied to the

summer tourism season, the difference in the numbers employed full-time could be related to the hospitality industries using more part-time workers, including foreign workers, for the temporary work in the summer. Harrison County’s total employment in hospitality industries was 26,041 in June compared to 26,190 in January of 2003 and 29,140 in June of 2002.

Local Coast unemployment offices have not reported any large layoffs in the hospitality industry,

“I haven’t seen anything unusual,” said Jim True, placement supervisor, Mississippi Employment Security Commission (MESC), Gulfport.

“We haven’t had any large layoffs,” said Margaret Dethloff, manager of MESC in Biloxi. “I know that a lot of major companies have gone to dropping the hours down so they are not required to pay benefits for their employees. They haven’t had any super major layoffs from any of the casinos so just a small number of people are coming into the office to file unemployment claims. I know the casinos are starting to use a lot of overseas employment during the summer months. They will bring in students to work a period of time. They have contracted to bring in non-citizens from other areas of the world to work these high season jobs.

“I know the last three weeks I have had several students from Poland and other areas of the world looking for other work. They feel like they aren’t making enough money and they are looking for other work.

Usually the employer will pay for a block of apartments, but the employees have to pay for it. If they are put into a job where they are not making tips, they can find it hard to meet living expenses.”

Joan Barry, a statistical analyst with the MESC, said that current figures are based on estimates extrapolated from voluntary employer surveys.

“Real actual numbers run about six months behind,” Barry said. “The situation may be better than it looks. We will have to wait and see when more numbers come in. We can’t go out and survey people every month. We have to rely on samples that are used to estimate the numbers of job gains and losses.

“These numbers are not set in stone. It is a voluntary survey, and sometimes you don’t get a lot of employers who volunteer to participate in the survey. They might not have the personnel to do it, or may not be interested in working with the government. We depend on volunteer data and sometimes they will give you the data, and sometimes they won’t. It is wonderful when they do because it certainly gives a better picture of the area. When you have 10 companies and only five send data in, you don’t get the entire picture.”

Beverly Martin, executive director, Gulf Coast Gaming Association, said typically casinos start laying people off between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Restaurants will lay off right after Christmas.

“A lot of times they won’t lay off,” Martin said. “They just cut down hours. You might go from 40 hours per week to 20 hours per week.”

Martin has not seen any significant downsizing at Coast casinos, nor has she seen any restaurants or hotels closing.

“In fact, it is to the contrary,” Martin said. “I have seen a lot of new restaurants open, and I have seen a lot of restaurants open second locations such as Aunt Jenny’s opening on the beach in Gulfport and Hooters opening at a Gulfport location. I have seen several of your independent hotels popping up. I would think you would have more jobs. I can’t think of one restaurant, hotel or casino that has closed. We haven’t had any new ones open in the past couple of years.”

Martin said that casinos have been relying heavily on local teachers to meet the higher demand in the summer.

“There is a huge employment base of teachers in the casinos in the summertime,” she said. “They are looking for extra money, and they make great employees. And that is when we need them. It is win-win for both groups. It works out really well.”

Misty Velasquez, director of marketing, Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, agrees with Martin, pointing to the opening of a new Casino Magic hotel in Bay St. Louis.

“We might have seen some fluctuations of employment, but I haven’t really seen a big drop,” Velasquez said.

Gaming revenues have been up this summer over the previous year, and after declines seen earlier Harrison County has had two straight quarters of increased retail sales. Velasquez said there are also a number of new projects planned that should bring additional employment including several new casinos and a new water park in Gulfport.

“Business is doing well on the Gulf Coast,” she said. “So if we have had some loss of jobs, these new projects that are coming along are going to give us many more jobs and increase the standard of living for all coastians.

“What people have to remember is what happened before. We are blessed in this area. Even though we did take a slight hit, it is nothing like other tourist destination areas took after 9/11 and the situation of the economy at that time. We haven’t seen a big story or press announcement where a company in this industry has said, ‘We are going to have to let go so many numbers of employees.’ People are changing to meet the new economy and the new way of business, which may mean you have to do this job today and another job tomorrow. That is just the way companies have to do business to stay alive these days.

“Once again, things are good on the Coast. We have a lot of future development that is pending. I don’t see where we are losing tenants for this progress.

“I don’t think we’re losing all the McDonalds. We are just growing. Because we growing the way we are and the world is the way it is, we are going to have to change the way we do business from here on
. That doesn’t mean things are bad. It just means things are growing. In fact, with all the factors I have seen things look very positive for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We are having record attendance at events s

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