Many stakeholders in Atlantic City give credit to the “Do AC” campaign for helping the gaming industry get back on its feet following the double-dip crash of the economic downturn and Superstorm Sandy.
Today, there is a new slogan: Live, learn and earn.
It comes from Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman, who says it personifies the university’s goal to bring jobs — and, thus, a stable working and middle class — to the resort town.
And, while Kesselman said it originated with students in mind, those at the Garden State Initiative’s forum on the Economic Future of Atlantic City last week at Ocean Resort Casino said it represents the vision of all of the town’s businesses as they aim to hire locally to build the economy.
Kesselman praised Ocean Resort’s owner, Bruce Deifik, not only for reopening the former Revel casino, but using it as a vehicle to improve the lives of city residents.
“You’ve got new investors in the city who are looking for students to be able to groom, to be able to bring aboard, to be able to provide them with the practical skills that supplement what they learn in the classroom,” he said. “That’s the best way to get productive citizens.”
Kesselman said workforce development is about being a leader who sets an example, not a boss who rules by decree.
“When you can work for people who set that type of moral tone, they, too, develop that within their sense of morale,” he said. “It means you have people who not only are going to get jobs and further their education.
“More importantly is that they are productive members of society. That they do care. That they do give back. They work for planning boards and school boards and things of that nature. Why? Because they’ve had that experience working in a city in an industry while going through that four or five years of very critical development in their lives.”
The panelists warned, however, that workforce development is not easy.
As has been well documented in Camden, hiring is just the first step — and it does not ensure success.
Debra DiLorenzo, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey for more than two decades, said finding employees who are workforce-ready is a challenge.
“Our members tell us that the product coming out of our public high schools and our colleges is solid, but what they do lack is an understanding of the free enterprise system and how that dovetails with working hard, getting a good job, proving yourself and understanding your place within an organization and that there’s upper mobility for you,” she said.
“Most kids have a view of the world that is not realistic until they are part of the workforce. They don’t understand that you have to show up on time, you have to be dressed properly, you have to be congenial. If your boss asks you to wash the windows, you’re going to wash the windows.”
Kesselman said Stockton is giving students an opportunity to learn those lessons while at school.
“We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,400 students doing internships, everything from directly providing services within the casino to all of the social agencies in the city,” he said. “Every single one of our (student teachers), folks who have not gotten their certification yet but are in the process of doing it, do an internship in Atlantic City public schools. So, we are involved.
“Our commitment to the city and our students’ commitment to the city, really is second to none. They love it. We have a theme now: Live, learn and earn in Atlantic City. What we really want our students to do, is start out early in their career. Bruce has hired a number of them.”
Deifik said his time in Las Vegas showed him the benefits of developing the next generation of employees while they are in school.
“Las Vegas has UNLV, which has an incredible culinary program, has an incredible gaming and hospitality program,” he said. “I believe Stockton University is really a shining example of exactly what UNLV is to the Las Vegas valley.
“We tapped into it immediately. Stockton said, ‘Whatever we can do to help assist, help you create an ambassador program.’”
The program, Deifik said, has a discernible ending.
“When they graduate from Stockton University, they will have a place here at Ocean,” he said.
The commitment to building the workforces doubles as a commitment to building the city, the panelists said.
“There are people walking around this town with a new positive attitude and with a gleam in their eye,” Deifik said. “Their shoulders aren’t shrugged any longer. They see an opportunity for themselves. And I see a lot of young people on this property, walking on the Boardwalk, that work on other properties that have a spring in their step today. It speaks to what Deb said and Harvey said about employment and education and health care.
“When there’s no help, there’s a problem. When people have hope and they see an opportunity in front of their eyes and they people like myself and Harvey pulling them and saying, ‘Get over here, here’s an opportunity, let’s do this together.’”
DiLorenzo said this commitment to a local workforce pays off in education and employment gains — pointing to recent metrics of success in Camden following a huge investment of private companies.
“You see the juxtaposition of reducing crime, getting private investment and what happens to the citizens that live there,” she said. “(There’s) private investment and then you see the multipliers.”
DiLorenzo said she’s eager to see those type of gains take place in Atlantic City. And, she said, it will be easier, since Atlantic City already has a base to work off.
“Atlantic City has only positives to go,” she said.