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                            Locals ready to start dealing

Cherokee Scout - Local - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

By Joseph Martin

Cherokee County casino aldeady drawing interest from eager job-seekers; facility may open in 2015.

Murphy - With 800 jobs being available upon the opening of a casino in Cherokee County, tribal gaming officials already are seeking employment interest in a county that has struggled with double-digit unemployment for years.

Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort will be holding a job fair from 10 a.m to 2 p.m Thursday at the Center for Applied Technology in Marble. The property will be holding interviews and possibly making job offers. SOme of their "hot job" are for the table games training school, cage cashiers, sales associates, security officers, food and beverage cashiers.

While these jobs are for the Cherokee location, John Houser - Chairman of the Trible Casino Gaming Enterprise, which oversees casino operations-said they 've seen some hiring of Cherokee County residents in anticipation of transferring to the new casino when it opens.

Jo Blaylock, Vice president and community relations for Harrah's Cherokee Casino, said in March that she expects to hire local residents.

"We have several emplyees who live in Cherokee County who would love to transfer closer to home. However, we expect those internal hires to be minimal," she said.

"We believe we can train everyone needed  on site. In fact, our human resourses team has already begun the process of meeting with folks from Cherokee County (community college, unemployment agency) to ensure everyone knows and understand process. Most of the positions that will be availble require no previous experience, just a good attitude and a desire to work in a professional service environment."

Houser said right now, the gaming enterprise is in the process of finalizing the land purchase of the Palmer tract. Environmental, geological, archaeological and cultural surveys are being conducted. He expects the purchase to be final around Aug. 1.

Housers said a master plan is in the works on the building location, and the requests for proposals are being put out for the architecture.

"I would hope to break ground in the fall," he said.

In a county with a 12.2 percent unemployment rate, the big question is when will the facility start hiring. With an estimated opening date in the early 2015, Houser said they would hope to be hiring 60 days from opening.

"That depends upon a lot of things falling in place," he said.

Gaming enterprise and casino officials are working on infrastructure, permits and locations of access.

"There's a lot of moving parts to it right now," Houser said.

There has been some discussion over whether a temporary facility would be built to begin serving the public prior to the entire property opening. Project Director Eric Sneed said they are considering building in phases. The casino portion would be the first phase.

"That would be the temporary casino, if you want to call it that," Sneed said, adding that the hotel will be constructed later.

Mayor Bill Hughes, who had met with casino officials, said, "We told them where the water is. We told them where the sewer is. The water line will be relatively easy."

Larry Kernea, general manager for Murphy Electric Power Board, said his utility is reviewing the needs for provideing power to the casino.

"We are still running numbers, and still looking at what it takes to run it," he said.

Kernea has said the casino will use enough electricity to power six Walmarts. While he hopes there won't be a need for a new substation, he said it's something they're will to do.

"We'll do whatever it takes to have good, riliable power over there," he said.

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POTENTIAL ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF THE EASTERN BAND OF CHEROKEE INDIANS CASINO PROJECT IN CHEROKEE COUNTY

Prepared by the Cherokee County Economic Development Commission - June 2013

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, EBCI, has commited to developing a large scale gaming facility on their property located near the Town of Murphy in Cherokee County. This project is expexted to create 800 direct jobs and and additional 500 indirect jobs. (Source: EMSI Data). The 800 direct jobs will provide average wages and benefits that are in excess of Cherokee County's current per capita personal income level. This economic development project has the potential to move-the-needle in many areas of Cherokee County's economy.

The total investment by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will be $110 million. The first phase of construction will begin in the near term and will last for a total of 12 to 16 months.

Initially, this project will employ many construction works from Cherokee County and the surrounding areas. The exact number of construction jobs is not known, but it can be anticipated that hundreds of workers will be needed at the peak of construction. There has not been a construction project of this size in the Cherokee County since the construction of Hiwassee Dam in 1936. The final cost to construct the Hiwassee Dam was $24 million (Source: The Tennessee Valley Authority), in today's dollars that would be approximately $300 million.

Additionally, short term lodging will be required to house construction workers during the construction phase. Cherokee County has approximately 269 hotel rooms in the five franchises hotels located along Highway 19/74. (Source: EBCI Casino Analysis). It can be expected that the majority of these rooms will be filled during the construction phase. Cherokee County will see increased occupancy and sales tax revenue during the 16 month construction phase and may realize a need for additional hotels to be constructed.

Providing water and sewer infrastructure to the EBCI gaming facility will spur additional retail and commercial growth around the EBCI Casino location. This growth will lead to additional job and an increase in the tax base in Cherokee County.

To attract retail businesses and additional commercial development a community must be able to prove they have access to a market large enough to support the business. It is projected that over approximately 20,800 vehicles per day will access the Casino site from Hwy 19/74, where currently the trafic volume near the site is 12,000 vehicles per day. (Source: Traffic Study Conducted by Creighton Manning). The expected increase in traffic volume of approximately 73% represents an opportunity for Cherokee County to grow its retail and commercial sector based on the increase in persons visiting the county. We have already begun to work with local property owners to advance plans for retail and commercial development.

An economic impact analysis projected that the creation of 800 jobs in the Casino Hotel sector in Cherokee County will add 500 indirect jobs to the economy. This represents an economic multiplier of 1.66. The wages and benefits will support other job creators such as local retailers, doctors offices, the local hospital, and beyond. The job types most likely created will be in food preparation, food service, office and administrative, building maintenance, and service occupations. (Source: EMSI Data)

One problem that Cherokee County has faced is the issue of losing young people to urban areas because of a perceived lack of local employment opportunity. Currently the median age of Cherokee County's workforce is 46 years old. While the majority of jobs are projected to be held by individuals 45 to 54 years of age, a significant number of jobs will be filled by a younger demographic of worker. It is anticipated that 239, or 17 percent, of the direct and indirect jobs will be held by men and women 35 to 44 years of age. (Source: EMSI Data)

One other issue that may be resolved for Cherokee County by locating the Casino here is the lack of natural gas service. Natural gas service has never been provided in Cherokee, Clay, or Graham Counties. This was primarily due to two factors, lack of demand for the service and the high cost of infrastructure investment necessary to serve the area. Locating an EBCI Casino in Murphy will increase the demand of natural gas which will help crease an economic incentive for a natural gas provider to bring the service to Cherokee County.

Natural Gas service is very important to Cherokee County's future development. Natural gas is one of the least expensive forms of energy and is required by one in three industries. If Cherokee County is going to be successful in maintaining an industrial base and attracting new industry to our county we will need natural gas service. We have been working with our economic development partners to develop plans for providing this service. (Source: NC Dept. of Commerce)

In conclusion, the creatioon of an EBCI Casino will spur Cherokee County's economy in many ways. The most beneficial impact will be the creation of jobs both directly and indirectly from the project. It will also bring possibility of new commercial and retail growth to the County, and allow for better utilization of the existing assets and infrastructure in the community.