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Senior citizens may be part of workforce solution

The new Shooting Star Casino on Star Lake, set to open next year, has some community leaders concerned about the potential pool of employees and where they will come from. Ideas and speculation are swirling, but one local man believes he has an a...

The new Shooting Star Casino on Star Lake, set to open next year, has some community leaders concerned about the potential pool of employees and where they will come from. Ideas and speculation are swirling, but one local man believes he has an answer.

Terry Stallman, economic development consultant with Otter Tail Power in Fergus Falls, believes that hiring retired people is the solution. Though he admits that he hasn't done a formal study, he said that in walking through other casinos he has noticed "a lot of retired people" working. And lest people think that because of his affiliation with Otter Tail Power he has a stake, he said his company isn't providing any services to the casino. Lake Region Electric Cooperative will be providing electrical services.

The White Earth Nation announced earlier this year that it would build a casino on Star Lake on trust land. Shooting Star officials told residents in late March the facility would include a 6,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor pool and spa, a 10,000-square-foot conference center with break-out rooms, a franchised restaurant and gift shop, full-service bar and grill, as well as an entertainment lounge. Also planned are 750 slot machines and 10 to 12 table games.

Stallman estimates as many as two-thirds of the labor force at other area casinos are living on a fixed income, picking up part time hours at the casinos to supplement their 'day jobs' or Social Security.

"It helps them live better," Stallman said.

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Finding workers for the casino on Star Lake shouldn't pose a problem, he said, adding, "I do not believe the (labor shortage) problem is as large as it's being presented."

Eugene (Zeke) Klinke, public relations coordinator for Shooting Star, said that while the company doesn't have all the answers to where the work force will come from, it would make sense to consider retirees.

"They are capable and competent and we would be glad to have them," he said.

White Earth Nation expects to hire approximately 500 people to work at the Star Lake casino when it opens. Some will come from the Shooting Star family, others may transfer from other casinos owned by the company, and others will come from the general population, Klinke said.

"We're going to need people in management all the way down to housekeepers," he said.

Both Stallman and Klinke said today's retiree often finds out at the end of a long career that they are too young to retire and want something to do to keep busy.

"Baby boomers are interested in working; every bit of research is that this older generation wants to work," said Nick Leonard, director of economic development and tourism for Otter Tail County, who said he spends a part of every day on the workforce shortage. "But not at the level of 60 hours a week or in an 8-to-5 job. They are looking more for a 'passion project,' something they really enjoy doing."

Leonard said studies also suggest that as many as one-fourth to one-third of seniors of retirement age will work as long as their health permits, and may be part of the solution to the workforce shortage.

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Stallman also said that the casino may increase commerce and jobs, which in turn would bring more people to the area, which may help alleviate the work force shortage.

"It spins on itself," he said. "With more commerce, more people move here to live. The casino will actually attract businesses that are leaving us now."

With many people driving from out of the area to enjoy the amenities of the casino, an increased tax base and improved infrastructure such as roads, businesses will also increase in number.

"It's got to help downtown Perham," Stallman said. "There will be people working who are wearing out shoes and clothes, needing groceries and gas. And they will be spending their money on more than necessities."

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