New Church Rock casino construction leading to many jobs for Navajo people

<i>Courtesy photo</i>
Ben Benally (foreground) is one of many Navajos taking advantage of the new casino construction currently underway in Church Rock.

<i>Courtesy photo</i> Ben Benally (foreground) is one of many Navajos taking advantage of the new casino construction currently underway in Church Rock.

CHURCHROCK, N.M. - Since officially breaking ground at the casino site more than a month ago, construction is moving along quickly, staying on track with an aggressive timeline and fulfilling the promise of hiring members of the Navajo Nation to complete the work. Approximately 50 of the 70 jobs related to development on the site have been filled by a primarily Navajo workforce. The company contracted to erect the structure will be hiring at least 15 Navajos to complete their work, and a number of the Navajo Gaming subcontractors, vendors and internal resources are also Navajo.

As Navajo Gaming continues to look at Navajo hiring, construction is progressing as planned. According to Adam Kennedy, President of Kennedy Wendel, the joint venture partner of construction management for the casino, the concrete portion of the foundation is nearly complete and building the casino itself will follow closely behind.

"Once the foundation is poured, construction of the actual structure moves along very quickly," Kennedy said. "We are moving swiftly and efficiently in order to comply with our partner, The Navajo Nation, in building a top-notch casino."

Last week, construction crews finalized foundation work, and the outlining of the electrical, water and sewer lines. What impressed Kennedy the most, however, was the immense support and interest from the community in participating in the construction process.

To date, 75 percent of construction jobs have been filled by Navajos and 98 percent of the applications Navajo Gaming has received have been from tribal members. As construction progresses, even more positions will be filled with Navajo workers.

"We've had a tremendous response from the community at our job fairs and my phone has been ringing off the hook with people interested in working construction for the casino," Kennedy said. "Clearly, this community is interested in the work, and we are happy to provide them with jobs."

Navajo Gaming has established a strong profile of Navajo workforce and professional resources. For example, four of the five Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise Board of Directors are Navajo.

The internal staff at the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprises office are mostly Navajo, including Information Technology Manager, Steve Hoskie; Financial Director, Ramsey Harrison; Executive Assistant, Phefelia Johnson; General Counsel, Raymond Etcitty and Administrative Assistant, Christine Lohnes.

Navajo Gaming is in the process of interviewing for the General Manager, Food and Beverage Director, and Facilities/Security Director positions. They intend to apply Navajo preference for these positions.

After holding a number of job fairs in and around the Navajo Nation, Human Resources director, Renee Martin (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) is busy processing thousands of applications from people interested in working at the casino. Job openings include food and beverage positions, slots positions, table games dealers, maintenance staff, security officers and even administration/ management staff.

"We look highly upon industry experience, but offer a comprehensive training program for individuals who don't have that previous experience," Martin said. "Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise is working in partnership with Navajo Nation Workforce Development to train and prepare individuals to open the new casino. This partnership will be a long [one, providing] continuous training in all facets of the casino business," Martin added.

"Right now, 98 percent of our applicants are Navajo. Since there are more casinos opening in the next few years, Workforce Development and Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise want as many Navajo employees trained and prepared to work and run these casinos."

But Navajo influence does not stop there. The architectural design is led by Dyron Murphy Architects, P.C. a Navajo-owned architectural firm providing comprehensive architectural services and construction administration to the Native American community.

Based in Albuquerque, N.M., the company collaborates with Native American-owned consultants and construction firms to provide a full range of services to clients in the Western, Midwest and Southwest United States, including New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming,

Navajo Gaming's official photographer is Don James Jr., a young Navajo man who grew up in Prewitt, N.M. and is now an established photographer based in Albuquerque. Don excels at commercial, studio, landscape and portrait photography with an impressive client list that includes exposure in numerous publications like "Albuquerque the Magazine," "Arizona Highways," and other tribal projects across the Southwest.

Iinaba is a 100 percent Navajo-owned company and environmental consulting firm, established in 1994 to focus on the unique needs of the Native American communities of the Four Corners region. The company is committed to maintaining and promoting harmony between industry/commerce/profitability and the components of natural life-plants, animals, water, soil, minerals, and air. It is the only Native American Arizona-certified laboratory in New Mexico.

Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise has started on the right path by utilizing Navajo talent in all facets of the project. The projected grand opening date is Nov. 14. Those interested in employment can call (505) 722-8358, ext. 109.

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