Denver Business Journal: New Gaylord Rockies general manager digs into challenge of hiring 1,500 workers

The Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center under construction (January 2018).

By Denver Business Journal Reporter Ed Sealover

Gaylord Rockies officials have had little trouble booking events at the 1,501-room Aurora resort and conference center that is slated to open in late 2018, with some group meetings already on the books as far out as 2026.

But general manager Rick Medwedeff, who arrived at the property just three weeks ago after 12 years running the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort in southwest Florida, has a far more daunting task on his hands.

He must fill roughly 1,500 jobs by early November despite unemployment at just 3.1 percent and with a surplus of new restaurants creating a labor crunch in the food and beverage industry.

And the head of the largest hotel being built right now in America has turned much of his attention to doing just that over the past month.

Medwedeff said in an interview Wednesday that he is aware of the challenge facing him as he’s begun to bring to bring in high-level staffers in recent weeks, including his directors of finance and human resources.

But he has begun talks already with Aurora Public Schools and with Johnson & Wales University about partnerships that will create talent pipelines, and he expects he will be getting some personnel help from other Gaylord resorts as well — even though he plans to hire the majority of his staff from within Colorado.

“I have a significant support system out there that when it comes time to do this, we will be bringing in people from throughout the United States to help out,” he said regarding his ability to fill all 1,500 jobs. “Will there be a concern about filling all these roles? Absolutely. I would be naive not to think that. But I’m confident that we can do it.”

Aurora officials long have seen the Gaylord as one of the biggest economic opportunities to come to Colorado’s third-largest city in recent memory. They offered roughly $300 million in financial incentives for the hotel and its 485,000 square feet of conference space, believing it would create significant tax revenue from visitors, as well as the plethora of full-time jobs at the property.

After bringing the hotel’s leadership team on board — Medwedeff is interviewing now for event planners, salespeople and revenue-management planners, among others — he and other Gaylord Rockies officials will turn their attention to hiring for a wide variety of jobs, such as food and beverage personnel, engineers and human-resources workers. The breadth of needed hires is both a blessing and a curse, he said.

Having such a bevy of positions offers potential employees the opportunity not only to take a job, but to be able to move up to new positions, producing a potential lower rate of turnover than other businesses in the hospitality industry.

But the sheer number of jobs that must be filled — including staffers at eight in-house restaurants at a time when some 250 restaurants are opening annually in the area — could be problematic.

As such, Medwedeff sat down shortly after moving his wife and four cats to Colorado to talk with Johnson & Wales University, the national hospitality school with a Denver campus, about expanding a national partnership parent company Marriott International Inc. (Nasdaq: MAR) to bring in chefs and other college graduates. And he met with Aurora Public Schools leaders about creating opportunities both for internships for students and for a pipeline to full-time jobs for graduates in the area.

Jay Grimm, executive director for the Aurora Public Schools Foundation, said he sees a variety of opportunities for students, both those that are gaining work experience while going through school and the more than 2,000 that graduate from the school system each year. That will manifest itself in the district’s digital badging program — an opportunity for students to earn credentials in specific fields and trades as they are going through high school — and in providing a range of career options for students to consider when they are choosing their post-secondary school route.

“For us, it’s going to be a really effective way for our kids to explore these jobs,” Grimm said. “For us, what’s exciting is just the caliber of the resort. We don’t see this caliber of resort in Aurora too often. They usually go to Denver.”

The resort already is turning heads. Through the end of the third quarter of 2017, it had booked 627,000 room nights for both corporate and association events over the next eight years, Medwedeff confirmed.

In addition to looking into partnerships to help with his hiring, the new general manager — who formally was hired in October — said he has begun looking at the affordability crunch in local housing and at whether the resort will have to make special efforts to help workers find apartments and rental homes. He is encouraged that the resort will be only about one mile from a light-rail stop, however, he said.