Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Jockeying for Jobs

Jockeying for Jobs
Dixon job hunters win place to show
By David Henson/Staff Writer

Ashley Lessa diligently filled out a two-page job application Monday night for a business that has yet to frame up its first wall - or even get the city of Dixon's approval to do so.

Still, the 19 year old was one of several dozen at the Dixon May Fair grounds who snatched up applications in hopes of working at Dixon Downs, should the controversial 260-acre horse racetrack and entertainment complex be approved.

"It's close to where we live. We like horses and it's an easy commute," said Lessa, who loves barrel racing and wants to work in sales at Dixon Downs. "I think for our age people, it's good. Of course, it would cause a little traffic, but people have to travel far if they like horse racing."

Magna Entertainment Corp., the Canadian company seeking to build the racetrack complex in north Dixon - hosted the job and vendor fair, giving residents and business owners a preview of what Dixon Downs would mean for their wallets.

Warming up for the project's first review by the planning commission on Nov. 30, Magna executives and supporters laid out their vision for Dixon Downs in a short presentation on two 50-inch plasma screen televisions. They highlighted the high-end nature of the business and the job opportunities Dixon Downs would afford - from sales to accounting to management.

"We haven't had the opportunity to tell our side," said Lorne Kumer, Magna's point man for Dixon Downs. "All the workshops have been city-driven and we were just bystanders like everyone else."

It seemed, though, that Magna may have been preaching to the choir. Only a couple of the project's active opponents dropped by, and most in attendance seemed eager to see the project come to fruition.

"I'm thinking it looks good. As a business owner, anything that brings more people to your community is a good thing," said Karen Brown, longtime Dixon resident and owner of a local Napa Auto Parts store. "We'd like to be one of their suppliers."

And it wasn't just retail outlets looking for ways to tie into Dixon Downs. Jeannie and Dieter Teschke of Horseplay Therapeutic Riding Center came looking to expand their offerings with Magna's help.

"We're gonna see if we can get a connection here. We could give them great community support and we really need to expand," Jeannie Teschke said.

By the end of the night, both were pledging their support to the project and offering to express their approval of Dixon Downs to local city leaders.

As aspiring veterinarians studying at the University of California, Davis, Bill Vernetti and Britt Petrotta said Dixon Downs would give them a place to work after graduation without having to sell their new house or commute long hours.

"I think it would be great for the community - more jobs, more diversity," said Vernetti, a Southern California transplant who enjoyed attending Magna's Santa Anita track there. "(Santa Anita) is so clean and pristine and so many people have jobs there."

Stephen Sikes, a vocal member of a group opposed to Dixon Downs, came to the fair to gather information about the jobs being offered.

"I think it's eye-opening as far as the job opportunities. But it's one thing to provide the opportunity to work and another thing to hire them," Sikes said.

A city-commissioned report showed that Dixon Downs would bring 1,200 fewer jobs and that they would pay less than the jobs the land would create as currently zoned. That land, however, has generated no interest from developers in the 10 years it has been zoned for light industrial growth.

Sikes' group, Dixon Citizens for Quality Growth, have criticized the kind of jobs the racetrack would offer, saying they would be unskilled and low-paying.

But to people like Bob Hemmer, low-paying doesn't necessarily mean dead-end. Thirty-five years ago, Hemmer started out directing traffic in the parking lot of Albany's Golden Gate Fields, now a Magna track. He's currently the track's operations manager.

"A lot of our employees will tell you that they started out with us and they retired with us," Kumer said.

David Henson can be reached at dixon@thereporter.com.

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