Across the country, owners of family entertainment centers and entrepreneurs with FECs on the drawing board are successfully portraying themselves as "job creators" to city councils and the press ... and their efforts seem to be working.
A growing number of cities now seem inclined to take a more favorable view of granting zoning variances and use permits. In addition, local press outlets appear more willing today than in times past to portray the industry in a favorable light. When new FECs are proposed and when they open their doors, local newspapers and TV news operations frequently highlight them as contributing to local employment in the midst of a depressed national economy.
Last year in Draper, UT, investors highlighted the new jobs that would be created locally by the opening of a 60,000-sq.ft. FEC operated by America's Incredible Pizza Co. (Springfield, MO).
"We'll be able to employ a lot of kids that have no other opportunity in this economy to get employed," said Doug Fielding, majority shareholder in the franchisee that launched the business. "It will be [a really] wonderful thing for the area as far as employment goes. It will generate a lot of immediate, direct employment, and a lot of ancillary jobs, as well."
Local papers in Draper, The Enterprise among them, were happy to play up the employment angle last August when reporting on the opening of the complex, which features an arcade, restaurant, multiplex movie theater and large bowling center.
In Dallas, investors have proposed building a 160,000-sq.ft. entertainment complex, which would cater to Hispanics, in the Southwest Center Mall. Fiesta Mundo will anchor an arcade, 16 bowling lanes, birthday party and banquet rooms, a sports lounge, restaurant and live entertainment space.
Investors are talking up Fiesta Mundo for its strong job-creation potential. They have also positioned the FEC as a community resource that would provide free space to nonprofit ventures and activities such as education in English as a second language, early childhood education, and financial pointers for members of the community. It is expected to open in September.
An established FEC located in Lacey, WA, was honored on March 10 not only for providing jobs, but also for employing "differently abled" workers. The Thurston County Chamber of Commerce and the Morningside employment agency (Olympia, WA) presented Charlie's Safari with a special citation for community spirit.
In addition, The Olympian newspaper gave the story good exposure in its pages. That type of positive publicity is a welcome change for an industry that is more accustomed to negative headlines.
Recently in Davenport, IA, it was once again America's Incredible Pizza Co. that touted the prospect of 160 new jobs when seeking permits to build a new FEC, the 18th in the chain. When the company held a job fair to take applications, the local TV station reported that 200 people showed up to apply for work in the first 10 minutes. It opens on March 25.
In related news, the jobs angle dominates much of the coverage of the ongoing controversy in Alabama about the legal status of video bingo and the 22 entertainment centers that once offered the machines, but have recently shut down in the face of threats from and raids by Gov. Bob Riley's administration.
Riley has repeatedly said that electronic bingos are slot machines and all but accused their operators of being in league with organized crime. But a host of local county commissioners, state legislators and media outlets have emphasized that closing all those bingo operations has cost Alabama 6,000 jobs.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of the national advocacy group Rainbow PUSH Coalition, recently visited Alabama for a high-profile discussion about electronic bingo operations. He praised them as good providers of employment. Jackson met with state officials, including the governor and state attorney general, to urge a pro-bingo policy, based on the need for more jobs.