An artist’s rendering of the MGM National Harbor Project. (Photo Courtesy of the MGM National Harbor)

In 2016, the National Harbor will welcome its latest development, the MGM Resorts International, to Prince George’s County, Md.  It will be an epicenter for entertainment with MGM not only bringing live shows, grand performances, films, dining, hotels, and gaming to the metropolitan area, but also a promise of diversity and economic opportunities to the community.

Voted as one of Diversity Inc.’s top 50 ‘Companies for Diversity’ in 2012 and again as one of the top 10 ‘Companies for Diversity’ in 2013, MGM has become an industry pioneer for community involvement, diversity and inclusion within it developments.

“ was the first company in the gaming industry to embrace diversity,” said Phyllis A. James, executive vice president, special counsel for litigation and chief diversity officer for MGM Resorts International.  “Part of the DNA of MGM is to be philanthropic and to give back to their host community.”

James joined MGM resorts in March of 2002 and knows firsthand the integrity and level of commitment MGM makes towards residents and small businesses within the surrounding community.

“Before I came to MGM, I served as corporate general counsel for the city of Detroit.  The state of Michigan had a statewide initiative in 1997 which resulted in authorizing three casino developments for the city,” said James.

As general council, James played an integral role in spearheading the project and interviewing the proposers and leadership teams.  She was instrumental in facilitating the MGM developers through the process of obtaining the correct permits and licenses.

“Even though I was on the other side of the development, I was so impressed with MGM during the proposal process, through the negotiations, and through the development agreement process,” James recalled.  “I admired how they conducted themselves as business people and as a new business in the community.  They were a company of their word; if they said they would do something, they lived up to their commitment.”

James said MGM is eager and committed to forming a partnership with residents and minority business owners. “MGM reached out to groups of local community leaders, civil rights leaders, professionals, laborers, and small business owners,” she said. “They wanted to work with and formulate a business partnership with a local group that truly reflected the city and the needs of the community.”

After the launch of the MGM Resort International in Detroit, Mich. James received a call from the chairman of MGM inviting her to join the company.  “I was shocked.  It’s not every day that a former advisory asks you to join them, but I was so impressed by their leadership performance that I agreed,” she said.

The changes James saw in the city of Detroit as a result of MGM’s presence are what she hopes to see in Prince George’s County.  So far, 19 percent of more than 96,000 total labor hours have been performed by county residents and 50 percent of all employment opportunities will go to local residents.

“Twenty-seven hundred to 3,000 job opportunities were created in Detroit and we hope to see the same numbers in Prince George’s County,” James said. “Also, we encourage our staff to not just see their positions with MGM as a job, but as a career.  We offer tuition reimbursement and programs on leadership training designed to broaden an employee’s horizons.”

James stated that a large part of MGM’s diversity training is to help employees be the best professional they can be.  “Personally, that what makes MGM such a great employer.  It’s not just about receiving a check.  We have high standards for hospitality, and therefore, what you put in to help our guests, we will put in to help you.”

As special council for litigation and chief diversity officer, James oversees MGM Resort’s philanthropic programs and their Diversity and Community Engagement Department.  “We recognize that gaming is a privilege,” she said. “You have to get licenses to qualify and we feel that if you are privileged to perform and grant economic opportunities, then you are privileged to support the community that hosts you.”

MGM encourages their executives and employees to do community service.  Last year, MGM Resorts International tracked over 172,000 hours of employee community service through their resorts in Nevada, Michigan, and Mississippi.

MGM gives back to the community through corporate giving and employees give through separate foundations.  The company focuses their giving on public education, health and wellness, and environmental sustainability, as well as non-profits working to provide affordable housing and eradicate hunger.

“Whether it’s a health clinic, or programs to support public education, we choose fundamental things that will enrich the quality of life where we do business,” said James.  “A business cannot be strong if is not part of the fabric of the community.”