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October 22, 2014

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Film industry gets top billing at economy planning summit

Nevada leaders are hoping movie industry executives repeat a popular phrase from the movie "Swingers" when pondering future filming sites: Vegas, baby, Vegas.

In the past three years Southern Nevada has become a popular location to film movies, and tourism officials said Wednesday that luring the film industry would provide a major boost toward diversifying the Las Vegas Valley's economy.

"We feel we have a great opportunity, a wonderful opportunity, to turn around the film industry in the United States," said Boulder City Mayor Bob Ferraro, who touted the new Lombard Studios in the small community 15 miles outside of Las Vegas.

Ferraro was one of about 25 government officials, business leaders, educators and politicians who filled a County Government Center conference room Wednesday to brainstorm on ways to expand Southern Nevada's economy beyond tourism and gaming.

"Sept. 11 showed we are extremely reliant on the tourism industry," Clark County Commission Chairman Dario Herrera said. "There is a lot being done. The question is, 'Can we do more?' "

The unanimous answer was, "yes" -- and each city is unique in the manner in which it plans to proceed.

Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, who also chairs the Nevada Commission on Tourism, backed Ferraro's assessment that the state is in a prime position to become a film-making hotbed in the next few years.

"The buzz in Hollywood is that Nevada is the most film-friendly place to be," Hunt said.

Some $1.2 million has been generated for the state through the film industry thus far; one-third of that amount came in the past three years after the creation of the Nevada Film Division, she said.

But film-making isn't the only industry Southern Nevada can potentially attract.

Hunt released a report Wednesday outlining Nevada's economic weaknesses, strengths, threats and opportunities. The report says the state should target technological flagships and focus on industries in the Pacific Coast technology corridor.

The key to diversifying the economy is to enhance research development and build a new workforce, Hunt said.

Members of the forum agreed to assemble a technical committee to review Hunt's report and develop methods to implement her strategies. The committee will identify the county and city's common goals and establish ways governments can work together to achieve those goals.

The result will be a report dubbed the Southern Nevada Economic Development and Diversification plan.

Representatives for Clark County's cities said they have already made progress in working toward diversifying the economic base.

The city of Las Vegas wants to revive its downtown area. Perhaps one of the more promising projects economically would be a $1 billion academic medical campus on 61 acres of Union Pacific Railroad property near downtown.

"If the city is blessed with an academic medical campus, we can expect hundreds of acres to be eaten up by medical-related businesses," Lesa Coder, the city's director of economic development, said.

Henderson city officials focus on their small businesses, trying to provide opportunities to grow. Council members visit a business owner once a week to discuss incentives and learn of obstacles.

Jacque Risner, who leads North Las Vegas development division, said the key to diversifying her city's economy is to focus on redevelopment and recruiting more industrial companies.

The city is also counting on a $20 million shopping center downtown to introduce more shops.

"That will make a dynamic difference downtown," Risner said. "Economic development is similar everywhere. It's not really new ideas but new ways to approach them."

Reaffirming the point that Nevada's economy must diversify to remain healthy, Nevada Development Authority officials said 50 percent of the state's budget is funded by the resort industry.

"That's pretty scary; that's a pretty big cart for the resort industry to pull," the authority's president, Somer Hollingsworth, said.

But employment numbers show the state is moving toward diversity, Hollingsworth said. In 1992 more than 28 percent of the state's workforce was in the gaming industry, NDA statistics show. In 2001 less than 25 percent of the workforce was.

Hunt outlined areas where she believes the state can grow.

The state has better resources than any other in the country for geothermal energy -- energy generated by wind, sun and biomass. The Nevada Test Site offers some 800,000 acres for aerospace opportunities, she said.

And if communities and the state focus on tax incentives for business owners, the state has the potential to be a world leader in free enterprise, she said.

"I'm excited about our future," Hunt said. "I think if we're all working on the same roadmap, we'll be successful."

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