Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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Gaming lobbyist urges North Las Vegas to embrace growth

North Las Vegas shouldn't make the same mistake that Reno made more than a decade ago when it began to limit growth at the expense of economic development, the casino industry's chief federal lobbyist said Thursday.

"Don't do what Reno did," Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association and a native of Reno, told an annual economic outlook event sponsored by the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

"They missed the boat," he said.

"You can't stop growth, you've got to manage growth. There's no reason it can't be done right to preserve the quality of life," he said.

Fahrenkopf attended the University of Nevada, Reno and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law in 1965. He served as a trial lawyer and gaming attorney in Nevada for 17 years before becoming a corporate attorney in Washington, D.C.

A no-growth policy began to take hold in Reno just as he left his home state for Washington 20 years ago, Fahrenkopf told the group.

"That no-expansionist mentality has destroyed Reno," he said. "I've been telling groups like this up in Reno for 10 to 15 years ... to be careful."

While many states quickly embraced casinos in the early 1990s to help them raise tax revenue, they have also turned to the gaming industry in recent years to bail them out of budget woes brought on by the economic downturn, he said. Some states are responding to their troubled finances by taxing casinos at "disturbing" rates, prompting many companies to look abroad for growth, he said.

Southern Nevada and North Las Vegas have the ability to welcome economic development that may be stunted elsewhere, he said.

"The future here is tremendous," he said.

Reno prides itself on the natural beauty of its forests and rivers -- landscapes that have historically called for the kind of environmental conservation and restrictive growth policies that are relatively foreign to Southern Nevada's desert landscape.

Harry York, chief executive of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, acknowledges some anti-growth sentiment in the city's past.

Those tendencies disappeared about a decade ago, however, said York, who did not attend the conference.

"There's a pretty rapid expansion of retail and housing," he said. "You see valleys fill up that used to be green and you see rolling hills that now have houses on them."

Reno's economy is flourishing, spurred largely by an influx of businesses and residents from California attracted by lower costs and an appealing landscape hours from traffic-choked freeways, he said.

California's economic woes and, more recently, the California recall, have brought a steady stream of warehouse, industrial and even higher-paying technology jobs to Reno, he added.

"We used to mail 20 to 30 personal relocation packages per week a couple of years ago. We're close to mailing that many a day," he said.

The gaming industry, on the other hand, has stagnated over the years amid a relative lack of broad support for casino expansion in Northern Nevada and a desire to diversify into other types of businesses, he said. Competition from California tribal casinos in the last few years will keep Reno casinos in check, he said.

More limited by space than Las Vegas, Reno also is concerned about not exploding to the scale of its southern counterpart, he said.

North Las Vegas is the second fastest-growing city in the nation, surpassing Henderson's No. 4 ranking, according to the most recent Census Bureau estimates. Its population, at roughly 136,000, has more than doubled in the past decade, helped by a pro-business climate and some of the most affordable housing in the Las Vegas Valley.

Las Vegas is the 47th fastest-growing city, followed closely by Reno at No. 48, according to the Census.

Local businesses have little to fear in terms of restrictive growth policies, said North Las Vegas' Manager of Economic Development Michael Majewski, who attended the conference.

Still, pro-business doesn't mean anti-environment, he said.

"Economic growth is not growth at any cost," he said. "It's growth that enhances quality of life."

The city doesn't have a written policy on the subject but still aims to promote sensible development that isn't "helter-skelter," he said.

The recent Aliante master-planned community, for example, was created in tandem with a technology park so that people will be able to afford the homes with better-paying jobs nearby, he said. The community also will feature an open space area with natural desert vegetation, he said.

"Just because we don't have trees or flowing rivers and it's a desert (doesn't mean) it has no value," he said.

Dozens of businesses exhibited products and services at the North Las Vegas Chamber event. It was co-sponsored by In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun.

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