Las Vegas Sun

April 17, 2014

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We have big challenges to tackle

LAS VEGAS: We’ve got unique assets, but we lag in education, water, transportation, wages

Greater Las Vegas figures prominently in the new Brookings Institution report, “Mega Metros: A Federal Partnership to Enhance the Intermountain West’s New Urban and Economic Reality.” The approximately 100 mentions of the Vegas metropolitan area in the 80-page report include that:

• The cost of living is about 3.1 percent higher than the national average.

• It is the “sole low-performer” among the region’s megametros when it comes to high school diploma, bachelor’s degree and graduate degree attainment rates. The Salt Lake City-Wasatch Front, Albuquerque/Santa Fe-Northern New Mexico, Phoenix/Tucson-Sun Corridor and Denver-Front Range areas all exceed the national average, the report says.

• The rate of bachelor degree attainment lags the national average for foreign-born and native U.S. residents. In 2006, 19.1 percent of Las Vegas residents and 16.2 percent of its foreign-born residents had bachelor’s degrees. The average for all U.S. residents that year was 27 percent, and 26.7 percent for foreign-born residents.

• “Las Vegas today is the nation’s leading convention city and perhaps the most important setting for face-to-face interactions among people working in such diverse fields as electronics, construction and medicine. What started with gangsters and whimsically themed hotels has matured into a giant venue for business networking.”

• The population growth from 2000 through 2007 was almost five times the U.S. growth rate. The Las Vegas area grew 31.1 percent to almost 2.1 million, while the country as a whole grew just under 7 percent.

• In 1969, Las Vegas’ per capita income was the highest among the five western “megapolitan” areas studied, but through 1995, it “experienced substantial erosion of its income level.” Las Vegas’ per capita income was almost 120 percent of the national average in 1969, but by 1995 it was just under 100 percent.

• Since 1990, the area’s “population in poverty more than doubled.”

• “Las Vegas may have the least secure water supply of the five Western megapolitan areas studied in the report. “By 2035, the city may have to conserve 400,000 acre-feet of water, nearly as much as it currently uses, to meet demand.”

• Since 1990, the population of foreign-born residents has grown to about 19.8 percent, with the majority from Mexico.

• “If Western megapolitan areas are to become world cities, they need direct international connections. Only McCarran (International) Airport … now features multiple links to Europe and Asia. This direct connectivity provides Las Vegas a significant asset in expanding its role as a world city.”

• Though McCarran ranked 10th in the world in total passengers in 2006, it did not rank in the top 30 of airports in terms of the amount of air freight cargo carried there. “Air freight ... is a critical element of the high-tech economy where high value components are shifted around the world in the manufacturing process.”

• McCarran ranks high, however, as an airport of origin and destination. It is the ninth leading such airport in the country, a status achieved “due almost exclusively to tourism and conventions.”

• Las Vegas does well on a scale of industry “clusters” — geographic concentrations of interconnected firms and supporting organizations, which is seen as a source of quality jobs and productivity growth. At the same time, however, average regional wages here “continue to trail other metros enjoying similar levels of strong cluster employment.”

• The report identifies downtown’s World Market Center as an example of the area leveraging “its dominant role as a trade show venue into an economy based on this competitive advantage.”

• “Las Vegas is now the top U.S. venue for live entertainment, has an enormous work force with a talent at putting up temporary shows on a level unrivaled by any other city.”

• The diversification of its entertainment industry into exhibitions, the report says, “is particularly important, as the current economic downturn has finally reached the region’s entertainment industry.”

• It is “ready-made” for light rail because of its high concentration of employment on the Strip. Still, the bus rapid transit system being implemented by the Regional Transportation System “could bring some of the land-use changes associated with light rail.”

• High-speed rail akin to what is popular in Europe “is immediately substitutable for passenger air travel for destinations up to 200-300 miles apart,” particularly a route between Las Vegas and Southern California.

• The area is not well-integrated into the global economy. Its per capita export figure in 2006 was $497 — far below the national metropolitan per capita figure of $4,191. But, the report allows, “foreign tourist and convention dollars flood into Las Vegas, which are not factored into export value.”

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