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August 22, 2014

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Experts: Despite downturn, Las Vegas has hope

Urban policy officials launch Brookings Institution partnership with UNLV

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Tiffany Brown

Brian Greenspun, left, and UNLV President Neal Smatresk listen as new director William Antholis speaks at the announcement of the Brookings Institution’s new Mountain West Initiative at UNLV’s Greenspun Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009.

Brookings Institution Annoucement

The Brookings Institution and UNLV announced its new Mountain West Initiative Tuesday morning at UNLV's Greenspun Hall.

Brookings Institution’s Mountain West Initiative announcement

Brian Greenspun, left, and UNLV President Neal Smatresk listen as new director William Antholis speaks at the announcement of the Brookings Institution's new Mountain West Initiative at UNLV's Greenspun Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009.  Launch slideshow »

Yes, things are bad Las Vegas, but there’s hope if you look in the right places.

That’s the view of urban policy experts Mark Muro and Robert Lang, who kicked off UNLV’s new relationship with the Brookings Institution on Tuesday with a state-of-the-city lecture on the UNLV campus.

Aside from the obvious bad news that Las Vegas residents are dealing with every day – record unemployment, sky high foreclosure rates, massive structural budget deficits – Las Vegas has other important deficiencies, Muro said.

There’s a weak transportation system, with no highway between here and Phoenix and just four lanes to Los Angeles. There’s no rail system. The valley is almost entirely auto-dependent.

Very little of the population is employed in research and development, which is the mark of widely shared and sustainable prosperity in other cities such as San Jose and Salt Lake City.

Lang offered a more hopeful vision. He said the growth of the convention business in Las Vegas is a great untold business story, as the city has become a vital trading hub, a rich cultivator of sales relationships and new business networks.

“In the end, you have to look someone in the eye and trust them,” he noted, explaining the importance of trade shows.

Las Vegas, he said, “is a leading market exchange for establishing relationships.”

Lang said policymakers should focus on creating an environment where those conventioneers create a permanent home for their businesses here, much as the biotechnology industry moved to the Bay Area in the wake of important conferences there in the 1970s. He noted that this has happened with the furniture industry in Las Vegas.

Lang apparently believes in a thriving future for Las Vegas. He is moving here.

Find additional coverage in Wednesday’s edition of the Las Vegas Sun.

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