Friday, Aug. 5, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Carolyn Goodman attended a recent gathering of U.S. mayors where solutions to the nation’s economic woes dominated the conversation. They pondered the underlying dynamics plaguing the employment picture, considered the challenges faced by big and small cities, and throughout the entire discussion the newly elected Las Vegas mayor focused on a simple mantra: jobs, jobs, jobs.
Yet, the newly negotiated debt-ceiling deal in Washington doesn’t reflect the sort of government spending plan that would not only save private- and public-sector jobs but generate new ones.
“We have to create jobs to get the economy moving again,” Goodman said of Clark County, where the June employment rate stood at 13.8 percent. “It has to be about jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Jobs came effortlessly for nearly two decades. The Southern Nevada population boom, kicked off by the 1989 construction of the Mirage and Excalibur, laid the foundation for an era of regional expansion never experienced in Nevada’s history. “We didn’t realize how good we had it. It was easy. We didn’t have to worry about where the next dime would come from,” Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen said.
Now it is all about conserving dimes, nickels and pennies, with the valley’s three mayors overseeing cities that have cut public-sector workers and reduced hours and pay. Now they are working to land the next big employer, the fresh niche that could contribute to the long-awaited rebound.
In financially beleaguered North Las Vegas — which has the worst balance sheet of the valley’s three cities — Mayor Shari Buck speaks of the economic bonanza that might result from the Veterans Affairs hospital that is set to open within a year. The facility would specialize in treating those suffering from mental and emotional effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Buck sees the potential for spinoffs: doctor’s offices, assisted-care living facilities and senior housing.
Additionally, an unidentified Asian manufacturer is showing interest in opening a plant in the United States and is using a go-between to reach out to North Las Vegas officials. They have checked on the cost of land, housing and utilities, the availability of water, public safety and the education levels of the workforce, Buck said.
Why the interest in North Las Vegas? Because the city is attractive for the same reason it’s not: The collapse of housing prices and double-digit vacancy rates for commercial and industrial space have left some neighborhoods blighted, but have also lowered the cost of entry for businesses.
“There’s a lot of interest in our city, which gives me great hope,” Buck said. “On the one hand you have the economic downturn. On the other you have the solution.”
In Henderson, all eyes are on the $1.5 billion Union Village that would link senior health care, housing and retail, potentially creating 17,000 direct and indirect construction jobs at U.S. 95 and Galleria Drive.
Skeptics may wonder why the region’s depressed residential housing market would need thousands of new units or whether money can be raised to finance the project.
Hafen, a first-term mayor and longtime City Council member, thinks the proposal could be a key component of an economic revival for his city, with renewed growth generating revenue needed to enhance such municipal services as police and fire protection as well as parks and recreation. “I would just like to see us stop going backward with our sales tax and property tax” revenue, he said.
Within its city limits, Las Vegas lacks the rich inventory of undeveloped land held by Henderson and North Las Vegas. So talk of the consolidation of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, which would help the smaller city save money, pleases Goodman, a freshman mayor who continues her husband’s push to expand the city’s commercial base so that jobs can follow. North Las Vegas, on the other hand, has land stretching north along Interstate 15 to Apex that could accommodate commercial and industrial expansion.
Goodman won’t say whether she hopes Las Vegas will someday control that land through consolidation with North Las Vegas. Rather, she returns to her jobs-jobs-jobs quest, and once again says the nation’s political leaders had better consider adopting job-creating spending plans. Otherwise, she worries that the regional and national economies will stagnate, further stifling the consumer-dependent economy of the Strip, prolonging the back end of this region’s boom and bust cycle.