Las Vegas Sun

January 30, 2015

Currently: 58° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Will Nevada heed its wake-up call, take steps to diversify?


Sam Morris

Attendees listen to a speaker at a conference on how to diversify NevadaAos economy Friday, January 7, 2011.

Moving Forward

A laptop displaying a Power Point image is seen at a conference on how to diversify NevadaAos economy Friday, January 7, 2011. Launch slideshow »

If Nevada escapes its current morass and in a couple of decades becomes a more prosperous, economically diverse and humane place, historians may view a UNLV conference, oddly enough, as a turning point.

Nevada 2.0,” which brought together business, political and nonprofit leaders and academics, felt like an epiphanic moment for Nevada’s elite — a recognition that doing things the way we’ve always done them is not a solution, and that we should look to outsiders for guidance.

“Now we have the time to reflect, learn from others and find a path to the future,” said Don Snyder, chairman of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, UNLV dean and former banking and gaming executive.

Nevadans seemed to experience some eye-opening moments during presentations by economic development professionals from Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City, all of which have surpassed Las Vegas in most measures of prosperity, livability and innovation.

“This was an attempt to say, ‘Here’s four other places doing it better than we are. What can we learn?’ ” said Robert Lang, a conference organizer and UNLV professor and director of Brookings Mountain West.

The speakers sounded a consistent theme: Produce more college graduates; find your strongest economic clusters and build on them; use nonprofit organizations to get the ball rolling if government won’t; and invest in the infrastructure that will prepare you for the next boom.

• Arizona invested in higher education and relied on public-private partnerships to further economic development. One example: the Flexible Display Center, a joint venture among Arizona State University, the Army and 27 industry partners, where researchers are developing lightweight, flexible video display screens the size and width of a credit card.

Also, industry leaders were hired to work on university campuses to create business opportunities, while in turn the state drew on university researchers to build industry clusters.

• Texas revamped its tax structure to help emerging industries, and lawmakers approved an “economic development sales tax” of up to a half cent to fund projects. Mike Rosa, vice president of the Dallas Regional Chamber, cited the development of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport as a key investment that helped bring Fortune 500 companies to what was once a backwater.

• Utah created the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, a state-funded investment in pure research through its universities. The resulting new technologies are being commercialized, and Utah has one of the strongest economies in the nation.

• In the mid-1980s, Denver was not unlike Las Vegas today — an economic basket case suffering a hangover from the energy and savings and loan booms and busts. City fathers focused on collaborating to build up strengths such as aerospace and telecom and invested in major projects such as the airport and convention center. And they cleaned up their dirty air. Now Denver is a powerhouse.

During two decades of high-octane growth, Nevada’s leadership assumed our way was the best way to prosperity and tended to ignore the rest of the world. This is not to say there weren’t discussions.

In fact, Friday’s conference repeated themes heard among some of Nevada’s leaders and thinkers for decades. Conference members cited 20-year-old legislative reports that concluded the same thing: Nevada must diversify.

But now, there appears to be an inkling — if only that — of a recognition of the need to act. Consider it a silver lining to the devastating blow the state’s economy took in recent years.

“I’ve participated in a lot of conversations about the types of things we’re talking about today and it has been very difficult to get serious,” Snyder said. “When things are going really well, it’s hard to take the time to change. But if there’s ever a time to get serious, it’s now.”

Nevada’s leaders, a large number of whom were gathered in the UNLV ballroom, finally seemed committed to taking stock of the state’s flailing economy and accepting advice from neighboring states that look similar to Nevada but have fared much better.

One obvious roadblock: When the Legislature meets next month, it faces a budget deficit of at least $2 billion, and there seems to be little appetite for the kinds of new taxes or cuts to existing programs that would be required to make the investments championed by those other cities.

Lang warned that the work needs to begin, and soon: “I wouldn’t expect to build an entire economy out of the idea that a high school graduate can get a good job. That doesn’t seem like a good bet.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 15 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. ...that's it ..finally you get the picture...I have been saying this and I dont even live in Vegas...what you dont need is another casino and what I see on this web today...a porn star trying to recoup her dont need any more porn... you dont need anymore flash... you dont need any more need a need to show a working community of real people who care about family and care... safe environments have enough of the other circus life concentrate on making Vegas a place where you can raise your kids...

  2. "Nevada 2.0," which brought together business, political and nonprofit leaders and academics, felt like an epiphanic moment...that we should look to outsiders for guidance."

    Probably a good idea for the "Dumbest City in America" to look for "outside help." (joke)

    Isn't Governor Brian's latest mindflash to charge MORE for higher education?

    That sounds antithesis to this group's intent.

    ...or are all of these brainiac, college graduates going to be imported (insourced?) from out of town.

    Maybe my view is skewed, but it sure looks like this desert ship is taking on a lot of deficit water. (NOT a joke)

    Seriously, how EXACTLY is Las Vegas going to meet the challenge of making it much past 2011?

    Wouldn't that require some new idea...a brainstorm of an idea?

    Where would an original, mindboggling idea like that...COME FROM?

    An "outsider," right? (last joke)

  3. "epiphanic" Really? Don't use such big words. We are the dumbest city in America. The Sun's own spell check doesn't recognize it.

    As for Nevada 2.0, well based on the article, it appears that nothing new emerged but the same old tired stuff.

    The state has done quite a bit to promote renewable energy, but so have many other states. It is competitive out there.

  4. As for all you people that us call dumbest city in America well keep coming back, thanks for your cash, love dumbest city in America !!!!!!!!!!!

  5. "Dumbest city in America" still doesn't know which direction it wants to go. One side of town they are ostracizing a hotel for sexual liberties and the other side of town they're holding a Porn Convention.

  6. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Nothing but outsider opinions in these studies, and lots of outsider opinions in the comments. The one thing saddling Las Vegas is not enough people who understand the city are participating In it.

    Keep wringing your hands folks, which the rest of us do something.

  7. "the state constitution needs to be amended to increase funding for diversification, otherwise nothing will change."

    Dipstick makes an interesting point. What exactly is the role of government in this process? Doesn't the private sector have a say in the what activities take place and what is needed from state government?

    There is a workforce in Nevada, but according to Brookings West, it is not educated. Are there no opportunities?

    There are quality of life issues here. The gaming and adult culture is pervasive (see the articles in both papers on the porn convention). I think Nevada would have to designate the north for diversification (limit all the grown up stuff) and keep the south as it is--a playground for grown ups. Visiting is one thing, living here with a family is another.

    As for epiphanic, it is a word, but I had to dig to find it. Word doesn't have it, but word linked to a thesaurus that had it.

  8. And Ms. Pagliotta's comment is perhaps the worst outsider opinion of all. Thank you for telling us that what works for us is what we should abandon, because golly gee, more flash and more gambling couldn't possibly be what we are about; thanks for telling us that Las Vegas isn't a place where you can raise kids because most of my friends are natives, some of several generations worth; thanks for telling us what we need is more community because, why of course we don't have any here because that's what the media tells you, even though the community I live in and associate with are true Las Vegans who love it here, not those fake haters who suck up all they can and still want more; and thanks to the haters who always post here because they have nothing better to do, and who will always want Vegas to be reinvented as somewhere else, but lack the gumption to get up and move to their Shangri-La and to stop trying to change Las Vegas. Some of you have had a bad love affair with Vegas and it's time for you to move on, but like the weak people you are, you'd rather stay around and try to change your partner into your vision of perfection.

    Please. Las Vegas is the Nevada Test Site irradiated cockroach of the desert, remember? We may weaken, or the presence of 300,000 hater "residents" may weaken us, but we will never die. Once the haters hightail it out of here, and once we are back to a 23-to-1 ratio of visitors to residents, all of this blah-blah-blah of how "we" are the dumbest city in the nation will fade away. Because it is not "we" who are dumb. No, that distinction lies squarely at the feet of those who flocked here looking for easy money and low taxes, and then when they realized that those things came because of our unique relationship with vice and an apocryphal "lack of culture" (again, please...), immediately set about to change Las Vegas into the city they ran from. Now THAT'S dumb.

  9. Nevada spends more money per student on higher education than Utah AND Texas

    and Arizona...

  10. 1. It is not clear that any of these "exemplary" States are better off than Nevada. All whether "Red" or "Blue" or "Purple", whether high-tax or low-tax, whether "strict" or "lax" in government regulation, are suffering in the "Great Recession." All are running substantial projected budget deficits as a percentage of their state GDPs. As a matter of fact, Nevada's per capita GDP is higher than at least one of these states who are presented as doing things the right way, and in line with the others. So what is the basis for concluding that what these other states are doing is "better" ?

    We do need to diversify, but it seems to me (and I may be wrong) that Las Vegas needs to start by building on our existing strengths.

    2. There is a saying that "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." Nevada ain't like those other states. It's labor force ain't like other states' either. The members of the labor force may not be formally educated, but they tend to be intelligent, hard-working, and adventurous. We need to build on what we've got at hand, not dream of fair castles built on what we wish we could have in the future if only things were different.

    Our unemployment can be traced to two factors: A. Gambling is down, and B. Construction is non-existent. We have to begin someplace, so where we are now should be our starting point. What can we do within our existing skill sets which will fill hotel rooms and restaurants? How about more convention business? If we expanded our convention facilities with new construction (which would sop of some of the unemployed/under-employed construction related trades and professions, we would have the space to hold related conventions at the same time, attracting additional visitors, and making us unique in the World in the convention business (with, perhaps, the exception of Hanover which does not have quite the same atmosphere). This way, we would build from existing strength with beneficial results realized promptly.

  11. Sorry for being cynical, but the carping about improving the educational system in order to convince out-of-state businesses to move to Nevada, is simply a b.s. pretext invented by those whose paychecks are derived from Nevada's educational institutions.

    Businesses are interested in one thing: Reducing their costs. The reality is that the per-employee costs to operate a national business (e.g. warehousing and distribution) are far less in Nevada than in California. Nevada is also blessed by its lack of an annual inventory tax. California residents, including business owners, are also punished by a high state income tax rate. Given California's profound financial problems, it is clear that the cost of living and doing business in California is going to go up again. "Silicon Valley" at its highly compensated entrepreneurs and employees are going to be brutalized by California's Legislature.

    The same holds true in other states where their legislatures and governorships are controlled by Democrats. The low tax environment is Nevada's strength, and that's what needs to be enhanced and promoted as business taxpayers in other states are annihilated by their own states' structural deficits and stranglehold by public employees unions.

    That's what needs to be promoted to bring more non-gaming jobs to Nevada.

    One could double the amount of money spent on "educators" in Nevada and still get the same result: The same second rate people who are already here and running the show.

    So cut the crap, Sun and friends. Intelligent people know all the noise you are making about "improving the educational system" is merely pretext to prevent cuts in pay and body count among administrators in Nevada's educational institutions.

  12. CynicalObserver:

    Good shot.

  13. Higher education: A concentration in technical, engineering, manufacturing, logistics and urban developement.

    High school: A balanced approach to college preparation and technical trade schools. It's not a matter of intellect, it is a matter of interest.

    Business: Business/education partnerships. Proven over and over again, when both benefit, everyone advances. If we want to be successful, we have to be aggressive, proactive and knowledgeable. Too many manufacturing and high tech business have moved right over us.

    Urban planning: No excuse for homes next to industrial facilities, lack of parks for families, etc. Plenty of proven successful examples. Developers must be encouraged as partners, not strip miners.

    Redevelop existing neighborhoods for safety and quality of life. Neighborhood police and fire stations. Boys and girls clubs located in park complexes with athletic fields and open space for community activities.

    Require affordable housing as a part of any developers portfolio, not 'poor neighborhoods' but integrated price ranges vice one. Affordable housing for working families. Create temporary low cost homeless parks with portable sanitation, policing, clinics and resource centers to create safe, humane conditions where those who want it can find help until the economy picks up.

    All our neighborhoods and families have to be and feel safe most of all. Community based policing works. We have too many - not after dark and never alone neighborhoods.

    Logistics: Business has to be able to get their employees to and from home and products to market. Infrastructure to support transportation and technology.

    Reasonable tax structure to support development without punishing any one sector more than another. Add a sales tax to services, but in an intelligent way. Start with creating a small percentage for services and lowering the existing one by the same amount. Create low fee licensing and registration of all service businesses (all businesses) that will not deter them from starting up or create a black market. As the service based sales tax increases, lower the sales tax on goods until we reach a balance. Ideally around 3-5 % with everyone equal. Lower sales taxes bring in employers. They need to know their employees can afford to live and work here. Protect homeowners with a cap on annual property tax increases to prevent being taxed out a home you can afford the mortgage on.

    Affordable community/business partnerships can provide resources as we go forward. It can't all happen at once, but we have to start somewhere. Safety first.

    Otherwise, we will become the 'rust belt' of tomorrow. We can't solve all our problems on the back of the gaming industry. As more and more states allow gaming and the Native American tribal gaming grows, the gaming industry is more able to move to a more favorable climate just like everyone else. Imagine Las Vegas if the hotel/casinos start pulling out?

  14. California has a very diverse economy and they have 12% + is not everything...

  15. It would help if we had strong representation on a national level. Get new programs and ideas from those in charge. But we have a very weak representation in Washington. Other states have better leadership.