Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 | 2:02 a.m.
In August, Brian Greenspun turns over his Where I Stand column to guest writers. Today’s columnist is Jim Murren, the chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International.
I thank Brian Greenspun for allowing me to again steer this column for a day. It’s an honor to be entrusted with this seat and to share thoughts with and about the community that I embrace so dearly.
I’m an optimist but also a pragmatist. In reflecting on the past year, there are some positive trends that bolster my view for the future of our region.
The first was the blueprint for economic reform and diversification issued in November by a key institution in our town, Brookings Mountain West. Combined with the prioritization of a long-term economic growth strategy at the state level and the appointment of Steve Hill as the state’s economic development director, along with the ongoing good work of the Nevada Development Authority, we are moving on the objectives of creating a stronger, resilient economy. In fact, at a recent meeting, the Nevada Development Authority’s Somer Hollingsworth reported that in June, 28 new companies were coming to Las Vegas and seven others were in the process of expanding. The growth of the Technology Business Association of Nevada supported by Switch and other technology companies is a sign of a growing sector.
In the area of education, there has been much budget pain in our public school system. However, targeted efforts to increase the number of high school graduates are showing success. The Reclaim Your Future initiative helped to raise the high school graduation rate by 13 percent more than was projected at the beginning of the previous school year. These are now young people who are on track for higher education and to be contributing members of our society.
Thanks to the private and public sector uniting, we are seeing more dynamic economic activity downtown. Business, residential, retail, food and beverage are all on the rise. The Smith Center went from concept to reality in March with marquee performances, and the new Las Vegas City Hall is another anchor in the area. On the Strip, the Sahara is in the process of being refurbished for reopening with a $300 million renovation.
The opening of Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport in June will further position Las Vegas for international business and recreational travel. Travel to Las Vegas continues to grow and will approach 40 million visitors this year. In contrast, New York City draws 50 million visitors per year (and Las Vegas dwarfs the Big Apple for convention and conference space).
Environmentally, to continue to be a destination of choice for business and recreational travelers, we must continue to work toward making our region a model of environmental responsibility and sustainability. The Green Chips organization is a public-private organization that is dedicated to this mission. Cindy Ortega, a colleague and chief sustainability officer for MGM Resorts, is the current chairwoman. I’m proud of that, but I’m more proud of how the community is coming together to preserve our environment. I recently learned that there’s a new Green Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas. The Springs Preserve does a great job educating children and adults and is a terrific community asset. Combined with other natural assets such as Mount Charleston, Red Rock Canyon National Park, Valley of Fire and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, we are abundant with natural resources.
In health care, Keep Memory Alive and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health continues to do great work and are bringing international attention to our area for research. The celebration to mark Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday in January raised funds and awareness in a way that was world class and also noted internationally. Other important health care research and care is also alive and well through the Desert Research Institute and with the University of San Diego’s embracement of Nevada Cancer Institute.
Many of our neighbors feel the affects of the downturn. Those of us who can are volunteering our time and treasure to help them. Volunteerism is a key element of a healthy community, and we have made it a priority to help connect our employees with volunteerism opportunities. Another priority is helping to employ the young men and women who have volunteered to go in harm’s way for us so that we may sustain our free and open society.
A lot has been achieved, yet more must be done. This is a long journey. The good news is we are well under way.