Sunday, April 14, 2013 | 2:02 a.m.
As one of the co-authors of the Brookings-SRI study that led to the state’s current economic development plan, I am concerned that Nevada is sending the wrong message to businesses in its new brand: “A world within. A state apart.” We can debate the merits of the tag line as a tourist hook, which I see as a forced version of the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan, but as an economic development label, it is a complete disaster. A key finding in my study was that Nevada’s global connections — not its remoteness and separateness — are its best assets.
Where did I get the idea that our new brand was to be used as a way to pitch business development? I quote Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, chairman of the Nevada Tourism Commission, who commented in the Reno Gazette-Journal on Wednesday that the brand will “market the state to a variety of audiences including business development, education and tourism.” Add to that a television ad that features the 1930s Cole Porter classic “Don’t fence me in,” and it appears that the state is selling aloneness as an attraction.
The whole look of the ads and website seem decidedly old timey. In fact, the new state branding harkens back to 1930s Nevada — the one that appears in the Roosevelt-era Works Progress Administration tourist guide to the state. Having a copy of this classic work on my bookshelf, I perused its contents to see how it matches up to the new state brand. Dang. It’s like the PR firm we hired channeled its authors. Nevada on the eve of World War II had hardly emerged from the late 19th century. It was in a deep Great Depression lull after the silver booms petered out and before Bugsy Siegel had his vision. In 1940, Nevada was dead last of the then 48 states in population with just 110,247 residents. We were less than half the size of the next smallest state, Wyoming, with 250,742 residents. If a good letting alone is what you sought in 1940, Nevada was your place.
By 2012, the date of the last census estimate, Nevada shot up to 2,758,931 people while Wyoming had just more than doubled with 576,412 residents. If remoteness and emptiness are virtues, Wyoming, the Dakotas and Montana have it all over Nevada. To be sure, much of Nevada remains deeply rural. But with 87 percent of that land controlled by the feds, we may need to check in with the Bureau of Land Management before taking down any structures that are fencing people in.
Modern Nevada is more than “a world within”; it is a world apart from its pre-war past. The state boomed and continues growing due to the connections it builds with the world via air travel, interstates and now the Internet (of which Las Vegas holds the largest single connection point in the United States). In fact, Las Vegas may be the most globally connected metropolitan area of its size in the U.S. Consider that its major gaming companies run a worldwide empire that reaches across the Pacific to China and Singapore.
Also note that the city has seen large-scale foreign investment from Germany, Dubai and soon Malaysia. McCarran International Airport directly links to more than two dozen international destinations and includes nonstops to Asia, Europe and Latin America. While bigger and longer-established metropolitan areas, such as Pittsburgh and St. Louis, are decoupling from world air travel, Las Vegas booms with foreign tourists and convention attendees.
And it’s not just Las Vegas that’s globally connected. The Brookings-SRI study found that logistics emerged as a major industry in Northern Nevada when the Port of Oakland was deepened for large container ships and goods started flowing into the interior West. Reno’s links to the Silicon Valley helped the state land Apple’s newest data center.
Even rural industries such as mining are linked to firms in places such as Toronto while Nevada’s agricultural products are increasingly sold on world markets. With all of Nevada plugged into the global economy, exports surged 28 percent in 2012, making it just one of 11 states to see double-digit growth.
Nevada is a state hyper-connected — not apart. Nevada needs to drive this point home every chance it gets. The current branding campaign, while perhaps alluring to some potential tourists, does not advance the state’s business case. I vote we start over on the business side. This time, instead of a commercial that begins with exterior scenes, we can focus on the interior buzz of the convention center during the Consumer Electronics Show, or the buzz of the massive servers inside Switch Communications. Connections are our business. Whether its human connections at trade shows or electron connections on the Internet, Nevada is all about the buzz.
Robert E. Lang is a professor at the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs and directs Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute at UNLV.