by Da Yeon Eom, The Nevada Independent, March 7, 2022
While unemployment rates have nearly fallen to pre-pandemic levels and high-tech companies such as Google are taking an interest in the state, economic diversification continues to be a top-of-mind challenge for cities in tourism-dominated Nevada.
At the 2022 State of Economic Development event presented by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (LVGEA) last week, Clark County government and business leaders focused on how to diversify the economic landscape and reorient the state’s workforce post-pandemic.
“There’s a tradition at these kinds of breakfast meetings to preach the prosperity gospel and make everyone feel really great, and not talk about some of the harder things,” Michael Brown, executive director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said at the event in Las Vegas on Friday. “But I think we also have to talk about the challenges. This community has had a history of big swings, ups and downs.”
Brown said the state was recently ranked in the top spot for economic momentum by a national fiscal policy group, and that Nevada has diversified its economy beyond just the casino industry. He also noted that the state’s unemployment rate has fallen to 5.3 percent and there are more jobs in Reno than before the pandemic.
However, he also noted that the state has scored 73 out of 100 on the Hachman Diversity Index which measures the level of industry concentration in an area. While the economic diversity score is an improvement compared to two years ago, he said the state continues to rank the lowest among its neighbors in the Pacific time zone.
“When we break it down by counties, Washoe County comes out [at] about 89 percent [on the index] and Clark County is at 45 percent,” Brown said.
Other panelists, including Mesquite City Councilman George Gault, shared stories of trying to push economic diversification in the state’s smaller cities.
“I suspect that everyone in this room, when you think of Mesquite, you think of golf, gaming, maybe outdoor recreation and retirees,” Gault said.
The city struggles with an aging workforce — the median age is 60, and 40 percent of the population is over 65. But Mesquite recently announced it had attracted a major aluminum beverage can manufacturing facility, which Gault said could be a “game-changer,” and the city is also planning to build a STEM education center.
“My goal and hope are that we can create a talent pipeline, working with schools, creating STEM programs that lead right to those educational opportunities and work opportunities,” Gault added.
Taylour Tedder, city manager of Boulder City, said the city has been able to keep property taxes low for businesses and residents because of its emphasis on renewable energy, such as solar. He added that the city secured more than $13 million in revenue from leasing its land to solar companies.
Ryan Smith, director of economic and urban development at the City of Las Vegas, said there haven’t been a lot of accelerators or venture capitalists looking at startup businesses in the city. He said while there have been a couple of success stories, the city recognizes that it needs more innovative ideas that lead to more employment locally.
“I don’t know if anybody in this room can name the unicorns that have been birthed here in Las Vegas,” Smith said. “A lot of people are moving to Vegas from L.A. and San Francisco, and there’s a huge opportunity for us to capitalize.”
The city of Henderson is partnering with the College of Southern Nevada to create a 17,000-square-foot Center of Excellence for advanced manufacturing, according to Derek Armstrong, the city’s director of economic development and tourism.
Armstrong said the city has reached out to manufacturers across the valley to provide input and to make sure that students trained in the center will be employable immediately upon graduation. He said upward economic mobility for individuals and families will make the city and the state more attractive and competitive than neighbors such as Arizona.
Tina Quigley, president and CEO of the LVGEA, told The Nevada Independent in an interview that the state has the raw materials, but needs to continue adapting to prepare for new opportunities.
“We’re very lucky here in Southern Nevada to have the human capital,” Quigley said. “It’s the matter of lining up that human capital, giving them the skills that they need so that they are an attractive workforce for the types of companies that we are trying to bring in.”