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OPINION: Entrepreneurship can enhance the Las Vegas economy

Heather Brown
Heather Brown

The great lesson for the Las Vegas economy from the COVID-19 pandemic is the need to diversify. From a traditional economic development perspective that would mean attracting a broader range of industries to expand beyond primarily gaming, tourism and hospitality. But there’s another dimension to diversification that is becoming an increasingly high priority: entrepreneurship. My recent conversations with CEOs moving to the valley underscore this point.

Diversifying into emerging industries is undoubtedly crucial, with potential seen in fintech, sports tech and various tech applications complementing our existing hospitality and entertainment pillars. While embracing these sectors is vital, it's equally important to ensure that our local workforce isn't limited to traditional industries. Residents should have the opportunity to shape their own career paths, fostering a broader spectrum of career choices beyond our established strengths.

Entrepreneurship — the act of starting or even growing any business — offers the valley’s residents a chance to define and pursue personal career interests and to have an ownership stake in doing so. This, in turn, enhances, expands and has a transformative effect on the local economy.

New and young businesses create the vast majority of job growth in America, and their impact extends well beyond mere job statistics. Small businesses bolster communities that have traditionally been overlooked by offering employment avenues that align with local skills, cultural heritage and values. These businesses often tap into the local talent pool, further reinforcing their bond with the community.

Their contributions aren't confined solely to localized benefits. Research shows their broader positive influence: For every 1 percent increase in the entrepreneurship rate, the poverty rate decreases by 2 percent. This underscores the profound and far-reaching ramifications of fostering entrepreneurship within our society. It literally uplifts communities!

That’s why I am now serving in three roles to advance entrepreneurship in the valley: as the recently appointed, first-senior vice president of entrepreneurial development at the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (LVGEA); as President and co-founder of StartUp Vegas; and as an ambassador for Right to Start, the national nonprofit organization championing entrepreneurship as a civic priority.

I’m excited about this opportunity because of Las Vegas’ extraordinary potential and because there’s a lot of work to do. The effort required is  underscored by two recent national rankings: Las Vegas ranked 37th on WalletHub’s 2023 list of “Best Large Cities to Start a Business” and Nevada ranked 38th on the 2023 Forbes list of “The Best States To Start a Small Business In 2024.”

Fortunately, some key steps have already been taken. Last summer, Nevada became the first state in the nation to enact a Right to Start Act creating an office of entrepreneurship. It did so with broad bipartisan leadership and support in both houses of the Legislature, especially from Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager, who sponsored the bill, and Gov. Joe Lombardo, who signed it into law. Kyeema Peart, practiced in entrepreneurship and economic development, has since been appointed as director of that office and is setting its initial course, working with community stakeholders leading and supporting entrepreneurship in Nevada to determine aspirational targets and the necessary resources to enhance the skills of entrepreneurs and the business environments in which they operate.

My role as senior vice president of entrepreneurial development at LGVEA illuminates entrepreneurship for Las Vegas. It also enhances the potential for statewide entrepreneurial collaboration with, among others, the state office of entrepreneurship, and partner regional development authorities.

Doug Erwin, senior vice president for entrepreneurial development at the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, is also an ambassador for Right to Start and was instrumental in supporting recent legislative efforts to reform the structural supports for state entrepreneurship. 

The importance of collaboration was reinforced by recent conversations I had with dozens of CEOs who are moving or considering moving their companies to Las Vegas. These forward-thinking leaders will introduce fresh talent and unique demands to our city.

To benefit from the richness of diversification, Las Vegas must be prepared to meet these evolving requirements, which may differ from those of our existing industries. Entrepreneurs play a pivotal role in addressing these gaps by establishing or growing specialized businesses.

Furthermore, a thriving business environment has the power to inspire Las Vegas individuals from all walks of life to consider embarking on their own entrepreneurial journeys. This injects further energy and diversity into the economies of the valley and Nevada. Emerging and young businesses not only cater to novel demands and generate employment opportunities but also possess the potential to evolve into large, even industry-defining entities.

Fostering an environment conducive to entrepreneurship is a collective responsibility that benefits all Nevadans. It's not just a passive endeavor; it requires active engagement. When a new store or business emerges in your community, explore what it has to offer. If you find it valuable, share your positive experiences with friends and family. Every burgeoning business relies on its customers and their referrals. The future of entrepreneurship in Las Vegas and across the state lies within the grasp of each one of us.

Heather Brown is the senior vice president of entrepreneurial development at the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance and president and co-founder of StartUp Vegas.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].


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