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OPINION: Sacrificing small businesses at the altar of ‘economic development’

Michael Schaus
Michael Schaus

According to the consultants behind virtually every recent economic development scheme concocted by crony corporatists, last year’s Formula One event in Las Vegas brought nearly $1.5 billion in economic activity to the region. 

Of course, “the region” is a relative term. 

Judging by the public comments made at last week’s Clark County Commission meeting, it’s a term that seemingly doesn’t include countless small businesses, workers or local residents. 

Last week’s “debriefing” report at the commission meeting certainly wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Much of it focused on the bureaucratic and logistical nightmares endured by race organizers, county departments and the resort corridor more broadly. Commissioner Tick Segerblom even made it clear after the meeting that he would consider a repeat of last year’s chaos to be unacceptable. 

“If we do it a second time wrong, then that's our fault,” he told reporters. “First time we're just trying to survive.”

Segerblom is at least half right: It will be the fault of the county commission if the second year of F1 in Vegas is as nightmarish as the first. However, it’s not as if county commissioners were some unwitting spectators just “trying to survive” during last year’s race preparations — they were direct partners in the pandemonium. After all, they’re the elected leaders who were in charge, even going so far as to approve an entire decade of annual F1 races. 

And those disruptions to the community outlined throughout the meeting go to the heart of what’s wrong with the economic analysis portion of the debriefing report. 

Far from being a widespread economic windfall for the region, the event’s financial benefits were decidedly concentrated among only those industry giants with significant political and corporate influence over the event itself. It was small businesses, local residents and average workers, on the other hand, who bore much of the cost associated with turning a public roadway into a private racetrack — and yet, they were largely shut out of reaping the financial rewards. 

Any economic analysis that doesn’t seriously scrutinize such economic disparity simply isn’t telling the whole story. Massive revenues made by a few select industry players isn’t necessarily an indication that the months of disruption and confusion were well worth it in the end.

And yet, the report presented in last week’s meeting largely assumes any dollar spent at any of the major luxury properties somehow represents widespread economic growth, saying the “ripple effect of visitor spending reached $884 million of impact” for the region. 

If “ripple effect” sounds like a term that George H.W. Bush might describe as “voodoo economics,” that’s because it probably is. Certainly, any dollar spent in one sector of the economy can “ripple” its way into another — but it’s hard to see how much of the F1 windfall has rippled its way beyond the corporate spreadsheets of the resort corridor’s largest properties

Those who spoke during public comment, for example, certainly haven’t seen financial rewards for the sacrifices they made during last year’s event. Instead, the burdens they endured have merely served to concentrate wealth for the select few entities directly involved in the race.  

As it turns out, even local government didn’t see a massive financial windfall. 

While the 2023 race generated more state and local taxes than any other event in Las Vegas history, the county itself still found itself nearly half a million dollars in the red at the end of the day. (Generating $3.8 million in tax revenue, last year’s race cost Clark County government a stunning $4.3 million in staff-related expenses.) 

Such a massive cost to taxpayers for turning the resort corridor into a raceway is merely adding insult to injury for local small businesses that suffered months of turmoil as streets were ripped up and pedestrian traffic was detoured. After all, it’s not going to be race organizers or European tourists who are asked to make up that difference on the county’s balance sheet — it’s going to be those very same workers, business owners and local residents who have already seen their bottom lines diminished as a result. 

The more we learn about how the F1 debacle unfolded, the more it appears the entire spectacle has been little more than a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary Nevadans to a select few corporate profiteers. And in that respect, the story of the Las Vegas Grand Prix isn’t much different from the sort of crony corporatist schemes we’ve seen elsewhere in Nevada politics: socializing the burdens while privatizing the profits.  

From stadium subsidies and massive corporate handouts to the F1 extravaganza, the consultants and lobbyists pushing “economic development” in our state routinely treat small businesses and local taxpayers as sacrificial lambs that can be slaughtered for the common good rather than crucial components of our economy.

For the lambs, however, such forced sacrifices are never going to be worth it — regardless of how many billions of dollars the consultants tell us it brings to “the region.”

Michael Schaus is a communications and branding expert based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and founder of Schaus Creative LLC — an agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their story and motivate change. He has more than a decade of experience in public affairs commentary, having worked as a news director, columnist, political humorist, and most recently as the director of communications for a public policy think tank. Follow him at or on Twitter at @schausmichael.


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