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The Las Vegas Strip as seen while 58 flood lights representing lives lost during the shooting illuminate the sky on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, during the Las Vegas stadium groundbreaking. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

By Rick Smith

There is an old story about a man walking down a dark street one night, when he comes across a little boy crawling around under a street lamp.  The man asks the boy what he’s doing; the boy replies that he’s looking for the quarter he lost.  Offering to help, the man asks the boy where he had dropped it.

“Oh, I dropped it across the street”.

“Then why are you looking on this side?”

“Because this is where the light is.”

Southern Nevada shares the boy’s predicament, as well as his self-imposed limitation.  Each time we lose “our quarter” – our economic driver - we are forced to try to find it under the only light we have: gaming and tourism.   As with the boy’s naïve solution, we, too, continue to be constrained by our own self-imposed resolution.

It is inarguable that the economic backbone of our state is carefully aligned with FUN.  It is found in different venues, although most have in common:  gaming, high-end retail, great food and world class entertainment.  Fortunately millions come here each year to capture it all - that is, until they don’t come.  911, the Great Recession, and now, a worldwide pandemic will dictate that once again we will hope that we can prime the fun-pump to initiate the trickle of a slow, painful, very unprofitable healing.

Meanwhile, the political landscape of California continues to devolve to a level no one would ever have imagined, highlighted by one of its legislator’s recent public post of a vulgar insult to Elon Musk and Tesla – (very reminiscent of AOC’s ignorant attack on Amazon that dissuaded that company from bringing thousands of white-collar jobs to NYC.)   By contrast, through our own still-early efforts toward economic diversification, and thanks to economic development groups including the LVGEA, Chambers of Commerce, and certain proactive municipalities, we have added major corporate names to our skyline.  These highly recognizable names include Google, Amazon, major league sports’ Golden Knights and the Raiders, as well as other non-gaming entities.  Perhaps the most significant of all will be the establishment here of an entirely new industry with the arrival of Haas Automation in Henderson.  

Back to the issue at-hand, the adverse conditions resulting from the COVID-19 virus, once again dictate that the more immediate recovery of our economic engine must continue to be driven by gaming and tourism. This is lamentable because the very model of business that Las Vegas is built upon (read fun) in many ways represents the antithesis of the necessary safe-distancing, wearing of safety apparel, and the limiting of gatherings to small, carefully-distanced groups.  Our continued over-reliance on gaming & tourism once again victimizes us at a time when we desperately need to accelerate our recovery.

Indeed, our longer term prosperity mandates that we intensify our outreach toward economic diversification.   Many believe that California, in particular, and now sporting a $58 billion deficit, represents a rapidly growing bounty of low-hanging fruit.   Increasingly, the political construct of that state has become inconsistent with the very ideals of free enterprise, prosperity and achievement.   In light of this, and in support of the urgent and glaring necessity that we diversify, we must establish a clear strategy that will identify, by name, mid-sized and major businesses and industries operating in California, and other states with similar draconian regulations and policies.  This strategy would then be followed immediately by a targeted effort to recruit as many of those as possible.   While this will take time to organize and fully implement, we must begin now.  Without a doubt, municipalities and states such as Texas, Utah, Arizona and other business-friendly states, already have ramped-up their efforts.   

In this light, we should reach out immediately to Elon Musk, as well as other tech companies in the Silicon Valley, as most certainly our competing communities already are doing.  Through the transaction model of Haas Automated, along with abundant BLM land to the south, we can offer the many advantages of both, our community and our State, while relieving companies such as Tesla of the overly-burdensome regulatory and punitive measures of California government.  Moreover, we can continue toward recruitment of peripherally related industries, such as unmanned aircraft systems, autonomous vehicles, as well as new modes of passenger and freight movement.  Too, the current pandemic also has taught us that our nation must reposition our manufacturing and distribution of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies and equipment, away from current, unreliable foreign sources.

Southern Nevada today offers excellent higher education and training.  UNLV is now a Tier 1 research university, and includes schools of medicine and dentistry.  The College of Southern Nevada, the largest public college in Nevada, offers numerous associate degree programs, as well as skilled-labor training and certificated programs in multiple fields.   Of particular note, the City of Henderson is home to the second-fastest growing four year college in the nation: Nevada State College.   Founded in 2002, NSC’s very diverse student population now exceeds 5000, with another 5000 to come in the not-too-distant future.  With the combination of NSC’s very innovative leadership, coupled with a sprawling 500-acre campus abundant with well-located, unencumbered land, NSC is primed for public-private partnership development, offering synergies for academia and private industry collaboration in a contiguous, academic/business park setting. 

In addition to public college and universities, Henderson also features two private, not-for-profit, fully integrated health sciences universities.   Touro University represents the largest medical school in the Southwest, and Roseman Health Sciences University, offers schools of dentistry, residency training in orthodontics, a college of pharmacy, plus a soon-to-be-established community-based medical school.

Our greater Southern Nevada community has an opportunity to take the lead in the vital interest of economic diversification.  We boast ample land, excellent transportation resources, and a tax structure that remains supportive of our efforts.  More than ever before, Southern Nevada has reached the critical point that mandates a new paradigm for our future economic security.  We now face yet another crisis which demands that business and civic leaders unite in this essential endeavor.  

There can be no doubt that this undertaking will require unprecedented political will, plus a unified spirit that is laser-focused on the goal of economic diversification.  Without this commitment, like our young friend and his quarter, Southern Nevada will continue to look for recovery under the only light we have.

Rick Smith is a commercial real estate executive with over 35 years development of projects valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars throughout the Southwest.  He is past Board Chair of the Henderson Chamber, former Advisory Board Chair of UNLV’s Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies, and was the founder of NAIOP’s National Mixed-Use Development Forum.  He serves in multiple capacities promoting economic diversification in So. NV.

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