- The ongoing pandemic has reminded Nevada officials of the need to diversify the employer base in the region.
- While the region has lured new companies in recent years, it is light on education, healthcare, and mass transit.
- In the past decade, local officials have tried to lure companies to Southern Nevada, though tourism remains the predominant industry.
- The state needs a major industrial park south of Las Vegas, but it will take time to accomplish this, an expert says.
The adverse effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the Las Vegas economy have painfully exposed the risks of relying heavily on the tourism industry. It has reminded local officials yet again that there’s a need to diversify the employer base.
Recent years have seen new companies move to the valley, thanks to the low taxes, cheaper cost of living, and occasional tax breaks in Southern Nevada. However, the region lacks some essential wants for employers and workers, something that has crimped officials’ ability to lure firms.
Transit is a problem
While the valley has public buses, mass transit is a problem. Moreover, census data reveals that the share of Clark County’s population that graduated from college is below the national average.
Besides, the party-town image of Las Vegas makes it hard to persuade families to move there. Worse still, Nevada has poor-performing public schools and is short of doctors.
For instance, Virginia has invested in things that make people “want to live there,” including education, healthcare, and mass transit, according to Ryann Juden, the North Las Vegas City Manager.
He added that, in contrast, Nevada would rather consider reducing funding when it has a special session of the Legislature.
During a July special session, state lawmakers cut education funding to deal with a $1.2 billion budget deficit that resulted from the economic devastation that came with the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, Silver State’s K-12 education system was at the bottom of the list. In 2019, Education Week ranked the state second lowest in the US for public education, the first time in four years it wasn’t number last.
The past decade has seen officials authorize hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives to attract companies in the state.
Tourism remains the bread-and-butter industry for Las Vegas
However, tourism remains the bread-and-butter industry for Las Vegas, making the city’s economy susceptible to extreme booms and busts.
UNLV public policy professor Robert Lang noted the economy overall has lagged despite the tourism industry diversifying itself, with resort operators rolling out more spots to spend money and time outside casino floors.
For decades, officials have tried to diversify the city’s employer base. Especially, they ramped up their efforts after the Great Recession.
In 2011, former Gov. Brian Sandoval created GOED, an organization that votes on tax break applications from companies desiring to operate in Nevada.
Under his leadership, new employers and non-casino projects came to Nevada, including Tesla’s battery industry. However, a proposed electric-car plant project in North Las Vegas failed terribly.
Southern Nevada needs a major industrial park south of Las Vegas, close to the California border, said GOED deputy director Bob Potts. However, he added that this can’t happen overnight.