Monday, Dec. 31, 2012 | 2 a.m.
A year ago, many experts forecast that the recession would loosen its grip on Las Vegas and Nevada in 2012. Looking back, it seems it did a bit, but the year left us mostly disappointed.
Housing values began inching up, yet the foreclosure rate remained among the steepest of any state in the U.S.
Clearly, Las Vegas and the state did not come roaring back with the vigor many had hoped.
So what to make of 2013? Will this be the year the recovery begins in earnest?
What will be the biggest challenges for Las Vegas and Nevada? What are the greatest fears? What are the brightest prospects?
We like to ask these questions at the end of the year. A year ago, we mostly asked community leaders and prominent business people. This year, we threw our net out to get more thoughts from people of various walks of life and perspectives.
This year's participants range from corporate CEOs and top state and federal elected leaders to a butcher and a baker - alas, no candlestick maker.
It's a diverse group, with equally wide-ranging views. We begin presenting them today, in the first of our two-part Look Ahead to 2013.
Dean Heller, U.S. senator
I definitely believe there are brighter days ahead for Nevada. However, it’s imperative Washington take its responsibilities seriously in the New Year and tackle the biggest issues facing our nation. Addressing tax reform, federal spending and housing would be a big step toward bolstering the economy and creating much-needed jobs. Creating an environment where robust long-term economic growth can take hold will provide middle-class families with greater security and allow small businesses to hire again.
Nevada continues to be plagued with high unemployment and foreclosures while slow growth and an anemic economy continue to fuel uncertainty and stifle opportunity. It’s past time to put the partisanship aside and get the millions of unemployed Americans back to work.
Tax reform, reduced federal spending and housing are just a few of the issues that will impact Nevadans in the coming months, and I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find solutions.
We must keep Nevadans in their homes and find ways to put Nevada’s families and businesses back on sound financial footing. That’s difficult to do when we just don’t know what to expect from Washington in the coming year. Congress can play a major role in helping Nevada’s long-term economic recovery by passing a budget for the first time in almost 1,350 days. Washington must do better for the sake of our nation and future generations.
-- Karoun Demirjian
Mona Van Joseph, professionally licensed psychic
This is going to be more of a foundation year. It’s setting the groundwork for things to get better. I think that big construction projects will start to kick in again in 2014. This year is about getting our ducks in a row so that 2014 kicks butt.
What my (tarot) cards are saying is people have the wrong perception of Las Vegas.
They don’t really know the heart of this community. We have to love who we are and show our heart. There are people here that really love this city, and it’s these people who really are going to help make it come back.
I think the biggest issue that we have here is that no one is addressing the diversity of our community. There are so many talents here that we’re not letting come out. Vegas hasn’t really scratched the surface of what we could do here.
The card that’s coming up is one of re-creating ourselves. We have so many vacant office buildings right now, the challenge is to put incentives out there where new businesses could move into these empty buildings.
The other challenge is we need to make sure we have the right kind of care for our seniors, more assisted living and the right kind of medical care. I think that’s an area that will be expanding.
(The tarot deck) keeps talking about not dwelling on what’s not working and concentrate on what is working. We have great weather, we have a lot of people willing to work. We have everything we need to make this an incredible place to live.
We need to stay out of our own way and stop trying to be what we’re not.
We’re not a beachside community. What we are is a perfect place for tourists to come and have a good time. Let’s keep up that reputation, but since we are the entertainment capital of the world, why not expand on that to be a place where movies are filmed?
-- Conor Shine
Rehan Choudhry, former director of entertainment and special events for the Cosmopolitan and founder of Aurelian Marketing Group
Las Vegas is arguably one of the most well-known cities in the world, and more so, one of the most well-known entertainment cities in the world. One thing I learned here over the past two years is there’s no shortage of innovation, but there is a large gap between destination-based entertainment and community-based programming. Specifically, what led us to Life is Beautiful (a festival planned for fall and co-produced with the Downtown Project) is this gap in that festival space. What we want to bring to Vegas is a festival that the community can be proud of and that we can call our own.
Will Las Vegas be better off at the end of next year? From several perspectives, absolutely. The tremendous amount of capital investment committed to the city will do nothing short of redefine the areas that are being focused on and create mass growth.
Take the Downtown Project for example. You can’t invest $350 million into any city and not see some sort of meaningful growth. The question is always going to be: Can some of the other areas of the city, the government system, the local businesses that have been here focusing on themselves for so long, can everyone rally around this sense of community and this broader sense of growth purpose? Can everyone change their behaviors? … Largely the focus will be downtown for the next five years. In the work we are doing, everyone is thinking of five- to 10-year growth models. There’s just a tremendous amount that needs to be done. People’s perspective of downtown is going to change. So right now if you ask people what downtown is, they’re largely going to say the Fremont Street Experience, Fremont East, this new Downtown Project thing, or they will say First Friday and the Arts District. But there’s a lot going on that people don’t know about.
-- Tovin Lapan
Dwight Jones, Clark County School District superintendent
There are indicators the district is making progress. Whether it's enough progress, whether it's fast enough, I think that's still debatable. But I could not be happier with how hard principals, teachers, staff are working to try to help turn this system around and make it better for kids.
I hope to continue to partner well with the governor and legislators to find the right balance in funding. We've been in a tremendous downturn in this economy with a lot of challenges. We understand that the state hasn't fully recovered, but I think this district has been a pretty good model of doing more with less. But at some point, less just becomes less.
We need to invest in early childhood education, we've got to invest in our English Language Learners and we've got to support kids in this community who are in poverty because those numbers continue to go up.
We've got to continue to work and support our teachers. At the end of the day, that teacher in the classroom makes the biggest difference in the classroom, and so we're going to continue to do what it takes to partner with, collaborate with and train and support our teachers.
I still really believe our class sizes are too high in this district. So we've got to find a way to bring those class sizes down and to hire more teachers to bring that class size down.
I don't think you can keep cutting and expect to meet those challenges head on. In the upcoming year, I think we need to have a real conversation about what resources might be available and invest in those resources that give us the biggest return on that investment.
I hope we can have that kind of conversation so we don't have major cuts to education again. I think that is a huge hope for this community and certainly for the children of this community. I think at some point we need to get back into the business of investing in our children. We can't just keep cutting on the backs of our children. We've got to invest.
I also want to have a better relationship with our teachers union. I want us to find a way to partner in a way that makes sense. I'm going to continue to insist that this district is going to be about kids. But I think there's a lot of things we can do together that will benefit the kids of this district, and I have a hope that those relationships will continue to improve.
There's just a lot of work that still has to be done. Changing this system is like turning a big ship. It is going to take time and persistence. And it's going to take the community standing engaged and partnering with us to make it happen.
-- Paul Takahashi
Li Hsun Sun, owner Crepe Shack & Waffles, a Henderson dessert shop
It’s hard to say whether things will be better a year from now. Housing is an inflated market because the banks are holding a lot of properties, but a lot of small businesses are starting up. Landlords are finally giving a break to small businesses and getting people in there.
As far as whether they succeed, that’s another question. An organic pizza shop next to Crepe Shack, Pizza Fusion, lasted just six months. A lot of commercial real estate will get filled next year, but there will be a lot of turnover, too.
A lot of my customers are local students. Parents give their kids money to go after school to get desserts and food. This year, I saw a little slowdown in that. A year from now, I think it will be about the same or a little bit better.
Costs went up this year. A bag of flour went from $12 to $18. A 50-pound bag lasts us about a week. During the summer, strawberries cost $8 to $10 for an 8-pound case. Right now, they’re about $30 a case. That’s huge; strawberries are in about half of my menu items.
Tourists have to keep visiting to keep the economy going. Most residents work on the Strip, and those workers are my customers. It’s a big circle: Tourists come in, the people in the hotel make their money, and then they spend money here.
-- Eli Segall
Steve Wolfson, Clark County district attorney
I think there is a lesser amount of trust by the general public in our public-safety partners. I think a number of things are being done to try and earn that trust back. The Department of Justice came in and provided the sheriff with a comprehensive report with recommendations to make this a safer community.
That report also has some recommendations for my office.
With the implementation of those things, our community will be better at the end of 2013 than perhaps it is now.
My No. 1 goal is to provide as much public safety as I can. We are never short of serious cases. The felony DUI cases are terrible. We still have people who choose to drink and drive. We have a number of people seriously injured or killed it seems like every day. That continues to be a challenge. That’s something I’m continuing to work on.
I think we’re coming out of the recession slowly but surely. I see certain revenue sources are up, but we continue to face some of the same problems: education, paying for our schoolteachers, home prices, unemployment.
We have to protect the things that are so vital here. I think compromise sometimes is a solution to achieving our goals — working together, recognizing that the decisions we make today affect our lives in the future and our children’s lives.
-- Jackie Valley
Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association
I think you'll have your detractors who will try to blame everything that's wrong in education on unions and collective bargaining. But we need to deal with what the source of the problem is. It's not teachers unions, and it's not the contract. It's the inadequate funding that led us to this situation we're in. You can't continue looking at the symptoms without looking at the problem.
We are a state that uses a lot of Band-Aid approaches to fund education. We need to look at creating and maintaining programs that make students successful, and how to secure the funding to implement them.
The district has reduced funding and cut programs. Per-pupil funding for English-language learners is low and the support services for teaching ELL students have been decimated. We have students who are living in poverty, especially because of the recession. In our inner-city schools, roofs are falling down and the air conditioners are not working. What kind of a learning environment is that?
At what point is the public and the Legislature going to say enough is enough? You can't cut your way to a great public school. It's just not possible. The public needs to step up and say, "It's our schools, it's our job, it's our responsibility to fund public education. We need to invest in education so we have the best education system in America."
My hope is that the Legislature takes a look at some solutions. There are not enough industries that are paying their fair share in funding the basic right of a public education for all children in Nevada. We're hoping that other members of the community – other business groups – say let's take a look at what kind of funding is available, what sources are out there, and how can we put that into education. I believe the state has got to be creative in how they look at stable funding for education.
With all of the hard work that teachers are putting in, with the proper supports and if the Legislature does the right thing, absolutely, we'll see education outcomes increase. Our teachers want what's best for our students. And that's for them to learn and be successful. Teachers just want the support, the materials and the time to teach.
-- Paul Takahashi
Robert Hoo, community organizer, Nevadans for the Common Good
People recognize that Las Vegas is a young city, that there’s a lot of isolation here, there is a lot of transience and there isn’t a well developed community, so people need to come and work together. We’re having a lot of success along these lines. We had a recent meeting in North Las Vegas with nine different religious groups, people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and languages.
People are getting to know one another and thinking about addressing common concerns. We are having these meetings all across the valley, bringing people together. We’ll continue that through this coming year. The major emphasis for us this year will be the issue of sex trafficking and in particular child sex trafficking, with various pieces of legislation being proposed. There’s a growing awareness of the problem, and we think there is a real opportunity to push that forward and address the prosecution of criminals, the protection of young boys and girls and the rehabilitation of victims who are caught up in the sex trade.
The major obstacle for us will be getting into the political process and working on compromises that can get through the Legislature. Everyone agrees it is a problem, but its not that simple. People see things differently, and the challenge is finding a compromise that will create some positive change on the issue.
-- Kyle Hansen
David Saxe, founder of David Saxe Productions
I see 2013 getting even harder for those in the entertainment industry who aren’t willing to adapt to how the industry has changed over the course of the recession. Even if the economy is getting better, I think audiences don’t realize it yet. I think they’re still scared to spend.
My company has been doing great, because we’ve been doing a lot of creative things to get people in seats. But it’s not like the old days where if you have a good product and you get the word out and get some advertising going, maybe a few coupons here and there, and they’ll come. Now, you have to do everything in your power to get their attention. Fifty percent off is the new normal -- half price is where you start. People price up now just to be able to price down.
In a year’s time, we could also benefit by taking more risks with what’s put out there for entertainment. Many years ago, in the Rat Pack days, those were the biggest stars -- those were movie stars, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin. These guys were huge. Since the '70s, however, we tend to get the has-been stars. No offense to them, but that’s what they are. They’re huge stars, but they’re not current. I would like Vegas to be the cool and hip now stars. The big stars in big shows, not just their touring concerts. I’d like to see somebody take a risk and bring that to Vegas. The MGM-Mirage resorts have got to stop with the Cirque shows. It’s enough.
If I could take my pick, I would love to put up a whole production show around someone like Pink. The problem is, artists like that are always touring. You’d have to do a production show where you could rotate people who are truly talented -- not like Britney Spears -- so that Vegas isn’t known for cheesy acts and choreography anymore. That’s what I want to do.
-- Andrea Domanick
Brian Burton, president and CEO, Three Square Food Bank
There are a lot of green shoots and bright spots I see around the community. I know from the nonprofit perspective, a lot of new conversations and relationships (are) happening among nonprofit staffs and executives. I think that’s the silver lining of this painful economy. We are coming out of our separateness and discovering our unity and the mutual benefit of working together.
The need has been high now for five years, so we are obviously concerned. We are concerned about donor fatigue. Will people become discouraged if things don’t turn around?
We’re concerned about the gridlock in Washington and potential devastating cuts to federal nutrition programs. It would absolutely be a tsunami for this state because we’ve been hit harder than anywhere else. We have more vulnerable, formerly middle-class people who depend on SNAP benefits. (SNAP is an acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.)
I think the challenge for our city and state is emerging from the housing catastrophe and rebuilding a sense of community in the aftermath of that and continuing to improve our education and safety-net programs.
We have to transcend this north-south divide and figure out how to recapture more of our tax dollars down here in the south. But it’s also a federal problem. As a state, we have not been advantaged. We have not positioned ourselves in the past to fully leverage our federal dollars.
All of those (federal) benefits that get spent through our local merchants create jobs and create an economic stimulus that’s immediate. Last year, we brought $5 million in taxes back to the community just through our outreach programs at Three Square, and I’m hoping to double that next year. I want to bring in $10 million.
-- Jackie Valley
Neal Smatresk, president of UNLV
It’s pretty clear that we’ve been through a very challenging period, but Las Vegas is a city built on big ideas and bold behavior and taking risks.
I fear that over the last four years, we’ve lost a little of our swagger. We’ve been so busy trying to wrestle with the effects of a major recession that we haven’t been looking ahead — that we haven’t been taking the chances we used to take to maintain our global edge.
So the question that I think we’re all going to have to wrestle to the ground is: When will we start really dreaming big and making great investments of our time, effort and capital back into rebuilding the dream — the dream that is Las Vegas?
There are great things we need to invest in. We need to fund education at the K-12 level, and we need to see higher education as the investment it is.
If you assess the economic impact of UNLV, you find … $913 million of direct spending in this community occurs because of UNLV. That includes salaries, capital projects and services. The total includes student tuition dollars, what nonresidential students bring in, and federal dollars and contracts.
We’ve got to get over the fear of the recent recession and understand we’re in a foot race now with major metros … that are investing enormous amounts of capital in economic development and higher education.
That’s why I say put your money on red. Go Rebels.
-- Ric Anderson
Chris Cochran, associate professor healthcare administration and policy, School of Public Health, UNLV
Now that Gov. (Brian) Sandoval has decided to go along with the expansion of Medicaid, that is going to create a whole lot of buzz within the healthcare community with regard to getting people signed up who qualify. I think there are going to be a lot of people out there who are not sure whether or not they would qualify.
The other major thing I think will happen is people will be getting aligned with what they need to know in order to pick out the right insurance for them, because in 2014 people are going to be required to have insurance. I think people are going to be scrambling about thinking ‘what am I going to do? What does this mean to me?’
I think the governor is going to find a lot of support because of his willingness to expand Medicaid. I think we’ll see more bipartisanship. I think they’re really going to try to work together.
There’s going to be great demands on the healthcare system over the next few years, particularly as more and more people get covered. While it’s going to create a little hardship on the system initially, it’s going to create great opportunity in terms of providing well-paying jobs, good-paying jobs, particularly here in Southern Nevada, and I see that as a plus.
-- William D'Urso
Ron Lutz, operator of the Butcher Block
Just from the customers, the way they talk, the way they tell me things are going on the Strip, I believe it will be better next year.
I believe prices of beef are going to go up a little bit next year, from what I've heard. Obviously, I'm going to have to raise my prices. But the bottom line is if people want good steaks, I believe they'll come to see us.
I'm opening another store — that will be a major challenge. We're hoping by springtime to be open. It's on Centennial and Durango. I plan on hiring a couple of people for that.
One of the major challenges for the city is tourism. We've got to keep that on the plus. That's one of our major incomes for the city. It brings jobs and everything else.
Don't go crazy on the room rates. Sometimes, it seems they go a little high on the room rates and that keeps people from coming as much. I think if they keep the room rates down and the entertainment coming and the shows at a reasonable rate for people to be able to come and enjoy, they'll be able to keep the economy going here. Shows, entertainment, boxing, concerts all that stuff draws a lot of crowds and a lot of business.
-- Dave Toplikar
Tom Skancke, recently appointed CEO of the Las Vegas Regional Economic Council
I’m extremely optimistic. In the last 49 days (since being appointed to head the new regional economic development authority), I’ve seen a surge of intellectual energy focusing on a single vision. I’ve never seen such a spirit of cooperation in this city.
Southern Nevada as a region has always been last in and first out in hard economic times. But we’ve been a two-industry community of gaming and development. We were so focused on those industries that we didn’t take the time needed to attract new industries.
To change that, the state has to make some investment priorities. We have to invest in education — kindergarten through college, our surface transportation infrastructure and our long-term water supply.
Once we’ve done that, we’ll be more attractive to industries considering expanding or moving here. We better have an infrastructure that delivers the product.
Do we have the courage and the willingness to create a more conducive arena for business to invest? That’s the challenge. People have to believe that it is an investment. What do we want our community to look like and feel like for future generations? It’s going to take a phenomenal amount of leadership and courage to accomplish this.
In transportation, we have to look at alternative funding mechanisms, not just the traditional means. Nevada is the only state in the West that does not have tolling authority. We’re going to need to look at funding roads with a formula for vehicle miles traveled and not a fuel tax to capture all users. We have to change the whole mindset from 'We can’t,' to 'We can.'
We need to look at more partnerships and take advantage of our strengths. There are things going on in our medical community that are just amazing and we need to leverage that. We have to continue to invest in our convention and tourism business. Both medical and tourism industries provide high-tech environments that will encourage companies to be here.
Those and continued advocacy for logistics and goods movement will help us diversify our economy.
-- Richard N. Velotta
Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas
I believe Nevada legislators of both parties will come together to work for a stronger Nevada.
Once again, the key issue for the coming year will be Nevada’s budget. While we are showing signs of modest growth in our economy, we must continue to make certain that Nevadans receive a good return on their investment for every tax dollar spent. We must be mindful that the financial issues facing our nation will have an impact on Nevada and as such be prepared to address whatever comes our way in a fiscally responsible manner.
We also must seize the opportunity to implement public policy that will have a positive impact for Nevada’s children. The fact that Nevada is last in the country in graduation rates is unacceptable to both political parties.
Last session we started to strengthen Nevada’s education system and I look forward to continuing progress on policy and reforms.
Two such policies, which I am proposing, are the Every Child Learns Initiative and the Parent Empowerment Law. The Every Child Learns Initiative will, for the first time, target funding for English Language Learner programs. It will begin to address the challenges facing the one-sixth of Clark County School District students who are unable to learn due to language barriers. The Parent Empowerment Law will encourage more parent involvement by giving parents a greater say in the governance of our schools.
The elections are over and now is the time for finding bipartisan solutions to the pressing challenges facing Nevada.
-- David McGrath Schwartz
Jay Barrett, newly elected chairman of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce
I’m very optimistic that by this time next year, unemployment will be down and visitation will be up and business and the economy will be greatly improved.
The key, I think, is doing everything we can to work together and we have to stay on message.
It’s important that local governments and the education community continue to be partners in the diversification of the economy. That’s one of the things that has to happen for the economy to recover. We have to continue to get the message out that Las Vegas is a very attractive place, not only to live but to do business.
There’s been a lack of massive construction projects in Southern Nevada, but that’s starting to change. Look at what’s happening in the center of the Strip. Caesars is working on the Linq project. The Bill’s property is being redone. These are small examples, but we’re talking about big-dollar amounts to do some renewing and refreshing and I think we’re going to see a lot more of that.
One of the things we need to do to build confidence in the community is ensure better credit availability and to maintain reasonable regulations and rules on the federal level.
The chamber also believes it’s key to strengthen the partnership between business groups, education and the public sector. We want to see the standard of living increase and graduation rates climb. It will be a challenge, but I’m optimistic that it will be done.
The chamber plans to support education reforms at the 2013 legislative session. It’s a very involved formula, but we are confident that there is a way to fund higher education through adjustments and reforms with existing resources. There can’t be any conversation about a margin tax or taxes on businesses. Our economy is too fragile at this time to consider that.
But we think there are some things that can be done in the Legislature for Southern and Nevada and UNLV to receive a more equitable share of funding.
We’re hoping to accomplish a great deal in the Legislature. Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick has given some positive messages from the Legislature about new lawmakers wanting to work together. That bodes well.
I think compromise is in the air. We all want to work together to accomplish what’s best for Southern Nevada.
-- Richard N. Velotta