Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Fourteen key Southern Nevadans sat around a conference room table in a second-floor office earlier this week, imagining a future that includes golf carts with solar panels and three-wheeled, electric motorcycles for police officers.
Those vehicles and other products would bear the stamp “Made in Las Vegas.” So the future would also include jobs for area residents who build them.
“There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there,” Cornelius Eason said Monday to his fellow members of the Emerging Markets Committee, a creation of Workforce Connections, the regional agency that gets millions in federal dollars to train people for jobs.
In fact, Workforce Connections, which until recently was called the Southern Nevada Workforce Investment Board, has nearly three times as many millions as it did only last year, having gotten almost $15 million in stimulus money intended to rouse the valley from its economic stupor — the unemployment rate is 13.1 percent.
Some of the money has gone to paying Eason to locate new sources of employment in the valley, upon which more of that money will go to paying nonprofit organizations to help train people for those jobs.
Also at the committee meeting was Jaime Cruz, whom Workforce Connections hired to help locate jobs with the specific shade of green that many people say will be key to diversifying and strengthening the valley’s economy. Thus, the solar panels and electric motors.
Neil Roth, owner of the small company Xtreme Green Products, contacted Cruz seeking help training future employees. Roth’s 5,000-square-foot factory-in-the-making is in the shadow of the Strip, on Wynn Road, a fitting location for a startup that symbolizes a future where people would come to Las Vegas following jobs other than cleaning hotel rooms, climbing corporate casino ladders or building houses for people who work in the tourism industry.
As Eason said at the meeting, “what was selling last year is not necessarily selling this year.”
Roth and a partner are hoping that sales of their three-wheeled electric “police mobility vehicles” will take off this year. They spent three years perfecting the machine, and the company has drawn interest from about 100 police departments nationwide. Roth says he can make only two or three vehicles at a time right now, but wants to ramp up to 200 a month. To do this he will need up to 25 employees by next year.
The problem: “Nobody knows how to do this work,” he said.
So he hopes Workforce Connections can use some of that stimulus money to pay for training his future workforce.
Similarly, National Electric Vehicles hopes to open its doors in the coming months to build and retrofit golf carts and small commercial trucks with solar panels.
And Evergreen Recycling will soon begin recovering and recycling garbage from Mandalay Bay.
After the meeting, Cruz cautioned that markets for such products as the ones Xtreme Green and National Electric Vehicles produce might open up slowly, despite the optimism of the entrepreneurs behind the companies. And Eason noted that the results of these projects “are not going to be the number of jobs that will make a splash in the headlines.” But, he added, they are jobs nonetheless.
Cruz has created a team to save energy at the MGM Mirage properties, and he is sure other companies will see the importance of saving money through recycling, efficiency and, eventually, solar energy. Mandalay Bay’s decision to work with Evergreen is an example of that, he said.
So the future might go beyond golf carts with solar panels to Strip casinos with solar panels, moving Las Vegas from drawing mostly service industry workers to engineers and technicians.
“That’s the idea,” Cruz said.