Las Vegas Sun

April 24, 2019

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Preview speakers offer some optimism amid economic gloom

The Economy at Preview 2009

Preview 2009 was held at Thomas & Mack on Friday, and included local and national business members. Representatives of the companies gathered to network, gain connections, and hear speakers talk about the state of the economy and how it is affecting them.

Speakers at last week’s Preview 2009 had a nearly impossible task: Offer some optimism for what’s ahead when every indication is that the economy is going to get worse before it gets better.

But speakers at the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forecast event, at which about 2,000 people attended, delivered.

To Rossi Ralenkotter, president and chief executive of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, it’s trying to reverse “the imperfect storm,” as he calls it. The challenge is persuading prospective visitors, whose

confidence is at its lowest level since an index began tracking it, that it’s OK to take a break.

Ralenkotter showed some new ads from the authority’s “Vegas Bound” campaign to illustrate how it plans to persuade people to visit.

“We’re going to stay No. 1, we’re going to stay positive because we’re the best,” Ralenkotter said.

To Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst for Applied Analysis, it’s about correcting — but not overcorrecting — public policy to fix the ailing economy, which he maintains is nowhere close to as bad as the Great Depression.

Aguero said the unemployment rate, the instability of the housing market and the need for a rebound in the tourism industry will continue to be important issues, but he said the No. 1 concern for the future may be nonresidential development activity.

He suggested the Nevada legislative session may hold many keys to the success of the local economic turnaround.

His optimistic spin: “Remember, growth that we lost is growth that other cities never had.”

Jon Wellinghoff, the former Las Vegan who recently was appointed by President Barack Obama to become acting head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, didn’t go over Nevada’s potential to become an energy exporter nor the issues of the affordability of new power transmission lines.

Instead, he focused on reachable goals involving conservation and being more efficient with existing resources. Although he expects Nevada to be in the energy-development discussion because of its sun, wind and geothermal resources, he’s hoping some thought will be given to decreasing energy lost in transfers.

But he did acknowledge that Las Vegas could be sitting on a gold mine in future energy policy.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich offered his prediction of when the economy would turn around — in 2010. He said he felt those who expect a turnaround by late 2009 are overly optimistic.

He’s also convinced that the nation’s economy hasn’t hit bottom yet and that the jobless rate could climb to as high as 14 percent.

But on the positive side, Reich said an economic downturn is a perfect time for introspection and seeking out future opportunity. Most businesses, he noted, are too busy doing what they do well in good times to consider other opportunities. But when times are slow, he said, it’s a perfect time to think entrepreneurially so that when the tide turns, a business can be ready.

“Everything that goes down,” Reich said, “must go up.”

This year’s Preview featured a first-ever afternoon session, dubbed Preview Plus, at which participants could ask questions of some of the presenters and speakers.

Reich was asked what he thought of the federal government’s first bailout plan.

“It’s an outrage,” he said, noting he hopes the second batch of aid will have more strings attached.

Reich said it was outrageous that corporate executives have received bonuses “when the floor has disappeared.” He said he expects future legislation to require better disclosure from aid recipients, removal of any conflicts of interest and the regulation of corporate balance sheets.

On the issue of tax cuts vs. tax increases, Reich predicted taxes eventually would be raised for the wealthiest Americans so jobs can be created. He responded to a question about raising “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco that it was not a viable solution unless the goal is to change social behavior.

He also said he opposed industry bailouts, suggesting that a bankruptcy filing would enable companies to reorganize.

“There’s no reason for taxpayer money to be used as a backstop,” he said.

Southwest Gas Chief Executive Jeffrey Shaw, NV Energy Chief Executive Michael Yackira and energy consultant Rose McKinney-James joined Wellinghoff in a Preview Plus energy panel.

Panelists agreed that federal and state governments need to extend energy tax credits to create incentives for the development of more residential renewable energy systems.

Shaw said that although the generation of electricity through solar, wind and geothermal resources would be important to Nevada’s future, natural gas will still be important in the energy discussion until alternative sources are more affordable to capture and deliver electricity to the grid.

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