Sunday, July 25, 2010 | 2 a.m.
When will we get tired of being No. 1?
The news this past week that the unemployment numbers for Las Vegas got a little worse should not come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention the past couple of years. If there is any surprise related to the unemployment numbers, it should be that the numbers weren’t worse!
I remember when this depressing recession first hit, and it became clear that people in every part of the country were in danger of losing jobs, home equity and life savings — some in greater danger than others. It was really just a question of how deep this economic disaster would go. Well, it is two years later and, assuming the experts are correct, the worst is over. Mind you, although I am not a pessimist, that is an assumption that is, at best, shaky.
Yes, the unemployment numbers for our state and Las Vegas went up. That’s the bad news. The good news is that for close to 40 other states, the numbers improved, which is one indication that a recovery, however slow and bumpy, may be under way.
When asked many months ago when I thought the misery in Las Vegas would be over, my answer then, and it continues to be now, is that we will start our recovery when the rest of the country, especially California, Arizona, New York and Ohio, end theirs. And not one moment sooner.
Until that occurs, we will lead the nation in bad economic news. Why?
The answer is simple. We made the decision many years ago to rest our economy on what was thought to be the solid foundation of tourism. No matter how much our leadership was warned against relying on the discretionary spending of others, the warnings were not heeded. Sure, there was lip service paid to the concept of diversification, but the reality proved otherwise. Everyone was complicit in that decision.
So now we can’t get out of our own way as each day brings another foreclosure, another job lost and another drop in room rates as the hotel industry does everything it can to stay in business by attracting more customers. In the meantime, unemployment numbers go up, and bank pressures continue on businesses of all shapes and sizes that are caught in the vise between paying for what is now exorbitant debt or keeping employees at work.
That is why it is so befuddling to me when elements of our city and state are screaming bloody murder every time Congress or the president wants to help people across this country get back on their feet. Las Vegas is extremely vulnerable to consumers’ decisions not to spend money that they have or, worse, don’t have. We need people with money and the desire to spend it.
The sooner our neighbors get healthy, what do you think they are going to do?
That’s right, they are going to take that long-deferred vacation to you guessed where — what will be the greatest vacation value on the planet. Las Vegas. That’s when life will start to get better here.
Whether that is months or years, and who really knows, it will happen. So what should we be doing in the meantime?
It seems to me this is a perfect opportunity to envision the kind of state and community we want to live in five and 10 years from now and, then, do something about it. No one likes paying taxes, I am told, but few people would be reluctant to invest money in strategies that will return large profits in the future. Whether those profits are in dollars returned, dollars saved or quality of life services that are provided, most people understand the concept of paying for what you need and what you want.
So rather than spending this time grousing about what happened, who did what to whom and how do we get back to a world that we will probably not get back to in many of our lifetimes, we would be better served by deciding what lists we want to be No. 1 on and which lists we never want to see Nevada on again.
Now, here’s the easy part. Others have already done this, so it is easy to see what to do. Take a look at Denver. It has a completely rejuvenated downtown that not only provides incredible citizen experiences but makes plenty of money as well. Whether it is a fabulous sports stadium or restaurants and retail to beat the band, downtown Denver is fun and profitable. And that city also invested in a light rail commuter train that really works and serves the entire community. How did it do it? It made a commitment — in time and resources — and then it just did it.
Look at Phoenix. It wanted a stadium and a music center and a convention center and so on, so the people voluntarily raised their taxes to build those things they wanted.
All we have done is point fingers at someone else in hopes he will pay for what we want. Who is far better off today?
For too long in this town we have expected the gaming industry to bear the burden of providing all that we want without the rest of us stepping up to the plate and investing alongside. Today, the industry can barely keep itself above water, and we will sink or swim along with it.
We will come out of this. The question is what will we have learned when that happens. And what will we have done now to make sure we never get into this kind of a fix again.
We are No. 1 in all the worst ways a city can be these days. Good people of Las Vegas, you can’t possibly be happy with this. Enough already. Do something about it.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.