Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2021

Currently: 73° — Complete forecast

GUEST COLUMN:

Are we ready for another population boom?

Clark County has outpaced U.S. population growth since 1930, and it’s not slowing down any time soon.

That’s according to the latest population forecast published recently by our team at the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER).

The goal of the forecast is to give policymakers and governmental agencies insight into how many people are expected to move to and reside in Southern Nevada over the next decade through the upcoming half-century, regardless of economic booms and busts in between. This information at the UNLV Lee Business School is published annually on behalf of several government agencies, including the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition (SNRPC), Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), and members of the forecasting group.

The data influence planning decisions on everything short- and long-term to keep up with growth such as infrastructure and workforce-readiness needs — for example, the number of public schools that will need to be built — to how many firefighters, law enforcement officers and medical professionals the region will need. The forecast also assists governments with planning for public works projects that can help diversify the economy while sustaining growth responsibly, with consideration to resources like water, electricity and gas that power people’s homes and businesses. CBER’s forecast helps local leaders make informed decisions.

At the turn of the millennium, Clark County had a population of 1.39 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since then, our population has grown 67% — an average annual growth of 2.6% — adding just under 1 million people in the past two decades. As a result, the number of public K-12 schools across the valley grew by 86%, the number of law enforcement officers more than doubled, and over the same period, Southern Nevada reduced its per capita water usage by 47%.

In June, CBER delivered the latest population forecast and now projects that Clark County will have 1 million more people residing here by 2060, for a total population of 3.38 million. This is 17% higher, or 483,000 more people, than our previous forecast from just four years ago — and 10% higher than our forecast two years ago.

Why the change? One variable (out of many) exerts the largest impact but also the largest degree of variability — net migration. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, population growth of communities classified as the “desert, southwest” (parts of Southern California, Arizona, Southern Nevada, New Mexico, and southwest Texas) has outpaced U.S. population growth every decade since 1950.

During the pandemic, this trend continued. In fact, the SNRPC estimates that Clark County’s population grew by 2.2% in 2020 despite the pandemic. CBER’s own indicators linked to population growth, such as new home sales and electric meter hookups, continued to increase in 2020 from 2019 and through the first six months of 2021. For comparison, during the 2008 recession, those same metrics were nil or even negative.

Such growth poses both challenges and opportunities for Southern Nevada. The Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act, also known as the Clark County Lands Bill, being championed by Nevada’s congressional delegation, would ease some of these challenges by protecting public lands and conservation areas, while allowing for more affordable housing to be developed and attracting more businesses to the area.

The median price of a house in Clark County is over $450,000. Concern exists that many jobs will not come back. At CBER, we forecast roughly 54,500 fewer jobs in Clark County by the end of 2022 compared with the number of jobs prior to the pandemic. The West is also facing the first federal drought declaration along the Colorado River. Despite Nevada serving as the gold standard for water conservation efforts and receiving the lowest allotment of water among members of the Colorado River Compact, the state will still be one of the first to have its allocation cut.

The silver lining? Nevada is where employers and people want to call home.

According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, over 100,000 manufacturing jobs were created over three years in just five states in the Southwest. Nevada was one of them, accounting for 30% of the national total. When we hear about diversifying the economy, bioscience and health care are leading the way, growing 32% over a two-year period and adding thousands of great-paying jobs to the local economy.

From its competitive tax rate to access to stakeholders, Nevada is an attractive place for businesses to set up shop. But without the needed space and infrastructure, they cannot come here. In order to create jobs, businesses require large parcels of land that have readily available infrastructure connections — water, gas, electricity, roads.

The Lands Bill is an example of the kind of innovative solutions Southern Nevada needs. Either those employers come to Southern Nevada or they’ll opt for one of our neighbors like Utah or Arizona, both of whom are also experiencing population booms and are aggressively attracting businesses.

CBER’s population count, while just a forecast, is hugely important when it comes to guiding what taxpayer investments are made today to ensure our success tomorrow. As French sociologist and philosopher Auguste Comte is credited with saying, “Demography is destiny.”That is why UNLV and CBER are ready to help tackle these challenges and build opportunity by equipping Nevada’s policymakers, community leaders and the public with data to move the region forward.

Andrew Woods is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV Lee Business School. Stephen Miller is the center’s former director and a professor of economics at the UNLV Lee Business School.