Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 | 2:01 a.m.
Southern Nevada business leaders gathered Thursday at Preview Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual kickoff event, which asked the question “What’s next?”
Analyst Jeremy Aguero opened the session with a swift overview of the business climate and economic indicators in the Las Vegas Valley. His assessment: The numbers aren’t where anyone wants them to be, but they’re headed in the right direction. Aguero singled out several innovative businesses and education programs and highlighted a slew of numbers to support his conclusion: The unemployment rate is high but declining, housing prices are up, banks are lending and there is a significant amount of investment on the Strip and downtown.
“Opportunity,” Aguero said, “is everywhere.”
From Aguero to Zappos.com chief Tony Hsieh, who closed the session to a rousing ovation, opportunity was a key theme. Speakers talked about several ways to prime Southern Nevada for the future, including remaking the convention center to keep Las Vegas as the country’s top meeting destination, adding a world trade center to attract more international business, and improving transportation systems to better accommodate people and goods, locally and regionally.
But the event wasn’t just about laying out big-picture plans and visions. Chamber CEO Kristin McMillan said, “‘What’s next’ isn’t just a question; it’s a call to action.” She said the opportunities for Las Vegas depend on people moving out of their “silos” — such as their industries or cities.
“We’ve got to work together in partnership at every level of government on the issues that will make us a great global city,” she said to applause. “And we can’t just focus on the business community in isolation. All of the people in this town, whether employees or employers, who live here and raise their families here, who strive for a bright future here, need us to get this right.”
She listed several issues — education, transportation, health care, housing and water — that she said shouldn’t be viewed individually but seen “as part of one giant system that forms the basis for the future to our economic health.”
McMillan is on point, and it was good to hear such an emphasis. People are going to have to take a larger, more holistic perspective when addressing the state’s problems, particularly in this session of the Legislature.
In the political process, issues are often parsed, taken out of their contexts and viewed through ideological or political agendas. Consider the debate over education, which often gets reduced to reforms vs. money, or the reactionary view of some politicians to any tax proposal or the tired pitting of government against business. What’s lost in that kind of debate is any sense of what role — or benefit — services play in society.
That needs to change. One of the realities in the aftermath of the recession is that the good old days of seemingly unlimited growth aren’t coming back soon. Yes, there are good signs that things are improving, but to stoke the economy, Nevada has significant challenges that need to be addressed.
For Nevada to reshape itself into a competitive state with a vibrant economy, there needs to be a break from the past; elected and civic leaders will have to put their ideologies aside and focus on what’s best for the state.