As one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, it’s no surprise Las Vegas has a strong economic engine.
A creatively strong economy, Las Vegas is blending new technology with existing infrastructure, from the downtown Innovation District to the Smart Cities Initiative.
Historically, the city has been a strong economic engine but, “The recession was a very, very difficult time,” said Mayor Carolyn Goodman, City of Las Vegas. “Las Vegas was number one in foreclosures and homelessness increased, but we did not quit for a minute.” Las Vegas endured five years of tough economic times, but emerged one of the hottest metro areas for business start-ups and population growth.
Today, Las Vegas is an economically strong and vibrant city that places an emphasis on education and workforce training, business incubators and accelerators. The city has a new medical school, burgeoning downtown residential construction, workforce development programs and incentives aimed at attracting new business.
New and Improved: Innovation District and Smart City Initiative
A wide swath of downtown Las Vegas is designated a technology proving ground to stimulate economic growth, keep residents and visitors safe and create solutions to ongoing problems like better traffic flow, increased mass transit and reduced light and air pollution.
The area covers the Fremont Street entertainment area, the Medical District including the county hospital, the art district and the new University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) School of Medicine.
The city plans to utilize technology to improve public safety by providing a variety of citywide transportation choices for bicyclists, pedestrians and vehicles, and installing high tech sensors. Data collection on pedestrian and vehicle traffic should highlight and expand opportunities for potential downtown businesses.
The five key principles behind smart cities are public safety, education, social needs, economic growth and mobility. “Things we’re doing help the city as well as the state,” said Michael Sherwood, director of information technologies for the City of Las Vegas. “Our City Council is being very forward thinking in developing the Innovation District.”
First up, an autonomous shuttle, already running, utilizing the more than 123 lane-miles of fiber optic cable already in place to facilitate driverless cars in the urban core. The hands-off driving from the shuttle allows passengers to sit back and enjoy the experience.
The city, through partnerships with AAA and Keolis, has brought the NAVYA’s Arma fully electric shuttle to downtown. It’s equipped with LiDAR technology, GPS and cameras, seats eight passengers and has numerous safety features.
Off the shuttle, pedestrian safety is at the forefront when planning a smart city. “We’re working around mobility, how we can make current infrastructure more intelligent, how we can get to zero fatalities,” said Sherwood. One idea in consideration is a radar-based system that can sense when a human steps into a the street with oncoming traffic and then change the signal to red.
Another downtown option for transportation is bike rentals. Seven years ago, Mayor Goodman fell in love with London’s bike share program. Now Las Vegas’s bike share is celebrating its one-year anniversary. “It’s been a phenomenal success,” said the mayor.
The city tracks its bikes with GPS, then improves streets where they’re most ridden by adding bike lanes.
Upgrades: Ingenuity in Action
Even air pollution from traffic is considered by the city when looking at ways to innovate. Sensors to be installed in intersections will monitor when several cars are idling and emissions are climbing, then change traffic lights to green, thereby reducing air pollution.
Partnerships are also underway. T-Mobile and the city are partnering to monitor temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, precipitation and carbon dioxide levels 24/7 along a test strip of 3rd Street slated for remodel.
A partnership with MotionLoft replaces the man on the street using a clicker to do annual traffic counts with sensors that measure vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians in real time. In terms of economic growth, that intelligence is gold.
“It helps to build a story around economic growth and development and provide better information for people who want to invest,” said Sherwood. “Where would you rather build? In a city that has this data available to you or a city where they don’t?”
The technology employed in the Innovation District is economically and environmentally efficient and sustainable, an important consideration to a majority of today’s business executives. It’s facilitated by partnerships with companies like Google, Cisco and MotionLoft.
To promote safety and conserve energy, sensors along jogging trails will eventually hold lighting to 25 percent until a jogger triggers them on, then power up until the jogger is gone again.
Tech companies come to Vegas because of the city’s willingness to test their technology and because the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is an annual event. Where better for a company to test new technology than a city with a massive annual showcase?
The city also works with regional partners like the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), Clark County and North Las Vegas, and shares data with its partners.
New technologies focus on public safety. Streetlights will soon employ cameras capable of detecting an accident on the street and changing white lights to flashing red to guide emergency responders. During events, red and green lights can prohibit or allow the public into certain areas, or guide them to exits.
Planning for public safety is a constant reality. That reality was brought into the spotlight on October 1, 2017 when Las Vegas became the site of the largest modern mass shooting in the United States. By October 2, Las Vegas had showed the world it’s strength as a community.
“The very next morning there were constant calls, emails and texts: ‘What can I do?’ The first call was for blood, but we had so many donors we didn’t have the technicians or the equipment to handle the outpouring [of support],” said Mayor Goodman.
A short four days after the tragedy, two landscape architects and 400 volunteers created a healing garden with a fully mature tree of life surrounded by 58 semi-mature trees, a remembrance wall with names of the victims on tiles.
Las Vegas isn’t forgetting. The city hasn’t been brought to a standstill, either. In fact, following the shooting, Las Vegans came together to support each other and strengthen existing community bonds. The images and ‘VegasStrong’ message are now a rallying point for the region.
Healthy Cities: Medical District
Located in the redevelopment district, the Medical District was created to house healthcare facilities, complementary businesses and residential units.
“It’s pretty much been underway nonstop since 2004 or 2005,” said Mayor Goodman. “You can’t have a world-class city without high-end medical care. “
The UNLV School of Medicine fired up July 1 in the Medical District. “We have over 800 employees between the practices. People actually taking care of patients, those teaching medical students and full-time people on the university-side teaching students,” said Dean Barbara Atkinson. The school secured full scholarships for the first class, which is comprised of students with ties to Nevada.
A second economic driver attached to the school will be the research component, which should attract complementary businesses. It will take longer to build that component, but school officials have applied for a $20 million grant from the federal government to start the funding process.
Heart of the City: Downtown Residential
The Downtown Project started six years ago when Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, moved his company to Las Vegas and also invested his personal wealth in turning downtown into a high tech community.
The project’s $350 million budget included funding for real estate acquisition, small business loans and investment incentives, seed stage capital funding for tech entrepreneurs and funding for education, art and culture.
“That last [aspect] may be a little harder to define,” said John Curran, real estate portfolio manager, Downtown Project, referring to funding for education, art and culture. “You can’t see an immediate ROI (return on investment), but it’s something we see a lot of value from, and it builds character and charm in the neighborhood and promotes walkability.”
There’s a technology investment arm, VegasTechFund, new bars and restaurants, the Container Park shopping experience and a small business incubator. “It’s taken down barriers to entry for first time small business owners to create unique lease structures, so that if the business fails it’s not going to have to file bankruptcy,” said Curran.
The Downtown Project is a private, for-profit business that partners with the city. There’s space available in this sector that’s dramatically transformed the downtown landscape. Compared to five years ago, pedestrians are up, crime is down and, “you can’t quantify this buzz and energy,” said Curran.
Redevelopment: Symphony Park
Symphony Park transformed 61 acres of reclaimed land into a mixed-use project open for expansion. It’s home to the world-class Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and DISCOVERY Children’s Museum.
There are proposals to build several new mixed-use and residential projects in Symphony Park. Interest may have been sparked by two proposed parking garages that will increase parking capacity and expansion by Cleveland Clinic of both hospital buildings and memory-care residences.
When it comes to revitalizing downtown residential, there’s interest from multi-family apartment builders. “We have two projects of roughly 300 units each that should start midyear 2018,” said Bill Arent, Economic and Urban Development Director, City of Las Vegas. Expansion and growth in the Medical District is expected to attract workers who want to live downtown near their jobs.
“It’s a great location and we’re actively seeking new projects and new partners who want to develop market rate housing in our downtown,” said Arent.
Forward Thinking: Education and Workforce Development
Clark County School District (CCSD) is the K-12 authority in Las Vegas, but the city augments that education. A preschool teaches 3- and 4-year olds to read before kindergarten. Programs supporting education include ReInvent Schools, Batteries Included, Safekey and IGNITE, managed by the department of youth development and social innovation (YDSI), which focuses on education, community and multicultural involvement.
“We focus on cradle-to-career programs, services and strategies,” said Dr. Lisa Morris Hibbler, director, YDSI.
YDSI works with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, utilizing “Leadership for America: Agenda for the Future”. The program prioritizes safety and security of neighborhoods, fixing crumbling infrastructure, creating equitable communities and modernizing and expanding the workforce.
YDSI partners with companies that provide work-based learning and integrated college pathways. Batteries Included, for example, is a teen leadership initiative offering after-school and summer programs designed to keep teens on track for graduation and higher education.
“We know that more than 65 percent of our jobs are projected to be impacted by advanced technologies or automation, so really we’re looking at what skills people will need [in the future],” said Hibbler.
They’re also preparing for a decade of construction with projects like the NFL stadium and convention center expansion. During the recession, the construction trade lost skilled workers and a new construction workforce needs to be trained.
YDSI is working to prepare youth for future jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a 4-year degree. That’s more than the city alone can tackle, so collaborative partnerships exist with agencies like Workforce Investment Board, Workforce Connections in the economic and urban development department and College of Southern Nevada (CSN).
Another workforce training system, ACT Work Ready Communities, launched in Nevada in November 2017, creating partnerships between the city, workforce and economic development agencies, area libraries and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
“The program prepares a ready workforce,” said Ricardo Villalobos, executive director, CSN, Department of Workforce & Economic Development. Testing measures a worker’s competence with applied mathematics, workplace documents, graphic literacy (reading and applying information that’s pertinent to the job) and helps connect a ready workforce to the business community.
CSN will start a training program based on the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council Certified Production Technician certificate in the first quarter of 2018. The program is funded by Workforce Innovation for a New Nevada (WINN) under the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). CSN also offers apprenticeship programs to ensure a work-ready workforce.
Another partner, RedFlint, “is a resource for anyone looking to innovate,” said Shavonnah Tierra Collins, managing director. A workforce education program, RedFlint offers places to test out new technology and free workshops on methodologies with one-third of the budget for skill-builders, which can be coupled with certificate courses.
“If you’re looking to get training in agile business methodologies or how to lead a team, you can do that,” said Collins. “Or if you want to know what virtual reality is all about, you can test out virtual reality goggles and take a workshop.”
RedFlint, which is part of University of Phoenix, will launch an incubator in early 2018; their accelerator is already running. When surveys revealed 10 percent of students start their own businesses, RedFlint partnered with GAN, which creates opportunities for startups worldwide to access workforce and financial capital they need.
“We started seven years ago as a small network, when very well respected programs came together to align themselves and build best practices and standards for what a network accelerator program should look like,” said Marty Bauer, director of corporate development for GAN.
Today GAN has 85 members, accelerator programs in 120 cities and two partners – one a network of 30 corporate partners that engages with early stage companies and GAN Ventures, a venture capital fund.
Tech Impact, a non-profit, came to Las Vegas three years ago. Tech Impact works to train unemployed youth for tech jobs and requires three components in a community. Those components include need or high youth unemployment, opportunity or availability of high tech jobs and support or partners in place to work with the non-profit. Partners such as like Barclays, Apple One and Bank of America, all of whom are in Las Vegas.
Tech Impact offers ITWorks, a 16-week program training for entry level IT jobs, and an 8-week program, CXWorks, teaching customer service skills used in call centers.
“We’re training folks for the thousands of jobs available in Las Vegas at call centers,” said Patrick Callihan, executive director, Tech Impact. Coding programs will be added in 2018.
University of Phoenix offers coding programs, both degree and professional development courses for IT workers needing specific coding skills. Training like that has a direct impact on the local economy. Providing a larger pool of talent prevents companies from poaching each other’s employees and puts more people to work.
“It’s better to provide a larger pool of talent so that, in the future, employers will get an adequate number of skilled individuals to fill all the open positions, which would drive a better economic impact in Las Vegas,” said Dennis Bonilla, executive dean, University of Phoenix School of Business and College of Information Systems and Technology.
The clear growth of the city and impact of educational, workforce and cultural initiatives has propelled the City of Las Vegas forward as one of the most sought-after metropolitan areas in the country.
Las Vegas – historically, creatively, economically strong – is open for business.