In late October, Tom Skancke was hired to head the Las Vegas Regional Economic Development Council, the agency designated to organize and promote diversification efforts in Southern Nevada.
From the beginning, Skancke seemed an ideal fit. As a local government affairs consultant, he had learned a good deal about neighboring state governments and how to work both with and around them.
He built a specific expertise in transportation, serving as the go-to guy for problems related to the Interstate 15 corridor that connects us with Los Angeles and for opportunities related to Interstate 11, which would link us with Phoenix. Skancke’s understanding of how transportation affects the public and private sectors — and the realities of getting things done within either — gave him solid footing for economic development work.
So when he spoke Jan. 24 at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual Preview Las Vegas (one of his first presentations since taking the job), the audience paid attention.
Skancke talked about globalization and the central role transportation plays in economic development. He easily described the connection.
“If we’re going to live in a global economy, we’re going to have to be better connected,” he said.
That means improving our connections to other Western cities, and since tourism is still very much the foundation of our economy, not relying on an already burdened I-15 to carry even more visitors from Southern California to Las Vegas.
“The additional capacity of I-15 today is almost zero,” he said. “The lifeline needs help.”
Skancke insists that an obvious remedy is the much-discussed XpressWest high-speed train, which would whiz across the desert at up to 150 miles per hour. He pointed out that many other countries already have high-speed rail or are investing in systems.
“Beijing moves 19 million people a day in and out of the city,” he said.
Skancke is impatient with any politicizing of the issue.
“It baffles me that there are people who think that these are ‘pork’ projects,” he said.
With Long Beach now overloaded as a shipping hub, Mexico may create a port in Guaymas, which could boost the Phoenix economy and quickly make Interstate 11 more important, Skancke said. Add in a high-speed train and Las Vegas could find itself with two interstate highways and a high-speed rail line.
Not a bad place to be, really.
Skancke noted that he has seen broad support for his agency’s mission and mentioned three things Southern Nevadans can do to help: Embrace tourism, the key to our local economy. Encourage new industry. And, perhaps most importantly, excite the world, as only Las Vegas can.