Don’t look now, but our business community is going to grow exponentially overnight in a few years.
Dr. Robert Lang, of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV, made the case last week that as soon as the XpressWest high-speed rail line is operational, millions of Inland Empire business people will have better access to McCarran International Airport than to Los Angeles International.
And the Inland Empire is bigger than Phoenix.
Lang and I were speakers last week at the Victorville High Speed Train Diversity Summit, sponsored by the Veterans Southwest Industries, California Black Chamber of Commerce and Black Business Council of Nevada.
I shared some of the nearly 40-year history of the struggle to develop high-speed rail between Southern California and Southern Nevada, through airline deregulation, the magnetic-levitation years and the political deals that derailed maglev. Lang talked about the economic opportunities that will lie ahead once the first train pulls out of the station.
Most of us have seen the train as a tourist conveyance. But in the bigger picture, Lang views packaging the train with McCarran as a vehicle for California businesses to go global.
While I see XpressWest’s agreement with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority as a game-changer because it will get tourists from downtown L.A. to Las Vegas through Palmdale, Calif., Lang thinks the Victorville endpoint can stand on its own for the same reason XpressWest executive Anthony Marnell thinks it will work — because most of the customers will come from the Inland Empire, not Los Angeles or Orange County.
“The minute that rail is completed, this place is closer to Las Vegas than it is to the west side of Los Angeles,” Lang told the group.
“This is the most isolated part of Southern California from the key assets on the west side that have global connections,” he said. “But you are now the most privileged point in Southern California to the alternative way in and out of this southwest complex of Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix, and you’re going to the fastest growing internationally connected airport in the United States.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval has made it clear that one of the pathways to economic diversification is developing international markets, and McCarran now has nonstop flights to 25 international destinations.
Lang also downplays the importance of tourists needing a car when they come to Las Vegas. He complimented the city’s taxi industry and added that it’s better for people to be driven around to avoid navigating the city after drinking too much.
We both applauded the contractors for organizing well ahead of XpressWest’s startup timeline. Company officials told me it was too early to begin talking about development deals. They also don’t want to appear overconfident about getting a loan through the Federal Railway Administration — a loan that is crucial to the success of the project.
Possibly the only down side to the event was the turnout. About 50 people were there. Organizers had hoped for 400.
They are now considering future summits in Palmdale and Las Vegas.