‘Preview’ headliners upbeat about a Las Vegas comeback
Experts share ideas with business leaders on boosting tourism and jobs
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Las Vegas may have taken a powerful body blow when the economy was down for the count, but speakers of Thursday’s Preview Las Vegas 2012 say the city is making a comeback.
As the “Rocky” theme song “Gonna Fly Now” sounded, Mayor Carolyn Goodman made her way onto the Cox Pavilion stage accompanied by John and Rico, two male performers dressed as boxers pumping their gloves in the air.
“When you leave here you’ll be armed with an arsenal of information,” Goodman told an audience of business professionals dressed for a meeting, not a championship fight.
Goodman told the audience there have been more than 40,000 foreclosures and 12.6 percent unemployment, but assured the crowd that “things are beginning to look up.”
Attendees of the 24th annual Preview hosted by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce were given facts and predictions about the Las Vegas economy, community and culture.
“We need to continue to make our city the most exciting city in the world, which we are,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
During his presentation Ralenkotter showed off two “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” commercials featuring singer Cee Lo Green.
“We’re the most recognized travel brand in the world,” he said.
Among the opportunities in tourism, Ralenkotter said focusing on the convention and airline industries were key.
Las Vegas attracted 38.9 million visitors in 2011, the second highest visitor total in history, Ralenkotter said. The peak was in 2007 with 39.2 million visitors.
The authority projects the city will set a record this year with 40 million visitors.
“We need to invite those guests here,” Ralenkotter said. “We’re the only city in the United States that has a permanent host committee.”
The chairman of the committee is none other than former Mayor Oscar Goodman.
Usually cities have a host committee for special events like the Olympics, but Las Vegas brings in numerous special events, such as the Billboard Music Awards held in May 2011 and the upcoming salute to Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday scheduled for Feb. 18 at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“We have to put heads in beds,” Oscar Goodman said.
Ralenkotter continued to emphasize working on building up the Las Vegas brand and convincing foreign airlines that Las Vegas is a destination their customers want to visit.
“The international side is where the action is going to be,” Ralenkotter said.
Action could be seen elsewhere during the event. Though no punches were thrown onstage, the Goodmans did take a few playful jabs at one another.
“Forget about the stupid boxers, Carolyn, eat your heart out,” Oscar Goodman said as he walked to the lectern showgirl on each arm and a martini glass in one hand.
“(Visitors) light up when they see the showgirls and they light up when they see the booze,” said Oscar, whose statement was received with laughter from the audience.
Keeping the energy and laughter up was Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst of Applied Analysis, who discussed the concept of reset, rethink, rebuild.
Aguero said population, employment and income are showing increases.
“I don’t think there’s anyone sober who would say we’ve gotten back to the peak,” said Aguero, but added that “even slow growth is so much better than the decline we’ve witnessed.”
Aguero provided some levity in his presentation by throwing out humorous statistics.
The MUI or Men’s Underwear Index is up, said Aguero, adding that men tend to buy less underwear during tough economic times.
But not all his statistics drew laughter.
According to Aguero, valley homeowners have lost $91 billion in equity in their houses, which is $112,045 per household.
“You’ve seen your economy take a body blow,” said Richard Florida, senior editor of The Atlantic and author of such works as “The Rise of the Creative Class” and “The Great Reset.”
Florida gave a talk onstage without a slide show and looked at Las Vegas’ future from an outsider’s perspective.
“I call it the great reset,” said Florida, adding that the change wasn’t just in the economy but sociology and our culture.
Florida said that human creativity will be what is going to propel the economy forward and proposed that Las Vegas should work toward making service jobs desirable.
“You’ve really got to work hard and think hard about creating good jobs for your people,” Florida said.
Florida used examples of the change he’s witnessed during his visits. Downtown Las Vegas is one of the very few downtown areas in the nation to have had a large-scale anchor tenant, Florida said of Zappos moving its headquarters downtown.
Florida once told Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, that it takes a better part of a generation to rebuild a downtown and Hsieh’s response was to ask if it were possible in five years.
Robert Lang, executive director of the Lincy Institute and director of the Brookings Mountain West at UNLV shared a futuristic approach of predicting the impact of 2012 by looking at it from the perspective of someone who lives in the year 2030.
“UNLV is finally in the Pac-16,” said Lang, adding that Zappos is selling jet boots, Newt Gingrich will be mayor of the moon and Nevada will export solar power to Southern California.
When asked if his theories were possible, Lang said, “Assuming they’re not, guarantees they’re not possible.”
Portions of the speakers’ presentations resonated with attendees like Arlene Gawne, of the nonprofit Spring Mountain Alliance.
“It was the ideas that Las Vegas has got this world potential,” Gawne said. “I think we lost sight of it when we got the air knocked out of us.”
Bill Rosado, president of Managed Pay — a family-owned human resources and payroll company — has been attending Preview for about a decade and each year walks away with new ideas to apply to business.
“The reality is we’ve already reset,” Rosado said.