Las Vegas' business power brokers are gathered this morning for Preview Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce’s premier networking event, at UNLV.
An estimated 2,000 people are in attendance — the largest number since 2008.
Five speakers — Analyst Jeremy Aguero, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, Las Vegas Regional Economic Development Council President and CEO Tom Skancke, Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kristin McMillan and Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh — are taking the stage throughout the morning to share their thoughts on the future of Las Vegas business and the Southern Nevada economy.
Here's what they had to say:
A leading Las Vegas business advocate urged people to “break down the silos” and work together to improve Southern Nevada’s economy.
In an upbeat but vague speech, Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kristin McMillan said the notion of “what’s next?” is about “turning the page, thinking about things differently (and) taking bold action.”
No organization, community or business can reach its potential if it “operates in isolation,” she said, adding that Las Vegas stands to benefit if people develop common goals and work together.
At one point in her speech, the jumbo screens behind her played an animated video of grain silos being blown up and engulfed in flames.
She also said the future of Las Vegas’ economy depends on three key factors: partnership, resources and advocacy.
McMillan said people need to “step up and show leadership” and “think bigger (and) more boldly than we ever have before.” She said it’s important to invest in local technology startups, many of which operate with little or no outside capital, and to advocate for education, transportation, health care, housing and water.
She later urged attendees to become “more knowledgeable, raise your hand and be at the community table.”
“These are not to be viewed separately,” she said of the public-interest issues. “They’re one giant system.”
She described this collaborative approach as a “revolution” that, if successful, can transform Las Vegas into a hub of logistics and technology. In sum, a region “with know-how.”
“’What’s next?’ is about moving forward to improve the economic health of this region, capitalizing on opportunity and working together,” she said.
Tom Skancke, the new president and CEO of the Las Vegas Regional Economic Development Council, explained Las Vegas’ role in the global economy and how transportation is key to future participation in it.
A longtime advocate and lobbyist for transportation infrastructure, Skancke said it’s critical for Las Vegas to support highway expansion and high-speed rail.
Interstate 15 has become clogged, and goods movement is in need of additional means of transporting products, he said. That’s where it will be critical to back projects like Interstate 11 and a western high-speed rail network, he said.
Skancke specifically encouraged attendees to get behind the planned XpressWest train between Las Vegas and Southern California — a remark followed by silence from the crowd.
Skancke also said he is encouraged by the spirit of unity that he has seen since he was named to head the new economic development organization in November.
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter offered a preview of development plans for the Las Vegas Convention Center over the next 20 years.
Renderings showed a new look, including a domed covering reminiscent of the rotunda-topped building that once housed conventions in the 1960s.
Next month, Ralenkotter is expected to present a plan for adding a World Trade Center facility to the campus, as well as a transportation hub for buses, taxis, limousines, the Las Vegas Monorail and possibly a light-rail system that would extend as far south as the M Resort.
On other topics, Ralenkotter predicted that Las Vegas will attract 40.1 million visitors this year. It fell short of that number last year but hosted a record 39.7 million people. Ralenkotter also stressed the importance of room tax to Southern Nevada.
He showed the LVCVA's famous “What happens here, stays here” TV ads and promised more of them in the future. Ralenkotter also said the LVCVA's new campaign for lasvegas.com has had strong early success.
Las Vegas economic analyst Jeremy Aguero painted a bright picture of the valley's economy, saying there's ample reason for optimism despite the high unemployment rate.
Aguero, principal analyst at Applied Analysis, named as economic bright spots the Switch data center, McCarran International Airport, the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed-martial arts league and downtown's Zappos-led revitalization. He also highlighted current projects on the Strip, including MGM Resorts International's $420 million property renovations and Caesars Entertainment's $550 million Linq project, which will feature a 550-foot observation wheel and outdoor retail, dining and entertainment promenade.
Nevada's jobless rate fell to 10.2 percent in December, the lowest since February 2009, but remained above the national rate of 7.8 percent, state officials recently reported. Aguero pointed out the area's high unemployment rate and number of people underwater on their mortgages. Statewide, about 60 percent of homeowners with mortgages owe more than what their homes are worth.
Still, he said, if people look past the gloomy statistics, Southern Nevada's economy is improving and, in some cases, thriving.
"Opportunity is everywhere," Aguero said.