2008 WASN’T a particularly good year for Las Vegas. The recession had crept into the valley, tearing down the housing market and putting people out of work. The unemployment rate, though enviable in hindsight, was 6.4 percent — the highest the state had seen in decades.
Still, something notable was happening: Nevada was churning out entrepreneurs.
In a state known for its dismally low rankings, we ended up in the Top 10 for business startups in the nation. The entrepreneurial index report, created every year or so by the University of Nebraska’s Bureau of Business Research, ranked us at No. 7.
Director Eric Thompson attributes the accomplishment to construction — one last hat-tip to the boom before building fizzled out. The recession was only in its second year at that point, and people were still hoping for a speedy economic rebound. Las Vegas housing projects hadn’t yet halted, and with the new neighborhoods came other conveniences, like restaurants and shopping.
Thompson’s research doesn’t say exactly what kinds of businesses were created, but he knows they were there. And, more importantly, he believes they’ll come back.
From seventh in the nation, Nevada plummeted to No. 47 in just two years. By 2010, the next time the study was conducted, the Silver State had fallen from the company of tech-savvy Washington and work-crazed New York to a banged-up seat next to the Southern states.
This year, though, things are looking up.
In the 2011 report, released two weeks ago, Nevada climbed to 43rd place, a small but meaningful improvement, Thompson assures us.
“Nevada has been amazing in terms of its economic progression in the last few decades,” he says.
And though the market is certainly changing, Thompson says Nevada will find its new niche. Obviously we’ll rely less on construction. However, Thompson speculates the service industry will remain strong, but we’ll also see a rise in the financial sector and other nontraditional industries.
Plus, there’s a bonus to rapid population growth: All those workers Las Vegas attracted? We get to keep ’em. Regardless of how or why they city grew so rapidly during the aughts, Thompson believes we will recover based on the talent that we’ve drawn. It happens historically, he says.
“However you get to be a bigger city, you’ll benefit from it,” Thompson says. “I would expect you’re going to see your city naturally diversify.
“I expect over time the city will start looking like a traditional city. You’ll see that gaming will become a smaller part of the economy overall.”
The beginning of this evolution is apparent in Tony Hsieh’s tech lure, which has drawn young professionals and creative types from the Northwest. But even if their vision doesn’t pan out, something will.
So when will this transformation begin? When will Vegas rise again?
That, Thompson isn’t so sure of. The timeline for Vegas’ reinvention will likely happen over the next few decades, Thompson guesses, but the important thing is that it will happen. After all, this is a desert town and has a history of survival. We have to make it, right?
“I always try to emphasize it’s amazing what’s happened in Nevada,” Thompson says. “I still think you should be proud.”