Robert Lang is a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings and UNLV Director of Brookings Institute Mountain West. He is a professor of sociology at UNLV, director of the Lincy Institute, and a fellow of the Urban Land Institute. He received a Ph.D. in Urban Sociology from Rutgers University. His research has been featured in USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and reported on by CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. He is author of Boomburbs: The Rise of America’s Accidental Cities, and co-author on three edited volumes entitled Redefining Urban and Suburban America.
Recently, Brookings Mountain West published Unify | Regionalize | Diversify: An Economic Development Agenda for Nevada, a comprehensive analysis and roadmap for development opportunities, the state’s competitive position and challenges it uniquely faces. Lang will draw from the study to expand upon Nevada’s potential for growing its local economy through a variety of platforms, including industries with potential for expansion, new policy options that will enable the state and the private sector to work more effectively to build a more regionally vibrant and diversified Nevada.
2016 Business Voice Interview
Q: What are you most looking forward to in 2016?
A: I am most looking forward to a continued strengthening and diversification of the Las Vegas regional economy. I expect to see several major projects announced at the Apex Industrial Park in North Las Vegas. I also look forward to a major commitment to improve and expand our tourist infrastructure such as updating the convention center and planning a 60,000-plus stadium.
Q: What is Southern Nevada’s greatest strength, as we transition into 2016?
A: The region’s greatest strength is our connectedness to national and world markets. McCarran remains perhaps our greatest asset in that it ranks as the second leading origin-destination airport after LAX. Our connections to Los Angeles and Phoenix also link us into one of the largest of what I call "megapolitan clusters" in the U.S. We access the nation’s leading sea port and share an advanced industry labor pool with leading high tech economies in Southern California and Central Arizona. The ongoing construction of I-11 to Phoenix will better link Las Vegas to its second leading trading partner after Los Angeles.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: What keeps me up at night is the fact that our core industry in entertainment and conventions is under constant threat from Orlando. I am especially concerned that Orlando is far ahead of Las Vegas in making strategic investments in its tourist infrastructure, such as linking its convention center to the airport via a high-speed maglev train. In addition, Orlando has the lowest tourist tax burden of any top 50 metro market (while Las Vegas is the 17th most burdened) yet the state of Florida allows Orlando to keep all these taxes to invest in tourist infrastructure while we send the vast share of our much higher taxes to the state general fund in Carson City.
Q: Where is our community capitalizing on opportunities? Where are we missing out and why?
A: Southern Nevada is aggressively pursuing diversification efforts in key tech and business service sectors. We are finally having much needed discussions on how to improve our tourist infrastructure, including an ambitious plan to address our transportation deficits. By contrast, we forfeit a very high share of our tax dollars to both Washington, D.C. and Carson City. We need a better strategy to redirect tax money back to Las Vegas to invest in our health, education and transportation systems.
Q: Keeping in mind the theme of Preview Las Vegas 2016 is "Future.Forward" and how Southern Nevada can collectively work towards advancing our economy and creating new opportunities for our region, how would you encourage the business community to move "future forward?"
A: Las Vegas businesses should join what we at the Brookings Institution call the "Metropolitan Revolution." The main idea is that we cannot wait for Washington, D.C. and Carson City to fix our problems. Rather, a coalition of region-wide business and civic leaders, philanthropists, educators and agency heads must be proactive and take charge of our economic future. In a tangible way that means telling the state and federal governments what tools and resources our region needs for success. The good news is that the Metropolitan Revolution is well underway in greater Las Vegas. It is exemplified by actions such as the Las Vegas Metro Chamber-led visits to Washington, D.C., where regional leaders successfully lobbied for the Interstate-11 and Tule Springs National Monument designations. Most recently, this spirit was seen in North Las Vegas where Mayor John Lee and his team successfully recruited Faraday Future to the Apex Industrial Park. There are lots of new opportunities out there and I believe we need all Southern Nevadans to get in the game and join the revolution.