Jonas Peterson has lived in many places, but after only two months, he knows he’s found a home in Las Vegas.
The newly appointed chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance just moved from Southern California, where he was the president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation. He’s studied at Penn State and North Dakota State, worked in Arizona, and recently completed a program at Stanford.
Here in Southern Nevada, Peterson is tasked with helping to oversee a big change to the organization — one he hopes will produce big results.
LVGEA was established this year, to replace the Nevada Development Authority Inc. In addition to their primary function of attracting and keeping business in the area, the organization is expanding its scope of work and adding new positions.
The job will be challenging, but Peterson can’t imagine himself doing anything else.
“I’m one of the few people who chose economic development as a career early on,” he said. “For me, it started back in one of my earliest college experiences as student body president of North Dakota State University where I got involved in a research and technology park and saw a great thing that can happen when a community supports an economic development project.
“From that point on, I was hooked.”
What attracted you to Las Vegas?
For me, it’s not an accident that I’m here. I really do believe that Las Vegas, Southern Nevada is going to be one of the real success stories in terms of economic development over the next decade. As someone in the economic development profession, there’s no place in the country that I’d rather be. I want to be a part of that success.
What are some obstacles that Nevada is facing when it comes to development?
I think we’ve got some great competitive advantages that we need to leverage more: rapidly growing population, relatively new infrastructure, relatively low operating costs, increasing connections to regional markets, global connections. That said, we’ve got some areas we can improve on. I think building that highly skilled workforce to feed our target industries is an opportunity for us. If we can leverage those competitive advantages, I think the future is really bright here.
What are those target industries?
Logistics, warehousing distribution; healthcare, life sciences; global finance and banking; business and IT ecosystems; clean technology; aerospace defense and UAVs; and gaming, tourism and conventions.
What are Las Vegas’ particular strengths?
We’ve got some unique advantages in terms of McCarran airport, with the volume of traffic that goes through there. In terms of conventions and tourism space that Las Vegas is in, for many businesses, that’s a huge advantage because their customer comes to them every year. Where else in the world can you get that kind of advantage?
How do you think Las Vegas will look different in 10 years?
I think rapid population growth is going to continue. I think we have a chance now to really diversify the economy and really build out those target industries. If we grow in that direction, I think we can increase average wage rates, we can create meaningful employment opportunities. The gaming industry has been the bedrock of this community for years. I think the growth opportunity is in those target industries, and that’s the future of the community.
What is your greatest accomplishment in your career?
My previous position — I was president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation. I had the chance to start up that organization and build it. In three years, we became the most productive economic development organization in the state of California on a per capita basis. Great team, I’m really proud of what we did there.
What are your proudest personal moments?
I married way above my head to a beautiful wife named Leah, and I’ve got two amazing boys, 7 and 4. They are the light of my life. In my spare time you’ll find us riding bikes to the closest park or some new way to explore the Las Vegas area, or just bumming around the house playing video games.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
I grew up in North Dakota and Minnesota and I still have a great log cabin on a lake in Minnesota. Every summer, that’s the vacation destination for us. We’ll take the whole family, gather people from around the country to go.
What’s your favorite place in Vegas?
We’re just getting started. Last weekend we went to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and had a chance to do some basic rock climbing, but how beautiful and how cool is that area? We’re still getting started, but right now that’s at the top of the list.