Las Vegas is due for one more "miniboom," not as robust as previous booms, but enough to become part of a Southwest "megaregion" with Los Angeles and Phoenix, the director of Brookings Mountain West said Tuesday.
Those three cities are all highly urbanized with an innovative work force and college-educated population, perhaps less so in Las Vegas than in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Robert Lang said at the Nevada Contractors Association awards luncheon at the Rio.
The two largest metropolitan areas in the United States not joined by an interstate highway are Phoenix and Las Vegas, though that will change with the recently opened Hoover Dam bypass bridge, he said.
By 2040, the Las Vegas metropolitan area could include Mojave County, Ariz., and St. George, Utah, Lang said.
"Everyone sees Las Vegas as a megaregion connected in some way to L.A.," the think-tank director said.
That's why rail service to Los Angeles -- even to Victorville -- is necessary to bring visitors from Southern California to Las Vegas, he said. Nevada is doing its "fair share" to improve Interstate 15, but don't expect California to pitch in, not with the state's enormous revenue shortfall and opposition from Indian casinos, Lang said.
"The train's not for us. It's for Southern California," he said.
Rail service to Victorville eliminates a stop at the agriculture inspection station in Yermo and two-hour traffic over the mountain pass.
"What we have is a serious international airport. When Terminal Three opens at McCarran, if you don't think it'll have an impact, go look at Dallas and Atlanta at their airport capacity," Lang said. "With an airport like that, you have global reach."
Construction may never rebound to the glory days of the past two decades. It's in the deepest recession in a state that's deepest in the recession, he said.
However, the housing market bust has created value and investment opportunities. There's a point at which real estate values fall below the "intrinsic value" of replacement cost, Lang said.
A huge education gap exists between Nevada and neighboring states, and that's a weakness that needs to be addressed, said Lang, also a professor of sociology at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Las Vegas doesn't have to be a biotechnology center like San Diego or a logistical hub like Atlanta, but there are segments of economic growth such as green building and renewable energy that can help it diversify from gaming and hospitality.
"We don't have to be the star," Lang said. "We just need to get our expected share of each economic sector for a region of 2 million."
Contact reporter Hubble Smith at email@example.com or 702-383-0491.