DIGITAL SAVVY IN SIN CITY


You recorded the "American Idol" season finale on a VHS machine. Your computer makes dialing sounds when you hop online. You think of BlackBerrys as tasty little fruits. And "blog" reminds you of the sound you made after you drank too much at the Woodstock Festival.

The first one. In 1969.

If any of this fits your technology profile, then this article isn't about you.

You just go and spin some 78s on your gramophone while we talk to the iPod set for a few minutes.

After all, they're the contingent that helped land Las Vegas near the top of a list ranking the nation's most digitally savvy cities.

The report, from Scarborough Research in New York, ranked Las Vegas No. 2 in the nation in its analysis of the country's most technology-wise cities. Only Austin, Texas, placed better, which means Las Vegas beat out high-tech havens such as Seattle (No. 6) and San Francisco (No. 10).

Gary Meo, senior vice president of print and digital media services for Scarborough, said he's not surprised Las Vegas rated so highly in the study.

First, digital know-how saturates markets with younger-than-average populations. The median age in Las Vegas is 34.5, compared with 35.3 nationwide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Tech savvy accompanies higher salaries, too, Meo said. Las Vegas bests national averages there as well, posting a median household income of $53,000 a year. That's No. 5 in the country among cities with 500,000 or more residents, the census bureau said.

Scarborough's reports also find frequent correlations between Western, warm-weather markets and high-tech penetration. Seven of this year's top 10 digitally savvy cities are west of the Mississippi River, for example. Perhaps that's because Western cities typically have younger residents, Meo said.

Plus, transient, mobile markets, with young workers moving from apartment to apartment and region to region, tend to more eagerly embrace technologies, such as cell phones and personal digital assistants, that allow them to communicate on the move.

Locals say high-tech mastery in Southern Nevada comes from more than just the area's youthful, migratory population.

David LeGrand, an attorney with the law firm of Fennemore Craig and cofounder of investment nonprofit Vegas Valley Angels, said hotel-casinos, with their "elaborate and extensive computer networks and sophisticated servers," drive an expansive high-tech element in the local economy. The entertainment sector contributes as well: witness the new entertainment engineering and design program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where students learn to operate "robust technology platforms" for software that controls lighting and sound systems, LeGrand said.

Las Vegas also hosts a cavalcade of conventions peddling the latest in consumer and business technologies, noted Shawn Harris, president and chief executive officer of local mobile-content provider SkyWire Media. Companies from around the world unveil their newest gadgets and operating platforms at local shows such as the Consumer Electronics Show and Interop.

Finally, Las Vegas houses the station that regenerates communications signals sent via fiber optic lines between Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Los Angeles, LeGrand noted. That's given the city a concentration of fiber optics "far superior to that seen in other communities," and thus the capacity to handle more and newer technologies.

Many of Scarborough's clients use the digital-savvy report to evaluate media use. But the results serve other functions: they alert businesses and consumers to coming technological trends, and they provide a glimpse at the consumption habits of an affluent demographic.

"(Digitally savvy consumers) are leading-edge groups," Meo said. "You can make an inference that their behaviors today predict what the general population's behavior will look like in a few years."

Scarborough's analysts developed their digital-savvy roster by researching 18 consumer behaviors. They looked at the percentage of people who use MP3 players, personal digital assistants, digital video recorders or voice-over-Internet-Protocol phone service. They assessed the frequency with which consumers read or contribute to weblogs, download music and gamble online. They measured how often residents bank online, download ring tones or watch streaming video.

If that checklist of tech-related habits leaves you asking, "MP-whuh?" well then, just wait three to five years. That's how long it takes for the average consumer to catch up with his early-adopting brethren, Meo said. That means it's only a matter of time before you're texting away discreetly under the table during business lunches, downloading the latest Accordion Noir podcast and blasting your political views to the uninformed masses via blog.

For now, digitally savvy consumers represent a relatively small share of the community -- just 10 percent in Las Vegas, and 6 percent on average nationwide. But they bolster the market for upscale goods and services.

They're 132 percent more likely than the average population to post annual household income of $150,000 or more. More than half -- 57 percent -- make $75,000 a year or more per household. They're 56 percent more likely than average to drive a luxury car, 175 percent more likely to have dropped $500 or more on business clothes in the last year and 49 percent more likely to own a second home. They're far more likely to partake in athletic leisure activities such as basketball, yoga, training and jogging. Fifty-six percent are men and three-quarters of them are younger than 44.

In Las Vegas, adults are 38 percent more likely than residents around the country to have spent $2,500 or more on Internet purchases in the last year. They're also 7 percent more likely than adults nationwide to have spent 20 hours or more online in the last week, and 54 percent of them boast broadband connections in the home, versus 49 percent of all Americans.

As Las Vegas grabs more attention for its cluster of digitally facile consumers, other tech whizzes and technology-oriented companies could move to the city, said Harris, whose prior employer, hospitality-technology company InfoGenesis, relocated from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Las Vegas in 2005.

"Once you get technically savvy people in an area, it definitely does foster additional growth in technology industries," said Harris, who's also president of the trade group Technology Business Alliance of Nevada. "Las Vegas has a lot of good business aspects. There's no state income tax, it's easy to get here and everyone likes to come to Las Vegas, so it's easy to get people to come out and look at your technologies. More and more (high-tech) companies are coming here and growing their business."

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

 

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