Predictions for the Las Vegas business community in 2012


Predicting the future is downright risky and perhaps even foolish.

But that won't stop the Las Vegas Review-Journal's business staff from giving it a try.

What's ahead for the Las Vegas business community in 2012?

Hold on to your seat. It's bound to be a bumpy ride ...

YOU'LL STILL BE OUT OF WORK

It's Vegas, so it's only fitting that we set an over-under on where local and state jobless rates will be at the end of 2012.

And we're putting the line at 11.8 percent locally and 12 percent statewide.

If that doesn't sound like a big decline from November's 12.5 percent local rate and 13 percent statewide number, consider our huge pool of jobless people. Nearly 172,000 Nevadans, including almost 120,000 Las Vegans, were out of work and looking in November. Absent big changes in the size of the labor pool, getting local unemployment down to 12 percent would require 20,000 new jobs in 2012. The city added 11,400 jobs year over year in November, so the job-formation rate would need to nearly double -- something economists say is possible.

The leisure and hospitality sector should expand as visitation continues to grow, and shrinkage in construction and the public sector should slow. Construction in particular has dwindled to 5 percent of the local workforce, down from a prerecession peak of 12 percent, and right in line with the national average. That suggests a more sustainable level of construction employment.

Industries growing toward the end of 2011 included retail, professional services, wholesale trade and specialty contracting, including electrical and plumbing work. Indicators point to added growth in those areas in 2012.

Still, we're betting that local and state unemployment rates remain well above national averages next year. As for Nevada leading the nation in joblessness? Our bet is that streak will continue through 2012.

-- JENNIFER ROBISON

PAYING MORE FOR YOUR MONEY

Most of us already bank online more than we use bank branches, and that will continue to expand as more people pay bills, check account balances and even make deposits with ever-smarter smartphones.

Don't expect banks to continue letting this happen without taking a cut. As financial institutions rework their fee structure following new federal regulations and a consumer backlash from the now-defunct debit card usage fee, many industry insiders say now is the time to introduce-fee based services for online.

For example, 1st Mariner Bank uses a program that makes customers meet certain criteria to avoid an account maintenance fee and a $1.95 monthly online banking fee. Other possible fees include mobile check deposit, which would provide customers with a look at pending transactions online the day before they are applied to an account.

-- CHRIS SIEROTY

GOOD AND BAD FOR GLOBAL GAMING

After much debate, lobbying and speculation, a move to legalize casinos in Florida fails to gain enough support from state lawmakers and the issue fails.

Heavy influence from the Seminole Indian tribe and theme park operator Walt Disney Co. carries more weight than the combination of Las Vegas Sands Corp., MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd.

The casino companies will then turn their attention to Massachusetts.

All four enter the battle to win the potentially lucrative single gaming license for the Boston area.

Internationally, Caesars Entertainment and Las Vegas Sands go after a gaming opportunit y in Japan, which is trying to revive its tourism market following last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami,

Caesars Chairman Gary Loveman, after the company missed out on Macau, puts nearly all of the casino giant's expansion efforts into the Japanese gaming bid process.

-- HOWARD STUTZ

SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK

How does record visitor volume sound?

That's the tune Las Vegas will sing in 2012, as the number of local tourists surpasses 40 million for the first time.

Visitor volume will have grown roughly 5 percent in 2011, to just more than 39 million. With local economists forecasting another 5 percent jump in 2012, that will take local visitation to more than 41 million next year.

The gain will push improvements in several other important economic indicators. The Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas projects a 4 percent jump in local gaming revenue, from $9.16 billion in 2011 to $9.53 billion in 2012. Taxable sales in Clark County should jump about 7 percent over their current $2.6 billion.

-- JENNIFER ROBISON

WELCOME TO FABULOUS (DOWNTOWN) LAS VEGAS

Zappos.com and its CEO, Tony Hsieh, will intensify downtown revitalization efforts ahead of the e-tailer's 2013 occupation of the old Las Vegas City Hall.

The Downtown Project, a redevelopment organization headed by Hsieh, will roll out specific projects in technology and culture, and has already committed $50 million for to-be-determined education initiatives.

Hsieh (or his associates) will snap up vacant downtown buildings for entrepreneurial co-working spaces or to lease to the kinds of businesses they want to see downtown -- more coffeehouses and boutiques, fewer pawn shops and bail bondsmen. That will include more tech startups in Las Vegas in 2012, many involving current or former Zappos employees.

Zappos' enthusiasm for downtown will spread as other businesses start to move into the city center, and as owners of existing downtown businesses reinvest and capitalize on the surge in downtown visitation.

Revitalization of downtown gaming venues, already trending up, will continue with a wave of casino remodelings and renovations through the year.

-- CAITLIN MCGARRY

NICER, BIGGER, BETTER. PRICIER

McCarran International Airport will cut the ribbon on its new, $2.4-billion Terminal 3, to rave reviews as an aesthetic advance on the older sections of the airport. It will particularly impress international visitors, many of whom now funnel through the cramped and utilitarian Terminal 2.

Reviews by the domestic airlines will be less enthusiastic. For years, Las Vegas has been a low-fare destination, with many more passengers wearing flip-flops instead of wingtips. While this was not much of a consideration in the good times, airlines are now acutely conscious of how much they can raise fares, especially with the price of oil hovering around $100 a barrel.

Paying off Terminal 3 will raise the cost per enplanement paid by airlines, charges such as counter rentals and landing fees -- tightening the profit margin on each seat into Las Vegas. As a result, some marginal flights will drop off the schedule as planes are redeployed to more lucrative destinations.

Also, airlines moving to Terminal 3 will leave US Airways as the only tenant in Concourse A. The airport and US Airways will negotiate a move to Concourse D so that A can be mothballed.

-- TIM O'REILEY

IT AIN'T OVER YET

The "other shoe" will fall as the $3.4 trillion wave of commercial mortgage defaults takes down office parks and shopping centers across the valley. Commercial real estate values will drop 60 percent from their peak, just like the housing market.

Commercial broker Ron Opfer of Coldwell Premier said Las Vegas will have the largest drop in commercial values since start of the recession. He had four appraisals come back in December for bank-owned commercial properties at less than 50 percent of the value from a year ago. 

Banks are bracing for a record number of foreclosed commercial assets in 2012. A report from the International Council of Shopping Centers forecasts that 5,000 retail stores will close across the United States in 2012.

With forbearance agreements coming due and appraisals recognizing a decline in property values, banks will have to foreclose on more properties.

But the pain won't be universal. Construction will resume on some of the half-finished projects in sectors that are showing signs of emerging from the doldrums.

-- HUBBLE SMITH

MEET THE NEW BOSS

There were a handful of resort ownership changes in 2011. The most prominent was the acquisition of M Resort by Penn National Gaming. The regional casino operator purchased the property's debt at a 75 percent discount.

Merger and acquisition speculation heats up in 2012.

Penn National, which would like a resort on the Strip or closer, is among the companies perceived as buyers, along with Las Vegas-based regional gaming companies Pinnacle Entertainment and Ameristar Casinos.

Among the hotel-casinos that are discussed as buying opportunities include the Rio, the bankrupt Hooters Hotel, Las Vegas Hilton (to become the LVH-Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on Tuesday), Tropicana Las Vegas, Circus Circus and The Mirage.

-- HOWARD STUTZ

A NEW PATH FOR SIN CITY?

North Las Vegas will make the finals, at least, for a 2 million-square-foot Toyota Motor Corp. manufacturing and distribution plant.

The carmaker is said to be surveying sites for the plant, which would bring 3,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs to the valley, but has yet to confirm it's looking at land in Southern Nevada. Whether Nevada's low taxes, ultralow-cost housing, seismic stability and business-friendly reputation will be enough to overcome competition from states that can offer more direct incentives remains to be seen.

-- HUBBLE SMITH

A FAST TRAIN TO NOWHERE

The DesertXpress high-speed railroad proposal will receive approval for a federal loan to cover most of the cost. But with the price now at $6.5 billion and continuing to rise, it will still be an uphill trudge to find the money for the gap that the taxpayers don't cover.

As a result, DesertXpress will save money by shrinking the 190-mile route. Instead of a southern terminus in Victorville, Calif., the line will end at the agricultural inspection state at Yermo, Calif., which will generate almost as many passengers as Victorville.

-- TIM O'REILEY

A FERTITTA ARENA

New casino development on the Strip is at a standstill.

However, Fertitta Entertainment, which owns 45 percent of Station Casinos, will dust off a portion of its development plans for Viva, a hotel-casino complex planned for the site of the Wild Wild West on Tropicana Avenue, west of Interstate 15 . Brothers Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta will move forward with a sports arena to house their Ultimate Fighting Championship events, and someday add a hotel-casino. UFC and Fertitta Entertainment will join forces to obtain financing for the arena, which could also accommodate a National Basketball Association or National Hockey League franchise.

-- HOWARD STUTZ

POLITICS MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

With the Republican presidential nominee all but chosen by spring, Wynn Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn, Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson and New York billionaire Donald Trump, launch a joint effort to help the candidate defeat President Barack Obama in November.

The three will meet at Wynn to plan out fundraisers and other endeavors to help the Republican candidate.

-- HOWARD STUTZ

NOT EXACTLY ROARING BACK

As the case lumbers into its third year, lawyers working on the Chapter 11 of the Las Vegas Monorail will come up with a new refinancing plan that at least looks viable enough to get the line out of bankruptcy. However, the monorail's passenger counts will continue to shrink as the nirvana of an airport extension stays out of reach.

-- TIM O'REILEY

IF IT FEELS GOOD, SPEND IT

Frugal living was so 2011.

Like a bad hangover, Nevadans will swear off spending during the first two to three quarters of 2012. Then, tired of the pinch and in true American "I deserve this" fashion, spending for the holidays will go through the roof.

Expect sales increases of up to 10 percent next holiday season, with heavy buying just days before Christmas. That's due to a combination of savers' fatigue, holiday hubris and maybe some end-of-the-world lavishness -- the Mayan calendar ends Dec. 21, and some say that means you can plug the end of the world into your schedule. Savvy shoppers will no doubt wait until Dec. 22 to hit the mall.

-- LAURA CARROL L

 

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