Valley's high-tech sector faces slow going this year, expert says


The Las Vegas Valley’s job market isn’t likely to return to expansion in 2010, and that means continued struggles for a high-tech sector that local officials have tried to expand for more than a decade, a local recruiting expert told a technology trade group Wednesday.

Still, long-term opportunities for growth exist, as baby boomers look toward retirement and the city’s high-tech infrastructure lures businesses to Las Vegas, said Doug Geinzer, director of online classified advertising for Recruiting Nevada and Greenspun Media Group. In fact, four of the 10 job categories expected to grow fastest in Nevada through 2016 are tech-related jobs, Geinzer told 50 attendees at a monthly luncheon that the Technology Business Alliance of Nevada held inside Bali Hai Golf Club.

Despite long-range growth trends, immediate challenges remain in 2010, Geinzer said.

Even in the best of times, the valley’s tech sector has faced trouble getting off the ground.

Geinzer took the crowd back to 1999 and 2000, describing how city officials and economic diversification agencies coined the term Silicon Oasis to describe the high-tech haven they hoped to create here. Geinzer reeled off a list of once-hot local technology companies: PurchasePro, TravelScape, MGC Communications, Systems Research & Development, Hello Network, Global Technologies — these companies and more held the promise of thousands of local technology jobs. Entrepreneurs formed the Internet Business Alliance of Nevada, later rebranded the Technology Business Alliance of Nevada, to promote the high-tech sector and help bring talent here.

But the hype couldn’t survive a string of historic events.

The dot-com bust of 2001 dried up capital for tech expansion, and many high-flying startups either closed or sold out to existing companies in other states. The alliance and the Nevada Development Authority had to scrub the launch of a major new recruiting and promotion drive with a debut scheduled for the evening of Sept. 11, 2001. And once the gaming industry rebounded from its post-9/11 malaise and began posting record visitation and gaming wins, concerns about economic diversification fell to the wayside, taking interest in high-tech investment with it, Geinzer said.

We don’t need to tell you the resort and construction boom didn’t last, but Geinzer provided numbers showing just how significantly the city’s fortunes reversed.

The state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation had projected 145,000 new jobs in Las Vegas between 2007 and 2010, partly because of anticipated expansion along the Strip. But since the recession’s beginning in December 2007, employers in Las Vegas have shed 125,000 jobs. That means the gap between where state economists expected employment to be and where it actually is comes to roughly 270,000 positions, Geinzer noted. Observers expect employers to cut an additional 50,000 jobs in Las Vegas in 2010, he added.

Nor has CityCenter provided the work-force boost experts had hoped for.

Geinzer, who helped MGM Mirage with CityCenter’s online recruiting efforts, said roughly a third of CityCenter employees came from other MGM Mirage properties. MGM Mirage has been slow to back-fill those vacancies, so the 12,000 jobs CityCenter was supposed to create is more like 8,000 to 10,000 jobs so far, he said. That’s before you include the 9,000 construction workers who lost their jobs once the resort opened.

But opportunities to move up through the work force will emerge. People older than 55 make up more than 35 percent of the city’s labor pool, Geinzer noted. Seniors have clung to the job market because their investments shrank during the recession, but when the economy rebounds, you can expect many of those workers to retire.

Plus, Southern Nevada’s fiberoptics networks and other technology infrastructure position Las Vegas well to take advantage of some fast-growing technology businesses. For example, the federal government has committed at least $19 billion to efforts to digitize medical records. Las Vegas’ telephone and Internet companies have laid copious amounts of wire for telecommunications, data transfer and other high-tech functions, and that should help make Las Vegas a leader in electronic health records.

Geinzer said he’s working with an East Coast company seeking a West Coast hub for such an operation; the business would bring positions that require “high levels of sophistication — people who know how to manage data and build major data warehouses,” Geinzer said.

“Because we don’t have the old infrastructure that some other cities have, we have the opportunity to be a leader in this charge,” he added.

The state employment department has placed four technology-related fields on its list of the 10 fastest-growing jobs through 2016. Earning the top spot for projected growth: network systems and data communications analyst. The state expects the ranks of such analysts to jump 5.6 percent through 2016. Two different types of computer software engineer take up Nos. 3 and 4, with both set to expand their jobs base by 5.1 percent. Coming in at No. 7 is network and computer systems administration, which is expected to increase its work force by 4.7 percent.

Green jobs should also lend Nevada’s high-tech economy a helping hand, Geinzer said, but job-seekers shouldn’t expect to find those opportunities anytime soon.

”A lot of funding (for green jobs) was just released through stimulus funds, but the reality is, it’s going to take a while for those jobs to come about,” he said. “So Nevada still is in for some rough times. This year is not going to be the breakthrough year from an employment standpoint.”

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

 

 

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