Yes, Texas has far lower unemployment than Nevada.
But it also has hurricanes and humidity. Plus, it’s boring. And in some parts, job opportunities aren’t that great.
Hey, don’t take it from us. Listen to the Texans who’ve flocked to Las Vegas despite the city’s ongoing recession and Nevada’s nation-leading joblessness.
"The town where we’re from has a Walmart, a McDonald’s and a couple of Mexican restaurants. It has a little shopping center with a Big Lots and a Dollar General. That’s it," said Shannon Fleming, 28, who moved here with husband, Kevin, 33, and 7-year-old daughter, Amaya, from Orange, Texas, in early 2010.
Added Janine Henry, 28, who relocated with husband, Joel, 38, from Fort Worth in November 2009: "In Vegas, we always knew something would be going on."
The Flemings and the Henrys are part of a stream of Texans flowing into Las Vegas from the Lone Star State, even though Texas has a healthier economy.
Numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show Texas added 328,000 jobs from June 2009 to July 2011. That’s 47 percent of all jobs created nationwide in the period. The state’s July jobless rate of 8.4 percent was below the national average of 9.1 percent.
In Las Vegas, on the other hand, overall job growth was flat in the same time frame. Local joblessness remains stubbornly high, at 14.2 percent.
Yet driver’s license and ID card turn-in figures from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles place Texas in the top five for states with residents moving to Clark County. Texans handed over 1,948 licenses and cards in the first eight months of 2011, down only slightly from 2,217 in 2007, when Las Vegas boomed.
LET’S DO THE MATH
What’s behind this recession-era migration from the Lone Star State?
Simple math, in part.
Texas is the nation’s second most populous state, with 25 million residents. Even a tiny uptick in out-migration from such a huge region would register big in Clark County, which has just less than 2 million residents. Texas averaged 243.5 driver’s license and ID turn-ins in Clark County through the first eight months of 2011, small potatoes for the Lone Star State but good enough for No. 4 among local surrenders, after California, Arizona and Florida.
"For us to be talking about 1,500 a year, that’s kind of a statistical blip for us," said Terry Clower, director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas.
Plus, there’s some industry compatibility. Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are big destinations for tourists and conventioneers, giving Texas a large contingent of hospitality workers, said Bernard Weinstein, a business economics professor at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business. Unemployed leisure workers in Texas may have caught wind that job formation in Nevada hotel-casinos is up more than 2 percent in the last year.
Also, things may be better than average in Texas, but the state is "not an economic nirvana," Weinstein said. Its unemployment rate more than doubled in the recession, as population growth outpaced job formation.
Besides, moving on is in the blood for many Texans. Dallas and Houston are full of transplants comfortable with starting over in a new place.
"Texas grew in population by attracting people from all over," said Steve Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "Those people or their children would move yet again for better opportunities."
And some of those better opportunities happen to be in Nevada.
A RESTLESS POPULATION
Consider that the biggest chunk of the Texas driver’s license turn-ins occurred among people ages 19 to 39. In second place were people ages 40 to 60. Transplants older than 60, the group that includes retirees, was the smallest adult contingent. The numbers suggest Texans are moving here for work, Brown said.
"People who are 19 to 39 will mostly move only if they are taking new jobs. An enjoyable city with many amenities and affordable housing are also considerations, but people in this age group aren’t going to be moving without employment opportunities," Brown said.
Take the Flemings.
The couple were born and raised in Orange, a town of 17,000 south of Houston. Shannon always wanted to try living in a new place, but Kevin made six figures working in a Gulf Coast chemical refinery — until he was laid off in mid-2009. Most other jobs available in Orange were part-time positions in discount stores and fast-food restaurants.
"He had a good job, and we’d been nervous about moving. That was the only thing holding us back. When they offered everyone severance packages, we were like, ‘That’s it. We can move,’ " Shannon said.
The Flemings chose Las Vegas because they’d visited the city several times and had fallen in love with it, Shannon said. The couple opened Super Star Tanning, a 24-hour tanning salon, on South Rainbow Boulevard in April 2010. They’ve been profitable since their fifth month and now are in talks to open additional locations and to begin franchising.
For the Henrys, a job transfer paved the way for relocation.
Joel was playing piano at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar in Fort Worth when the bar’s parent company opened a Town Square location. The couple leapt at the opportunity to move to Las Vegas.
"We were very excited about coming out here and living somewhere new," said Janine, who took a job with online retailer Zappos.com.
Brown himself is a Texas transplant as well, lured in 2010 after 29 years in the Lone Star State, where he worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, to Las Vegas to head up his center at UNLV.
But, like other relocated Texans, job opportunities were only part of the Las Vegas appeal for Brown.
A GOOD PLACE FOR AN INVESTMENT
Texas never had the housing boom and bust Las Vegas had, so fewer Texans are underwater on their homes. That means they can move, and they have equity to plow into serious real estate bargains.
"We recognized that housing prices in Las Vegas were below (building) replacement costs, which suggested that it was a good place to make an investment," Brown said.
Then there’s the weather. The Gulf Coast, where the Flemings lived, took direct hits from hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008.
"We looked at it like, ‘We can’t take the heartache anymore,’ " Shannon Fleming said. "My sister had to live in a trailer. Nobody can afford to keep evacuating."
After Ike, the Flemings visited Las Vegas four times, getting off the Strip to see how locals lived.
"When we actually came and explored, we saw it was a completely different place from what you see on TV," Shannon Fleming said.
It was the entertainment scene that encouraged the Henrys to move.
"It’s Vegas. There’s a lot of entertainment in a very small area, with a lot of restaurants and different things you can do on a daily basis," Janine Henry said. "My husband’s nights off are on Mondays and Tuesdays. There weren’t a lot of things you could do in Fort Worth on Mondays and Tuesdays."
There’s just one lingering question: Because Las Vegas is one of the nation’s most transient cities, will the Texas transplants stay?
Numbers from U-Haul show that, for now, the migration path is one way — into Las Vegas. No Texas cities broke the moving company’s top 10 for destinations for departing Las Vegans between January 2010 and June 2011.
Still, Brown said he’s not completely sold on Las Vegas yet. He and his wife, Susan, moved here partly with distant retirement in mind, but he has "to see how things transpire."
"I like the university, but eventually, I will retire, and I’ll have to see whether retiring in Las Vegas is a good thing."
But the Henrys will head back to Texas in early November. They have an 8-month-old baby, Isaiah, and as much as they love Las Vegas, they want their son to grow up near family.
The Flemings, on the other hand, are bringing family to themselves. Shannon has lured a parade of friends and relatives to "experience what locals see on a daily basis" off the Strip. She’s already persuaded one friend — who thought she was "crazy" to move here — to relocate in 2012. Two other friends and a sister are also mulling a move.
"I will never live anywhere else," she said. "You couldn’t pay me to live anywhere else."
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at email@example.com or 702-380-4512.