Official calls for targeted resources

When Nevada had a $380 million budget surplus a few years back, it should have invested in infrastructure and higher education instead of giving a $70 rebate to every licensed driver, the economic development director for North Las Vegas said Wednesday.

That’s how you pay more than “lip service” to economic diversification, Mike Majewski said at a panel discussion sponsored by the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors in Southern Nevada.

“I don’t see a lot happening,” said Majewski, who is leaving his city job in June. “We need to start thinking about targeting our resources at a specific industry. We can’t just be laissez-faire.”

Majewski said his goal has always been to make North Las Vegas competitive in recruiting new businesses by working with other economic development agencies. At the same time, the city must be prepared to accept specific projects such as the 2,000-acre satellite campus for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the $600 million, 90-bed Veterans Administration hospital.

It may not be evident, but Clark County is still seeing $1 billion a year in building permits, roughly the same amount as 1995, said Ron Lynn, director for the county’s Department of Development Services. That’s down from about $12 billion in 2007, partly because valuation of projects has declined.

Lynn said he tries to create a friendly and easy environment for developers to get through the permitting system and make buildings safe and habitable.

The complexity of each project affects the time frame. Tenant improvements and minor remodeling of commercial buildings can be done over the counter in 30 to 45 minutes. Other projects can take weeks to get structural plans approved, often because engineers don’t submit revisions in a timely manner, the building official said. Plans can be submitted through the Internet.

The city of Las Vegas is focused on a capital investment strategy and public-private partnerships, particularly downtown, said Bill Arent, the city’s business development director.

“We’re looking at tourism and convention spaces, what I’d call place-based conventions such as the World Market Center. We’re trying to expand that concept to other areas,” Arent said.

He said it’s “critically important” to keep tax abatement incentives in place and to look at the wage level that must be achieved to qualify for those incentives.

“Instead of setting the bar at $20 an hour, knock it down 10 percent or 15 percent and it opens up a whole new ball game,” Arent said.

Bob Cooper, economic development manager for Henderson, said Nevada needs to develop a “cluster industry” strategy. The state of Washington went after biotechnology and crafted legislation specifically for that industry, he said.

Cooper said he works with the Nevada Commission on Economic Development and the Nevada Development Authority, but can’t depend on them to bring him business.

“If we did, we wouldn’t get many phone calls,” he said. “The number of leads we get from the state is not too large.”

Naming several people in the room, Cooper said his best recruiting technique is a referral network of industry sources. He also relies on electronic and direct mail and the city’s Web site to create leads around the world.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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