Native Nevadan Hilary Crowley wanted out.
The Las Vegas fundraiser and lobbyist wanted a change of scenery, and the state’s struggling economy made for a depressing career backdrop. So Crowley moved four months ago to Salt Lake City, where she now is director of development for the Waterford Research Institute.
"I was ready for a bit of a change. I’m happy to be away. I feel like I’m in this little safe haven," Crowley said. "Unemployment (in Utah) is just over 7 percent, or half of what it is in Nevada, and Utah is building and hiring. It’s shocking and refreshing to see construction again."
If a new poll is any indication, a third of locals would like to follow Crowley out of Nevada. A new Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll found that 34 percent of locals would leave Las Vegas if they could find a job in another market, or if they weren’t underwater on their home loan.
A majority of 58 percent said they wouldn’t leave even if they could afford to.
The survey featured a stark generational divide. Just 25 percent of locals over 50 said they would relocate given the opportunity, while 42 percent of people under 50 said they would grab the chance to flee, a gap that experts attributed to retirees’ smaller home loans and guaranteed fixed incomes.
Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted the poll among 405 registered voters in Clark County. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said the results should cause concern among the state’s business and government leaders.
Coker conducted similar surveys in Florida from 2006 to 2009, a period that brought big property-tax increases, several major hurricanes and a housing collapse similar to Nevada’s.
The number of Floridians considering a move rose from roughly 25 percent to around 35 percent.
At the same time, in-migration to Florida stalled as out-migration picked up. So there is a correlation between people wanting to leave and people actually leaving, Coker said.
"You could argue whether (out-migration) is good or bad, because if more people left, there’d be fewer people looking for jobs," Coker said. "But when people leave, their dollars go with them."
Experts already see signs of a shrinking community.
Brian Gordon, a principal in research and consulting firm Applied Analysis, said the Las Vegas Valley’s population edged down about 1 percent in the last year, after two decades of nation-leading population growth that often exceeded 5 percent annually.
It’s natural that locals would want to leave amid 14.8 percent unemployment, Gordon said. After all, job opportunities prove the primary motivation for most relocations to Southern Nevada. With career prospects dwindling, some locals see no reason to hang around.
"There’s always the concept that the grass is greener," Gordon said.
"A large share of the population is frustrated with their current work or financial situation. When you factor in home values, the tendency would be to respond positively when you’re asked if you want to look elsewhere to live."
But it’s not just about jobs and upside-down mortgages.
In a Facebook posting seeking comments for this story, respondents popped off on everything from the heat and scarce trees to "driving down the road and seeing tits and ass on billboards."
Even those complaints probably trace back to the economy, Gordon said. Professional dissatisfaction can magnify petty grievances, like the way someone always loved their mate’s dorky laugh — until they decided it was time for a divorce.
Still, most locals said they would stick with Las Vegas.
After coming and going for the better part of three decades, Las Vegan Stacie Frazier said she is finally here permanently.
"My family is all settled here now, and I can’t imagine doing my line of work anywhere else," Frazier said. "Vegas just fits my boudoir photography business like no other city could."
Debbie Harris, a social-media expert and developer for Exclusive Realty, moved here in 2006 from Connecticut, mostly to be near family. Her mother, her father and stepmother, an aunt and uncle and her brother all moved to Las Vegas in phases beginning roughly 15 years ago.
What does Harris love about Las Vegas?
Ah, where to begin? She enjoys her job, and the fellowship she has found in the Las Vegas Rotary. She indulges in regular hikes in the nearby Spring Mountains.
The heat this summer has been a bear, she acknowledged, but she can eat hamburgers outside without drenching herself in bug repellent. And what’s better than lording a 72-degree February day over friends back East?
"It doesn’t surprise me so many people say they want to move, but I think they’re dreaming," Harris said. "I don’t think many places are much better off than Las Vegas. I think the city will have a stronger, faster recovery, because people want to come where it’s warm."
Such sentiments make it unlikely Las Vegas will wither away, and after perhaps a few more rough years, the city’s population growth should revive, Coker said.
Gordon agreed, noting that corporations, governments and individuals have invested billions in the local economy, and they aren’t likely to abandon those assets.
While some locals want out, the market dynamics that led to the city’s explosive growth in the 1990s and early 2000s still exist. Gordon cited affordable housing and an overall low cost of living in particular.
Even Crowley visits Las Vegas once a month, and said she would return to Las Vegas some day, especially if an "amazing" job offer comes her way.
Harris, for her part, has decided she is in Las Vegas for the long haul. But her decision to stay rests on a force more potent than the economy, a power more unyielding than the weather, an obstacle taller than Mount Charleston.
"If I moved," she said, "my mother would literally kill me."
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4512.