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Leaders to collaborate to create Southern Nevada Strong

A collaboration of elected officials, members of the business community and engaged residents is joining forces to create Southern Nevada Strong, which seeks to build a foundation of change in the region.

“This is the first major effort of its kind in Southern Nevada,” said Stephanie Garcia-Vause, Southern Nevada Strong’s project director. “We are really on the cusp of great things.”

The project, which announced its launch Feb. 8, is funded by a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Garcia-Vause, who is also the director of community development and services for the city of Henderson, said the project plans to look at needs such as transportation, housing and job opportunities. She added that strengthening those areas would help diversify Southern Nevada’s economy.

In one sense, the project is supposed to help Southern Nevada become more attractive to businesses looking to set up operation in the valley and also to people looking to move to Las Vegas.

Garcia-Vause added that people used to find a job regardless of the city.

“Now, people are choosing where to live first and then finding a job,” she said.

Garcia-Vause said the program needs to look at how to make the city more attractive so when millennials, or businesses, are deciding where to live first, Las Vegas should be an option.

But the project could also have positive effects on the quality of life for established residents.

Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst with Applied Analysis, said there are several challenges Southern Nevada faces, from the fact that 22 percent of the adult population has a bachelor’s degree or higher to the unemployment level being at about 10 percent — not factoring those underemployed or who have given up the job search.

“A third of all households make less than $35,000 annually,” he said. “Nearly 57 percent of K-12 students qualify for free or reduced lunch.”

He added that about 66 percent of people’s income goes to housing or transportation, begging for the system to be fixed.

Cass Palmer, president of United Way of Southern Nevada, said fixing the transportation issues in the valley, among other solutions, could help low-income people.

“A third of the people living under $35,000 are either in North Las Vegas or around the Boulder (Highway) Strip area,” he said. “Many of them work downtown or on the Strip. Getting from point A to point B is an economic aspect.”

Palmer said having reliable public transportation, meaning families would not have to own a car or pay for its services, could help with income deficiencies.

“It could increase their quality of life,” he said. “The money you’d spend on that could go toward your quality of life.”

But that is just one example of the areas the project will look at.

The project will have six task groups dedicated to researching issues including transportation, environment, health, housing, economic development and education and public engagement and equity. Each task group is facilitated by experts in the field.

These task force topics were predetermined by the grant the project received.

“These are things that are interdependent of each other for a vibrant community,” Garcia-Vause said.

For the next year, the project is expected to focus on public engagement and research.

“We want to get feedback from people,” Garcia-Vause said.

Whether it is meeting with people and groups face to face or having people fill out surveys on its website, Garcia-Vause wants to spend the time hearing from everyone in the area.

Since Las Vegas is more of a 24-hour city, she added that the group will be looking at nontraditional ideas to reach out to people.

“Traditionally speaking, we would have a public meeting at 5 p.m. and have people come to it,” she said. “It’s not that easy here.”

Garcia-Vause has thrown out ideas such as setting up booths inside employee lounges in casinos and hotels, since that is an industry that has people in atypical work hours.

In the next few years, Garcia-Vause said the project would be able to come up with demonstration projects based on its research and findings that could potentially be carried out in the region.

“Those would help us better compete for federal dollars,” she said.

With federal dollars for the project, Garcia-Vause said Southern Nevada could start seeing more jobs and the seeds of change.

“It won’t be a quick change,” she said. “But it will establish the foundation for the next few years.”

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Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@viewnews.com or 702-387-5201.

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