A pleasant assault of the senses greeted guests last October at the first Asian Food Festival. Wafting through the air was the fragrant flavors of various Oriental cuisines, while the beat of cymbals and gongs, typical of Asian music, permeated the scene.
In the event, the Orient blended with the Occident in this first of its kind fair that welcomed some 30,000 patrons.
If community and business leaders were to be asked, such a sight will be common in 2012 as Asian-owned firms continue to expand in Las Vegas, further changing the business landscape.
The Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce predicts the only direction for growth of local Asian-owned businesses is upwards. This is because of the fast population growth in the Asian community which creates a massive demand for products.
At a rapid 116.5 percent growth — as U.S. Census Bureau records showed — the group’s population increase in Nevada from 2000-2010 is exceptional.
"The recent census results determined that the population of Asian Americans in Las Vegas has increased thereby increasing the demand for services and goods for this community," said Dr. Terry Wong, president of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce.
"The prospect of Asian business growth in Las Vegas is great," Wong said. "My expectations are that growth of Asian-owned businesses will increase steadily during the upcoming year."
And as Asians change the Las Vegas business landscape, so will they change the job market as more new firms offer career opportunities for locals.
Food is the fad
If the Asian Food Festival was any indication, food-related businesses will become the fast fad in Las Vegas.
"I believe (the food business) already is the trend," said Noel Casimiro, project chair of the Las Vegas Asian Food Festival.
"I remember when Asian restaurants would primarily only have Asian customers eating at the establishments and now it has gone to the mainstream community. Everyone loves Asian food!" he added.
This observation guided him in organizing the successful Asian Food Festival, which now will be staged every year.
"We will have another one (in 2012). (In the next one) I want to add more Asian themed décor, art and performances," he added.
"The purpose of the Asian Food Festival is to create a cultural food festival, such as the San Gennaro, that will showcase a variety of Asian foods," Casimiro said.
While cultural promotion was one of its major goals, it was the marketing of Asian-owned businesses that was a welcome result of the festival.
"I think that the recent Asian Food Festival was successful in promoting Asian businesses and advertising the business to mainstream Las Vegas," the chamber’s Wong said.
Wong noted that local Asian-owned businesses, a group that is growing massively, needs to take advantage of festivals such as these for their much-needed advertising.
"I feel that it is essential that small businesses position themselves before the pendulum swings back towards better economic times," he said.
Casimiro also said that food-related businesses will continue to open and to expand in Las Vegas in 2012. And the food festival is expected to help promote these businesses, he added.
The influx of Asian food businesses, meanwhile, will result in a host of job opportunities for Las Vegas locals, he noted.
Most Asian restaurants, as with other Asian businesses, have a family-oriented style of hiring. It is common among Asians to involve members of the family in their businesses, noted chamber chairman Robert Young. When these firms do hire nonfamily members, these are treated as family.
"Asian culture is very much that when you start a business, there are things that are different compared to mainstream businesses," Young said in an earlier interview.
"One is that we are very much family-oriented. We are using family members working together as a team. That is a core value of Asian enterprises," he said.
The other more important value that sets Asian firms apart is the way these companies treat their employees, Young noted.
"They treat them not as a liability, but an asset. If the economy is down, they will not fire those employees. They will find a way to increase income instead. That is the big difference," he said.
But the promise of a job and longtime employment by Asian employers is only given to those who show commitment to their jobs and its challenges, Young said.
"Most of the time, Asian employers hire for long term. They want employees to start from the ground, (and) then work up, then step up," he said.
"When we hire someone, we look at their resume. If, for example, they are in one position for five to 10 years, we would be very interested," he added.
Las Vegas is Chinese’s choice
Among Asians business owners, those from China are the ones who view Las Vegas as one of the best places to invest. Aside from the food industry, which Chinese business owners currently focus on, ventures have now expanded to hotel operations as well.
"I would say hotel and land purchasing, and professional services (related to hotel operations) will have further growth," said Julia Zhang, Beijing representative of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development.
"I can see a very strong trend for Chinese (investors) coming to the U.S. for cooperation and investment, she added.
Zhang explained that in her native China, a large number of corporations and wealthy individuals are financially strong to go out of the country for business.
And Las Vegas is their top choice for business given the lowered value of real estate. The city was gripped by continuously high jobless rate, while home foreclosures in the city remain highest in the country. The state was also the epicenter of the housing crisis that resulted in the nation’s economic downturn.
The chamber’s Young noted that any good businessman would know that the best time to invest is during a down economy "because everything is cheaper."
"This is the best period for them to invest here. Everything is cheaper than before. In other words, they should buy low and sell high," Young said.
"There is a down cycle and up or peak cycle. If you do it right, you come in the down cycle, increase the value, then you get out, make money. Right now, we’ve seen the market bottom out," he added.
The Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce represents the professional and business interests of Asians in Las Vegas. Among its many activities is the creation of networking opportunities for its members within and outside Las Vegas, as well as with business executives in other Asian countries.
The chamber worked with the Nevada Commission on Economic Development’s Beijing office in enticing Chinese investors to Las Vegas. The anticipated influx of Chinese investors to Las Vegas in 2012 is a result of extensive marketing strategies that resulted in this collaboration. These strategies include massive media promotions in China, as well as accompanying Chinese investors who attend trade shows in Las Vegas.
"We, the Beijing office of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development, are trying our best to attract Chinese investors to Las Vegas," Zhang said.
The NCED is a state agency established in 1983 to promote and encourage vital economic interests of Nevada. It stimulates business expansion, attracts new businesses to promote a robust, diversified and prosperous economy.
Its Beijing office was established in July 2011 to bring more investors to Nevada. Las Vegas is the city that Chinese investors are eyeing "because of huge business opportunities here," Zhang said.
"Some investors have been to Las Vegas and a few projects are already under way. So we will see further growth of Asian businesses, especially Chinese businesses in Las Vegas," Zhang added.
While she indicated that the majority of new Chinese investors are finalizing deals in hotel and hotel operations in Las Vegas, she declined to mention specific companies.
She stressed, however, that the entry of these companies would bring a great number of job opportunities to local Las Vegas residents. "Once they arrive here, they will have to hire local people to help with business development," Zhang said, indicating possible top-to-bottom hiring of these large companies.
Like those of all other businesses, owners of large Asian firms recognize education and experience when making hiring decisions, especially for top positions. But aside from this, Asian businesses will put a premium on bilingual applicants.
"When Chinese investors come, they would mostly hire bilingual Chinese workers," Zhang said.
Small business success
As large businesses invade the business community in Las Vegas, small businesses also are expected to grow.
Recognizing the impact of small businesses on creating jobs, the federal government is throwing all its support toward the success of these firms.
At a Las Vegas town hall meeting in October, White House officials pushed for more small businesses to open to help buoy the sagging economy.
"In order to get this economy started again, more small businesses are needed," Small Business Administration Regional Director Elizabeth Echols said in the meeting. She urged current and future business owners to tap local SBA offices for support.
Created in 1953, the SBA is an independent agency of the federal government, which gives assistance to small businesses. It provides protection of these firms’ interests as well.
In Clark County, the National Small Business Development Council provides useful information that helps businesses in their operations. The national agency has established two offices in the county since it recognizes Southern Nevada as among the nation’s more popular destinations for startup businesses because of its rapidly growing population.
Its Henderson office serves existing and prospective business owners in the Henderson, Green Valley and Boulder City area, while the Las Vegas office — a partnership program between the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the SBA — is located at the university’s Campus Services Building.
Echols explained how small businesses have the lion’s share in a city’s economic production and hiring and, thus, are a major influence to economic recovery.
"AAPI-owned (Asian American and Pacific Islander-owned) small businesses, in particular, are a big force because they contributed $300 billion in sales and 2 million jobs (in 2010)," she noted, citing national figures.
While Asian businesses comprise a modest 10 percent of all businesses in Las Vegas, it is the group that showed the most resilience. This was evidenced by the entry of major Asian brands during and immediately after the financial crisis in the late 2000s.