State demographer uncertain about growth after 2014

RENO — Nevada’s economic uncertainty has prompted the state demographer for the first time to issue both best-case and worst-case projections for population and job growth over the next two decades, and neither is good for at least three years.

Both projections anticipate a net loss of 54,000 people in Nevada between now and 2014, state demographer Jeff Hardcastle said Tuesday.

But predicting population and jobs beyond that is a roll of the dice: anywhere from a population gain of as few as 14,000 people in a scenario projecting flat economic growth to a gain of up to
1.2 million by 2030 in a more optimistic scenario that foresees a faster national turnaround, he said.

The discrepancies underscore the need for Nevada’s government, business and community leaders to focus on the kinds of jobs they should try to create in the years ahead, Hardcastle said.

Nevada lost 190,000 jobs from May 2007 to January 2010, the new report said.

“You have a situation where we’ve had three years now — almost four years — of a rocky economic situation,” said Hardcastle, who is based at the Nevada Small Business Development Center in the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“We need to be looking at how best to turn this boat around because it will take awhile to turn it around,” he said in an interview.

For the rosy numbers to materialize, Hardcastle said Las Vegas will need a resurgence in the gambling and tourism industries that have been its bread and butter for decades. He said the ailing construction business must rebound statewide.

“The loss of construction jobs in Nevada may be starting to bottom out. It has been in a free fall,” he said.

The percentage of construction jobs in Nevada was as high as 88 percent above the national average when it peaked in July 2006 but is close to the national average now, he said.

The more pessimistic outlook with a
1 percent gain is based on work with the Regional Economic Models Inc. formula, the one Hardcastle usually has relied on.

The other is based on Moody’s.com, a service for investors. It estimates population growth by as much as 1.2 million by 2030, an increase of about 45 percent from the current 2.7 million to 3.9 million people.

“Moody’s is much more robust nationally. To achieve that, we have to be hitting double-digit growth in most of our employment sectors,” Hardcastle said.

Bill Eadington, economics professor and director of the Institute for the Study and gambling and Commercial Gaming at UNR, said Northern Nevada is on a “clearer path,” targeting economic diversification and attracting new and high-tech businesses. Southern Nevada is still heavily dependent on gaming and hospitality, he said. It is “harder to see where their options are.”

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