New businesses: But don’t forget companies barely hanging on

The firm currently has only seven employees. Nonetheless, the recent decision of Walls 360 — a graphic arts firm that licenses images from children’s books and video games to make life-size wall art — to relocate from San Francisco to Las Vegas is welcome news to a city that’s struggled with both its image and the financial effects of the Great Recession for more than three years.

The firm’s principals list Southern Nevada’s cheap real estate, low-cost shipping, large available work force and the absence of a state income tax as major factors in their decision.

But it was the 24-hour nature of the town and the excitement generated by First Friday and the burgeoning downtown arts district that co-founder John Duffing cites as the deal-clinchers.

Walls 360 is one of about 10 businesses that relocated to or expanded in Las Vegas over the summer. That handful of firms spurred $84.1 million in capital investment in the area — a big jump from $3 million in the summer quarter of 2009 — according to the Nevada Development Authority.

New businesses created nearly 300 direct and indirect jobs over the quarter, double the 150 new jobs created in the same summer months of 2009. The one-year payroll impact of those jobs also nearly doubled to $13.3 million from $7.2 million in 2009.

With an estimated 130,000 Las Vegans currently out of work, 300 jobs aren’t going to solve things all by themselves, of course. But the new arrivals are especially welcome because they help identify the business-attracting features that are worth promoting — and protecting.

Meantime, as they struggle to attract new employers, municipalities should remember the old business adage that it’s often more efficient to make the smaller effort necessary to retain an existing customer — who’s already shown some staying power — than to attract a new one.

Nevada long had a reputation as a low-tax, low-regulation environment where a hard-working entrepreneur had a better-than-usual chance to make his or her dreams come true.

Local municipalities may not be able to wave a magic wand and solve our economic troubles. But they could sure do less — yes, less — to drive local businesses, now hanging on by their fingernails, over the edge.

New arrivals should be celebrated, of course. The more the merrier. But the bureaucratic blood-sucking and “death by a thousand cuts” that was tolerated as an affordable annoyance during the go-go years can now make the different between a struggling business owner holding on for a few more months in hopes of improvement or cashing in his chips.

So far, the best county and city authorities have done is to promise “one-stop shopping” for all those licenses and permits — eventually. But that’s not good enough. It’s time to re-examine whether and why each niggling regulation is really necessary– and get out the scythe.

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