Our Vision #1: Improve Economic Competitiveness and Education


The region’s rapid growth brought many new people and households, but the prolonged economic decline of the most recent recession has left many of them in unstable housing and job circumstances. The situation calls for a reevaluation of local policies and prioritization of investment to support long-term economic stability and prosperity.

The health, quality of life, and sustainability of a region is anchored in its ability to retain and create jobs that pay a family wage, and an environment where businesses can thrive. For residents of Southern Nevada to prosper, the region must clearly focus on economic growth that benefits all residents. As the population grows, the availability of new, well-paying jobs must also grow. The CEDS identifies a set of target industries that the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (the regional entity that created and adopted the CEDS) determined should be the focus of its efforts to develop the regional economy. Like the CEDS, this theme recognizes that economic growth is inextricably linked to human capital, or the skills, education, and connections of the workforce of the region; both documents recognize that the human capital of the workforce provides the foundation on which business growth and innovation occurs.

Fostering a better match between the skills base in the Southern Nevada workforce and future industry needs will improve the region’s economic competitiveness. Doing this requires that the region focus on improving educational attainment at all levels and for all students. This document identifies the ways in which the Regional Plan (which sets a vision for changes in regional development patterns and land use) can support CEDS implementation, so that both work together to improve educational attainment.

Educational attainment benefits the region in a number of ways:

• A community with a talented and flexible workforce and an appealing environment attracts diverse, value-adding industries that
provide well-paying jobs.

• As income increases, communities generate revenues for excellent schools, quality public services, and public facilities, which in turn attract a talented and flexible workforce.

• The more prosperous communities are, the more they tend to invest in education.

The literature tells a compelling story that the strategies for narrowing the student achievement gap lie primarily outside of the K–12 schools – in families and communities. Rethinking strategies to strengthen and sustain the economic and social fabric of Southern Nevada communities is more critical now than ever. This Plan theme is intended to support implementation of the
CEDS by identifying the placebased strategies that support human capital and economic development outcomes.

This Plan calls upon the region to foster new development that is supportive of economic development and educational outcomes. This Plan encourages comprehensive, long-term thinking and coordinated action to ensure that land use, development patterns and supporting infrastructure enhance the region’s ability to compete for new jobs and industry, and support stronger educational attainment at all levels. The Plan also highlights the need to accommodate employment growth, specifically by clarifying the connection between the land supply and future target industries and protecting existing lands from rezoning in desirable areas for employment growth.

This theme of the Plan serves as a unified vision and strategy for land use and economic development that will build upon an existing inventory of local, regional, and state economic development plans, including: the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy; Brooking Mountain West’s report Unify, Regionalize, Diversify: An Economic Development Agenda for Nevada, and the Governor’s Office on Economic Development’s report: Moving Nevada Forward: A Plan for Excellence in Economic Development. Boosting the region’s economic competitiveness also is linked to policies throughout other elements of the Regional Plan.

The transportation element promotes diversification of transportation options to strengthen transportation affordability and choice, which also plays a critical role in economic competitiveness as it improves the flow of people and goods to the marketplace.

The complete communities element identifies strategies to attract housing that meets the needs and desires of a variety of workers and considers how environmental quality, resource availability, and access to necessary services establish quality of life and economic success for the region.

More than 20 years of rapid and dynamic population growth, followed by a sharp economic decline coinciding with the nationwide downturn, have severely affected Southern Nevada residents, business, and the public sector.


Making high-quality investments in education, especially providing for the kinds of skills necessary for family-wage jobs will boost the region’s long-term economic competitiveness.

Figure 4 shows the relationship among education/workforce training, economic development, and communities.




The Economic Development and Education Task Group led the work outlined in this Plan theme. The group reviewed policy research regarding economic development and educational issues, conducted an evaluation of the economic sector and worker competitiveness, completed a literature review regarding place-based approaches to supporting educational attainment, and conducted outreach to identify the key economic and education-related issues that require regional action. Analysis and public input consistently pointed the Task Groups to the following core challenges and opportunities that the region faces, and that this Plan theme addresses.


What is a Location Quotient?
The “location quotient” shows how Southern Nevada’s concentration of employment by industry compares to the United States. If a region has a location quotient of 1, its employment in that industry is equally as concentrated as in the United States overall. If the quotient is less than 1, the region has less of a concentration in that sector than the national average.


Mismatch between Land Use and Economic Development Plans

Every sector has a role in how the economy grows and thrives, including education, industry, businesses, the public sector, and nonprofits. The regional economic development dialogue must expand to include discussion of how the built environment can support economic entrepreneurship, diversification, and resiliency.

Promoting Land Use for Regional Resiliency

Regional resilience refers to the ability of a region to recover from a stress – either a sudden setback, such as a natural disaster, or a chronic strain, as may occur with longstanding economic decline or unrelentingly rapid population growth.7 In the case of Southern Nevada, population growth and the subsequent housing construction boom exacerbated the effects of the Great Recession. The Las Vegas economy is the third least diversified economy in the country8 and its service-oriented economy is reflected in its occupational structure. The full scope of the tourism and hospitality sector – hotels, food services, retail stores – includes more than 360,000 jobs in Clark County, or about one-third of the entire job base.9

Volatility hurts regional economies in two primary ways. First, uncertain future demand conditions can deter firms from investing in workforce or facilities. Volatile growth also hurts regional economies by distorting spending decisions by firms, households and governments. Abrupt losses in income and tax revenue can weaken public and private balance sheets, which in turn can force sharp spending cutbacks during periods when credit is tight.10

Challenges Opportunities & Priorities
Mismatch Between Land Use and Economic Development Plans:

The effects of the Great Recession were exacerbated by the lack of diversification within the region’s economy, which is the third least diversified economy in the Country.5 In addition, there is a mismatch between zoning and future land needs – there may be an insufficient supply of employment lands given the nature of likely future job growth, and retail land is oversupplied.

Match land use and transportation plans with the regional economic development strategy (CEDS) by:

  • Investing in and maintaining infrastructure to meet the needs of a diversified economy.
  • Determining future needs for employment lands.
  • Fostering the development of the education sector, which can teach the skills necessary for workers in the target industry sectors.
Existing Neighborhoods Do Not Meet The Needs Of Future Workers In The Target Industry Sectors: The region’s traditional downtowns and neighborhood centers have not seen the same level of investment as newer strip commercial areas. Vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods will play a role in attracting future workers in the region’s target industries. In addition, lack of investment in the region’s older neighborhoods and schools impact the perception of safety and wellbeing. Workers in these neighborhoods may not have adequate access to transportation, or nearby resources for job training and job searching, ultimately resulting in socioeconomic isolation. Ensure that Southern Nevada offers a range of place types to attract and retain future workers, visitors, businesses and entrepreneurs by:

  • Developing strategies and making targeted investments to encourage infill redevelopment and property rehabilitation.
  • Developing community-based economic development programs.
Lack of Small Business and Entrepreneur Support Systems: The region lacks incubator and flex spaces that can provide a home for creative, entrepreneurial efforts. Enhance the role of small businesses and entrepreneurs as leaders in economic diversification and revitalization by determining the building and space needs of entrepreneurs and providing targeted technical assistance.
Little Regional Collaboration: There is a lack of coordination between planning, economic development, education, environment and industry groups. Increase collaboration between the state government, local governments and the region’s higher education institutions to align economic development and education efforts.
Low Educational Performance: Clark County’s high school graduation rates are much lower than the national average, at 62 percent in 2014, compared with 80 percent nationally.Students score low in national reading and math assessments. Many neighborhoods lack basic connectivity for children to safely access schools and social services and for residents to access services and jobs without a car. At the same time, college dropout rates also are high and the region has low educational attainment. Support the educational system and learning environments through thoughtful land-use and transportation planning by:

  • Prioritizing the school environment for children, encouraging development that better supports existing schools.
  • Working closely with the Clark County School District to develop thoughtful school and service siting criteria.

Figure 6

shows how Clark County’s employment is distributed among the major employment sectors. It also shows how concentrated the region is in these sectors compared with the United States. Healthcare and education occupations – which were among the industries that lost the fewest jobs through the recent recession – are slightly underrepresented in the Clark County workforce. Manufacturing and information sectors also are underrepresented locally.11

<br/> image

Research shows that the greater the industrial diversity of a region, the more likely it is to be resilient to a downturn.12 The future for Southern Nevada may well be slower growth, which is a more desirable state of equilibrium because it allows the region to make deliberate efforts to restructure its workforce and cultivate a more diverse economy.13

The burgeoning research on resilient regions has uncovered several findings that might apply to Southern Nevada:

• A region’s resilience is a product of 1) what is happening to its major export industries nationally, and 2) the behavior of individual firms within the region.

• Regions with a higher proportion of workers with a high school degree or less were likely to experience more downturns and to be less shock-resistant to a structural change.14

• The greater the income disparities in a region, the more likely it is to experience a downturn and the longer it takes to return to its
prior growth rate after the downturn.15

• Regions that have many export industries are more resilient to employment downturns.16

• Responding with new policies after a regional downturn is less effective than insulating a region against downturns.17

Enhancing the Existing Economic Base

Shifting Tourism

With 38 million visitors in 2012, Las Vegas is one of the most frequently visited destinations in the country.18 This activity has centered in the core of the region, which has seen the most investment in tourist infrastructure. In the past decade, revenues have shifted not only to different subsets of the hospitality industry but also abroad. Regional stakeholders are interested in broadening the geographic influence of tourism to highlight the region’s diverse communities while at the same time strengthening the existing tourism core (the Las Vegas Strip and downtown) through targeted infrastructure and placemaking investments. Of all of the county’s major gaming zones, the Las Vegas Strip lost the least momentum during the downturn and appears best positioned to reach full recovery first.19

With nearly five million of the 40 million annual visitors being convention delegates and more than 19,000 conventions landing in Las Vegas (LVCVA, 2012), attracting and retaining convention business is crucial to maintaining a competitive edge in this market.20 Providing adequate transportation options will help the region compete for this business. Of the people who were not completely satisfied with their visit to Las Vegas, six percent cited that it was because it was too hard to get around.21

Our strength in the casino gaming industry is the intellect behind gaming technologies. There are several gaming technology companies that already have established headquarters in Las Vegas off of Sunset Road, including Konami Gaming, Bally Technologies, International Gaming Technologies (IGT), and WMS.22

Stagnant Incomes

Despite Southern Nevada’s lower educational attainment rate (which is normally closely tied to income), Southern Nevada maintains incomes that are similar to the national distribution.23 Wages for employees working in the gaming industry, tips included, are a likely factor in the region’s ability to keep up with the national median household income.24 Residents have a higher median household income ($56,258) and a lower percentage of people living below the poverty level (11.7 percent) compared to the national median household income ($51,914) and percentage of residents living below the poverty level nationally (13.8 percent).25

However, the region also follows the national trend in stagnating incomes over the past decade.


Figure 7 shows that while the greatest employment density is located along the Las Vegas Strip it is expanding to outer areas.

Figure 8 shows where residents live who are below the poverty level. In order to reach the region’s goals of making substantial gains in educational attainment and foster new target industries, the region will need to broaden opportunities for high-paying jobs.

Future Workers

To understand how land-use patterns need to evolve to support the region’s efforts to attract new businesses and workers in these industries, we must first understand who is likely to be employed in these industries and what their preferences might be.

The CEDS identified five key target sectors, based on the Brookings Institution et al. report Unify, Regionalize, Diversify: An Economic Development Agenda for Nevada.

These sectors include:

1. Tourism, Gaming and Entertainment

2. Health and Medical Services

3. Business IT Ecosystems

4. Clean Energy

5. Logistics and Operations 26

The CEDS emphasizes jobs with higher earning potential across all skill levels, focuses on economic growth opportunities, capitalizing on the region’s geography and location and building on existing local capacities and assets” 27
Currently, the region’s concentration of employment in most of these target industries is lower than would be expected based on national averages. The University of Nevada Las Vegas projects a total of about 550,000 new jobs by 2035. If the CEDS implementation process is successful in increasing the concentration of employment so that it is equal to national averages, Southern Nevada’s employers would need to employ about 100,000 new workers in the target industries, or 20 percent of all new employment (with the remaining employment coming from the broader base of all industries in the region).28 This provides some sense of the scale of transition that the successful implementation of the CEDS may require. What might those 100,000 workers demand from their community environments?

Overall, target industry workers earn more, are more highly educated, and are (on average) slightly older. They are the kind of workers who can make choices about where they live. If the CEDS is to be successful in attracting these industries, it must include actions that support a future composition of employees in the Las Vegas region different than the current composition.

Health and medical services are one of the five target employment sectors for the region.

Table 1: “Typical Industry Worker” Employment, Wage and Demographic Information for Nevada and Las Vegas-Paradise, MSA, 2011 (Q3, Q4) and 2012 (Q1, Q2)

All Industries Healthcare Business IT Ecosystems Banking and Finance
Average yearly wage $43,869 $52,266 $55,943 $61,441
Male or female? Male (51%) Female (75%) Male (64%) Female (65%)
Have at least some college or associates degree 50% 62% 54% 66%
Most common average age range 25–44 (46%) 35–44 (25%) 25–34 (24%) 25–34 (26%)

Source: Data from LED Extraction Tool, U.S. Census; Analysis by ECONorthwest 2013.


A Look at our Competitor Regions

The Las Vegas region is often compared to other regions that have large tourist economies or similar land-use patterns, such as Orlando and Phoenix. However, the list is different when comparing which regions have high concentrations of employment in the three industries that the CEDS identifies as having the largest impact on the region’s built form.

Table 2 shows the results. In general, the regions that have high concentrations in CEDS target industries are a very different list than those that are typically compared to Las Vegas. Madison, Wisconsin, and Columbia, Missouri, both have high concentrations in all of the CEDS target sectors. There are many reasons that these regions have employment concentrations in these industries that are not directly related to development patterns. High concentrations of employment in health care, for example, are often correlated with strong research hospitals at universities. Business IT ecosystems firms might be attracted to low energy costs or the presence of a particularly skilled workforce. Competing successfully for new industries will require the full range of actions that are described in the CEDS document, and strong regional partnerships that are focused on implementation.


Table 2: MSAs with Location Quotient of at Least One in the Three Target Sectors, 2011 

MSA Sum of LQ Health LQ Business IT ECO LQ Banking LQ
Las Vegas-Paradise MSA 2.25 0.59 1.01 0.65
Madison, WI MSA 4.38 1.04 1.75 1.58
Columbia, MO MSA 4.32 1.49 1.09 1.74
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-HA MSA 3.94 1.15 1.36 1.43
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA MSA 3.89 1.15 1.29 1.45
Little Rock-North Little Rock, AR MSA 3.76 1.36 1.37 1.03
Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA MSA 3.66 1.06 1.18 1.44
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD MSA 3.66 1.17 1.06 1.43
Minneapolis–St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI MSA 3.49 1.18 1.22 1.27
Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro, TN MSA 3.39 1.01 1.06 1.41
Pittsburgh, PA MSA 3.20 1.03 1.25 1.10

Source: County Business Patterns, 2011; analysis by ECONorthwest, 2013. Industry concentrations are typically measured with “location quotients,” or LQs. An LQ of “1” means that the concentration of the industry in the region is equal to the concentration in the nation. Any concentration over “1” can be interpreted as more highly concentrated than would be expected based on national averages. A more detailed description of our analysis is included in the Appendix.


Employment Land Supply

An important component of regional land-use planning is to ensure that new and expanding industries have adequate land and sufficient transportation infrastructure. As part of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Cluster Analysis, the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (LVGEA) identified the need to align plans and zoning policies in new centers where office uses, medical centers, and other high-density enterprises can expand. Businesses such as manufacturing, transportation and distribution, which require large building footprints and access to freight lines, will need adequate land with access to McCarran International Airport.

Existing Neighborhoods Do Not Meet the Needs of Workers in the Target Sectors

Vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods will play a role in attracting future workers for the region’s target industries. Cleaning up and revitalizing residential and business areas is important for the entire region. Several respondents urged the renovation and reuse of existing vacant properties rather than building new; some suggested that infill should occur only after revitalization of existing facilities and businesses is successful.

Table 3 shows the general requirements and site selection factors for two of the region’s target industries. Implications for the land use program include the need to regularly assess the city’s supply of buildable employment land and align capital improvement plans so critical infrastructure is in place.

Table 3:Site Needs for Health and Business IT Sectors

MSA Health and Medical Services Business IT Ecosystems
General Requirements Healthcare employment is typically spread across multiple building types, including office buildings (private practices), institutional buildings (hospitals, clinics, labs),
and residential buildings (group housing, including rehabilitation, assisted living, and nursing care centers). Any number of healthcare occupations could be spread across these types of physical facilities.
Specific functions determine building needs. Data centers require very precise building specifications and tend to be more capital-intensive. More labor-intensive operations such as teleservices, financial processing, or customer service centers may require less rigorous building specifications. There is no general template that can be applied to the “typical” occupier in the industry.
Site Selection Factors
  • Access to skilled labor
  • Growth of patient base
  • Regional teaching hospitals, medical schools, and flagship institutions
  • Regional R&D activities
  • Access to skilled labor
  • Affordable, reliable electricity
  • Buildings with large floor plates
  • Buildings with under-floor utilities
  • Competitive tax environment

Source: Las Vegas Cluster Analysis, TIP Strategies

Based on the literature review and the profile of comparable metropolitan areas with strong employment in the target sectors, employees with higher educational levels and higher-than-average wages in the target sectors may be looking for the following amenities and community characteristics:

• Vibrant mixed-use downtown and commercial areas that are within walking distance of homes.

The top three comparable MSAs all have vibrant downtowns and, in the case of Madison and Boston, strong neighborhood commercial areas. The downtown areas all are adjacent to the major regional universities and often encompass more than one institution of higher learning. All of these areas concentrate restaurants, entertainment, art, retail and event spaces. Multiple studies have shown that in many other communities, people are willing to pay more for amenities that are within easy walking distance. A study by the National Association of Realtors found that people want the following features, in no particular order, to be within walking distance of their home: grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, and restaurants.29

• Multi-family rental housing within closer proximity to mixed-use commercial areas for younger workers (Gen Y).

National studies by ULI30 and the National Association of Realtors31 support the finding that younger people are delaying household formation and buying, and either living with parents longer or renting longer.

• Homes close to public transit.

The literature overwhelmingly supports the fact that homes built close to public transit commanded a price premium. However, that does come with some caveats. The most significant price premiums are associated with commuter rail, followed by light rail and then BRT, with bus service alone commanding the lowest price premium, but still a benefit over no transit access at all.32

• Suburban-style development.

While national surveys see an increased demand for higher-density housing, employees who are married and in middle-income brackets (earning more than $25,000 and less than $100,000) indicated that they prefer traditional suburban-type development. There is likely to continue to be strong demand for this development type in Southern Nevada.33

• Quality communities close to employment areas and quality schools.

Commute times are one of the top variables for determining where to live, especially within larger metropolitan areas. The desire for quality schools or safe neighborhoods is often more important for workers with children or women living on their own.

• Walkable neighborhoods.

There is strong evidence that people will pay a premium for better walkability, with interesting places to walk to. The National Association of Realtors survey showed that people value neighborhoods with good pedestrian facilities (regardless of whether residents could walk somewhere interesting), implying that walking for exercise may be important to people, as long as they can still have a detached, single-family home with some privacy from neighbors.

• Open space and parks.

A separate study34 that reviewed more than 60 published articles found that people value most types of open space, but that value depends on the size of the area, proximity to homes, the type of open space, and the methods used to conduct the analysis. In addition, open space and parks may be more valuable in urban settings, where residents do not benefit from an abundance of natural space as compared to rural areas.


Lack of Small Business and Entrepreneur Support Systems

The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council’s most recent Small Business Survival Index, which ranked each state by its policy climate for small businesses and entrepreneurs, put Nevada at the top right behind South Dakota.35 Over the past five years, Clark County’s top patent-grant recipients have all been associated in some way with the gaming industry.36

A rich and productive entrepreneurial environment will need support from the land-use program in a variety of ways. Entrepreneurs and small businesses need easy access to a range of services, including printing, accounting, information technology, and catering.

Although there are well-known successes, such as the InNEVation Center and Chamber and Small Business Development Programs, the region could improve the connection between entrepreneurial efforts and revitalization. Entrepreneurs and the self-employed often benefit from incubators and flex spaces, located in mixed-use and urban locations with increased access to services and transportation. Local organizations focused on supporting entrepreneurship have expressed that there is a prevalent need for programming, financial support, networking, funding, and mentoring for entrepreneurs.

Low Educational Performance

Access, choice, and opportunities in primary and secondary education provide the basis for success. Educational institutions help our children learn communication and social skills to build their personal confidence and ability to contribute to our community, culture and civil society.

The Regional Plan focuses on enhancing learning environments to improve access to educational opportunities. Locating and integrating such environments wisely can make it easier to get to resources, especially in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods which often have struggling schools. Many neighborhoods lack basic connectivity for children to safely access schools and social services, and for residents to access services and jobs without a car. There will be a continuing need to address the issue of school locations with respect to projected population growth, accessibility, joint use of schools and parks, and other factors. Improving growth-related decisions between the schools and others is a critical part of how communities grow, helping to add to the quality of local community environments.

There are a variety of factors that influence educational performance, including many topics that are not directly addressed through this Regional Plan, such as resource allocation, student-teacher ratios, classroom size, and curriculum, among many others.

About a quarter of children live in households with annual household incomes below the federal poverty line.37 In a 2013 profile of children’s well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Nevada ranked 48th out of 50. Clark County’s high school graduation rates are among the lowest in the nation and students score low in national reading and math assessments.

At this point, research documents a variety of symptoms of low socioeconomic standards that are relevant for children’s subsequent educational outcomes. These include, for example, poor health, limited access to home environments with rich language and experiences, low birth weight, limited access to high-quality preschool opportunities, less participation in many activities in the summer and after school that middle-class families take for granted, and more movement in and out of schools because of the way the housing market operates for low-income families.38

The 2013 Kids Count Profile for Nevada (Table 4) shows that Nevada has higher rates of children whose parents lack secure employment, households living with a high-cost burden, teens in school and not working, and children living in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma.

Revitalizing the region’s downtowns and main streets is a priority in the Regional Plan.

Table 4: 2013 Kids Count Profile for Nevada

Nevada U.S.
Children in poverty 22% 23%
Children whose parents lack secure employment 34% 32%
Children living in households with a high cost burden 44% 40%
Teens not in school and not working 13% 8%
Children living in high-poverty areas 9% 12%
Children living in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma 23% 15%

Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation. http://kidscount.unlv.edu/newsletters/2013KC_state_profile_NV.pdf

Chapter Three Pt. 2