Sunday, August 29, 2010

Shrinking Cities Diaspora: Las Vegas

Today's Rust Belt still includes Michigan, but also Nevada, Florida, and California. Nevada and Florida are most interesting because both states were recently domestic migration winners. Now Las Vegas is shrinking:

Brian Gordon, a principal in research and consulting firm Applied Analysis, said the Las Vegas Valley's population edged down about 1 percent in the last year, after two decades of nation-leading population growth that often exceeded 5 percent annually.

It's natural that locals would want to leave amid 14.8 percent unemployment, Gordon said. After all, job opportunities prove the primary motivation for most relocations to Southern Nevada. With career prospects dwindling, some locals see no reason to hang around.

"There's always the concept that the grass is greener," Gordon said.

Note the obsession with outmigration. That's not the problem for Las Vegas. Who would want to move to a city with almost 15 percent unemployment? All the rationalizing I'm reading seems oblivious to attraction dynamics and how such flows are slow to change once established.

Native Nevadan Hilary Crowley wanted out.

The Las Vegas fundraiser and lobbyist wanted a change of scenery, and the state's struggling economy made for a depressing career backdrop. So Crowley moved four months ago to Salt Lake City, where she now is director of development for the Waterford Research Institute.

"I was ready for a bit of a change. I'm happy to be away. I feel like I'm in this little safe haven," Crowley said. "Un­employment (in Utah) is just over 7 percent, or half of what it is in Nevada, and Utah is building and hiring. It's shocking and refreshing to see construction again."

For geographically fickle hipsters, Las Vegas is so yesterday. The Great Recession pulled back the shiny green curtain on Nevada's tremendous economic growth. The long (very long) and hard road to recovery can only begin when the city and state learn the rules of attraction.

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