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Howard Stutz

Nevadan at work: 'Green power' advocate helps shape CityCenter

10 October 2006

Call Rose McKinney-James a power player.

Her decade-long advocacy efforts in promoting the use of renewable energy resources -- such as solar and wind technology -- may have rubbed off on the designers of MGM Mirage's Project CityCenter. The $7 billion development was recently awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"It's not just renewables. It means putting an emphasis on sustainable approaches and strategies for building materials and processes," McKinney-James said of the designation for Project CityCenter, which includes a 4,000-room hotel-casino, two 400-room boutique hotels, more than 500,000 square feet of retail space and 2,900 residential units on 66 acres between Bellagio and Monte Carlo.

McKinney-James, who joined MGM Mirage's board of directors last year, gave full credit, however, to Mirage Resorts President Bobby Baldwin, who is overseeing Project CityCenter's development.

"I'm not sure how much renewables will be involved, but I'm happy as a lark to see MGM Mirage moving in that direction," McKinney-James said. "This is a huge step in my opinion."

McKinney-James had been a five-year member of the Mandalay Resort Group board of directors, the first black woman to sit on a casino operator's board, when the company was bought by MGM Mirage for $7.9 billion in April 2005.

She was the only Mandalay board member asked to join the MGM Mirage panel, taking her seat on the 15-person board three months after the buyout.

She now serves with a heady group that includes billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, MGM Mirage's majority shareholder; former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman; former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig; and former National Football League defensive lineman Willie Davis, a member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame.

"I was impressed with the extraordinary professional and credentials of the MGM board members," McKinney-James said.

"It was also surprising to me that I was the the only Mandalay person considered."

She's had a varied career since moving to Las Vegas from Washington, D.C., in 1981 to consult with an economic assistance nonprofit business.

Among her jobs, McKinney-James has worked in city and state government, served as a public utilities regulator, advocated for the state to adopt renewable energy technology and lobbied in the state Legislature. McKinney-James also made an unsuccessful run as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1998.

"I've joked with friends over time that I've had these remarkable opportunities to reinvent myself," she said.

As a Mandalay board member, McKinney-James oversaw the establishment of the casino company's corporate diversity initiative.

Question: How did you get appointed to the board of directors of the Mandalay Resort Group?

Answer: It was an invitation through (Mandalay Chairman) Mike Ensign. It truly came out of the blue. Even at that point in agreeing to join the board, I didn't have a full understanding of what I was signing up for.

But I did my best to engage and began to do the necessary due diligence so that I understood what my responsibilities were. I began to appreciate the significance of a board member's role.

Question: What did you first learn about the gaming industry?

Answer: When you move from someplace else, there are a variety of myths you're faced with. What you first learn is that those myths were not based on reality. This is a very corporate environment with a tremendous amount of professionalism and lots of checks and balances. MGM Mirage is a phenomenal group of people with the highest caliber when it comes to training and integrity.

Question: How did you end up overseeing Mandalay's corporate diversity initiative?

Answer: I had a private conversation with Mike Ensign about the need to establish a diversity presence at Mandalay. He asked me if I would be willing serve as chairwoman for the committee. I was given access to a number of senior executives and we created our diversity initiative, establishing training and procurement programs.

It was a really exciting opportunity for me because I had such strong feelings about diversity. When you are living diversity, you certainly have a perspective.

Question: Has the gaming industry progressed in diversity?

Answer: Every industry has a long way to go. It's not just fair to pick on gaming. These are concepts and approaches that really do have a universal role in Corporate America. It's about creating opportunities for a broad range of businesses. At Mandalay, we really focused on making the business case for diversity. There are components that go well beyond what people think about in the traditional sense. It's customer based and it's revenue driven.

Question: Did MGM Mirage adopt any of Mandalay's programs?

Answer: MGM Mirage was a leader in corporate diversity and already had a strong program. But I'm happy to say, yes, they integrated a number of things that we began. They had the luxury of culling what worked and what didn't.

Question: Were you surprised to be the only Mandalay board member invited to join the MGM Mirage board after the buyout?

Answer: At the time of the merger, I fully expected that was the end of that experience. So I was frankly stunned when I was invited to join the MGM Mirage board. There's a transition period where you move from competitor to colleague. It's really been an exciting time for me because the industry changed dramatically when the merger was consummated.

Question: Where did you develop an interest in renewable energy resources?

Answer: During my tenure at the Public Utilities Commission, I participated in a hearing on a solar energy project in Boulder City. I was fascinated by the presentation and I started asking questions. I asked why renewable resources were a challenge and I wasn't satisfied with the response. We needed to do more.

Question: What was the Corporation for Solar Technology and Renewable Resources?

Answer: It was a public-private partnership charged with outreach and education. We had success in terms of policy framework and it got things going. If nothing else, it set forth the initial bar in terms of what we could do with resources.

Question: Can Nevada be a leader in renewable energy programs?

Answer: I believe there are three prongs to being successful with renewable energy; efficiency, conservation and having renewable resources. A lot of developers want to be in Nevada.

Like any other businesses, some startups succeed and some do not. Most of these projects have good potential, but we have to work on the economics and the full acceptance of the technology by the utilities and others.

Question: What types of clients do you have in your businesses?

Answer: My consulting business is really in the area of advocacy for education, renewable energy and environmental policy. I've represented the Clark County School District since 2001 and this year, they have a bill draft to construct schools that use renewable energy. It would create some savings while demonstrating the technology, so I'm delighted they are moving in that direction.

Nevadan at work: 'Green power' advocate helps shape CityCenter is republished from