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Hubble Smith

Business analysts see growth in population, visitor count

26 January 2013

LAS VEGAS -- Population in Las Vegas will grow by 1.2 percent, employment will grow by less than 1 percent and visitor count will top 40 million in 2013, business executives said Thursday at Preview Las Vegas 2013.

Downtown Las Vegas will emerge as a technology startup hub, and the Las Vegas Convention Center will take its next step toward becoming a world trade center, the speakers said.

Las Vegas is No. 1 in convention and trade shows with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, holding more conventions than New York and Chicago combined, said Rossi Ralenkotter, chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

"We've had the No. 1 ranking for 18 years, and we will make sure we maintain that position," Ralenkotter told about 2,200 people attending Preview Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center Cox Pavilion.

To that end, Ralenkotter will propose an expansion of the convention center at the authority's February board meeting. It will raise awareness of Las Vegas as an international business destination, he said.

The authority is looking at integrating the exhibit halls for better flow, connecting with the South Hall, adding meeting rooms and ballrooms, and improving access to the convention center from Joe W. Brown Drive. A new exhibit hall is part of the authority's 25-year vision, Ralenkotter said.

"This is a great opportunity to make a bold statement going forward to market the destination," the tourism executive said. "We need to move forward with an integrated transportation system, a combination of taxis and limos to move people out of the airport faster and how to connect the monorail from Mandalay Bay to the convention center. We should look at light rail from the M Resort to downtown. These are bold ideas, but now's the time to move forward with that."

More than $1.5 billion is being invested on the Strip in renovation projects at MGM Grand, Bellagio and SLS Las Vegas (formerly the Sahara), as well as new projects such as the Linq at Harrah's, said Jeremy Aguero, principal of research firm Applied Analysis.

"We focus on what's not happening when we should focus on what's going on," he said.

Every economic report about Las Vegas omits Nellis Air Force Base, home of the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team, U.S. Air Force Weapons School and Red Flag training exercise. On the horizon is the F-35 fighter jet that will help define Nellis over the next 50 years, Aguero said.

Creech Air Force Base to the north is home to the Predator drone and national security technology. By 2020, there will be 30,000 unmanned aerial vehicles in the sky.

"This will be a huge boom in terms of job growth and $1.5 billion of economic output," Aguero said.

Bigelow Aerospace has invested $250 million in advanced technology since opening in 1999 and recently received a $17.7 million contract from NASA.

Switch Communication has a 400,000-square-foot data center with an impressive client base of "cloud" computing companies, Aguero said.

Don't forget Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which attracts 150,000 for NASCAR weekend and 115,000 for the Electric Daisy Carnival.

"Close your eyes and imagine the motor speedway isn't there. Where else are you going to have these events? These are huge numbers," Aguero said.

Keynote speaker Tony Hsieh, chief executive officer of, said his company did nearly $2 billion in sales last year. He plans to move the company's headquarters from Henderson to the former City Hall in downtown Las Vegas, and has invested $350 million in the Downtown Project.

His tech startup fund has created more than 200 jobs at 15 to 20 companies, and his real estate fund is behind projects such as a shipping container park with food and beverage and retail components.

"The biggest challenge is on the surface, Vegas is the last place most businesses think about relocating to," Hsieh said. "That's why we tell them to come and hang out downtown. The place kind of sells itself."

The 2,200 attendees at Preview Las Vegas 2013, an economic forecast presented by Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, was the highest it's been since 2008, chamber spokeswoman Cara Roberts said. Business exhibit booths sold out at more than 130 this year, she said.