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John G. Edwards

Nevada Defies Jobless Trend

9 August 2004

, Hubble Smith and John G. Edwards

Many Las Vegas employers, defying national trends as they have since the recent recession started four years ago, were adding jobs in July.

Keith Schwer, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, said job growth in Nevada was about 4 percent in July, although final employment numbers will not be released by the state until Aug. 20.

"Nevada has been the exception. We were creating jobs when they were disappearing nationwide and we've been creating jobs faster (than any other state)," he said.

Starting in 2003, the gaming industry started growing at a rapid clip, which has spawned a new wave of hotel-casino construction, especially on the Strip, he said.

There are almost 12,000 hotel rooms just completed, under construction or planned in the Las Vegas valley.

Jim Shabi, economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, doesn't expect July statewide numbers to reflect the national report.

The nation began to see the slowdown in June, when only 78,000 new jobs were created, down from 300,000 in March and April and 200,000 in May, Shabi said.

"So the nation is still producing jobs, but clearly the rate of growth has slowed down," he said. "In our June data, we really didn't see it. Our rate of growth pretty well held steady and so far we haven't seen any impact.

"That doesn't mean it won't show up in the next set of numbers. I don't know. Over the long run, Nevada will run like the national economy."

Because Nevada has a much larger share of its work force in leisure and hospitality and a smaller share in manufacturing than the nation as a whole, the state doesn't track with the national trends when manufacturing jobs are lost.

"But when Sept. 11 (2001) hit, we took it on the chin a little harder than other areas," Shabi said.

Shabi said the construction industry has created the most job growth in Nevada, up 10.3 percent in June. Other high-growth employment areas include professional services, retail and health care.

Casino jobs

Within the construction industry, the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas resort development on the Strip at Sands Avenue is the biggest and most evident construction project generating added payroll.

In addition to an estimated 3,000 construction workers, it has almost 500 employees, about 300 of whom have been added since the first of the year, a company spokeswoman said. She said the resort, which is filling backstage positions for its new theater, plans to open with 8,000 employees in April.

Most of the jobs Wynn Resorts has created to date have been executive and mid-level management positions, although it will start adding service position as its planned April opening nears, she said.

Station Casinos Chief Financial Officer Glenn Christenson said his company has been adding new jobs at a rapid clip. He said Station is in the process of added more than 300 jobs, including 23 manager and director positions.

"We are a job creation machine right now," Christianson said, with more than $660 million in expansion projects underway.

He said the next big push for Station will be filling 250 new positions at Green Valley Ranch where 350 rooms and new meeting space are being added.

After that, the company will be hiring workers for between 1,400 and 1,500 new positions at Red Rock Station.

MGM Mirage spokeswoman Yvette Monet said her company has recently added 200 positions with the opening of three new restaurants in MGM Grand and that it is now hiring for the new Cirque de Soleil program at the hotel.

However, she said Bellagio has not yet started hiring to fill an as-yet undetermined number of positions in the hotel's new Spa tower.

Mandalay Resort Group has added 850 new positions at THE Hotel in the past year and 98 positions for Mandalay Place, its new retail area, although no new jobs are now being added, spokesman John Marz said.

Boyd Gaming Corp. spokesman Rob Stillwell said his company has not created new positions recently, but expects to add an undetermined number of positions as its proceeds with the expansion of the Orleans and construction of its new South Coast resort south of McCarran International Airport.

Caesars Entertainment and The Venetian did not have employment numbers available for their new towers, and Harrah's failed to return phone calls Friday.

Economic indicators

Still, analysts say that technological improvements have eliminated some jobs, and that's the case at Southwest Gas Corp., a Las Vegas-based gas distribution company that serves customers in Nevada, Arizona and California.

"The use of technology has helped us keep the number of employees static," said Roger Buehrer, a spokesman for the company. "We're trying to give our employees the tools to help them be more efficient without sacrificing service," he said.

The number of employees totals 2,557, the same as it did in January 2003, but the number of customers increased by 67,000, he said. The company serves 1.56 million customers.

At the end of last year, Southwest Gas employed one worker for every 600 customers, compared with one for every 571 customers at the end of 2002. The trend has been continuing for more than a decade, Buehrer said.

Another indicator to employment trends are Small Business Administration 504 loans, which provides growing businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing for major fixed assets, such as land and buildings. The loans are only available to companies increasing employment.

The Nevada State Development Corp., the leading 504 loan originator in the state, counted 1,296 jobs created through 504 loans in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2003, that compares to 1,289 for the entire previous fiscal year, said Debra Alexandre, vice president.

Finding right people

One small-business owner has at least one job to fill. Philip Mathews, owner of Puppy Enterprises in Las Vegas, said the 2-year-old small business grew from a husband-wife team to four full-time groomers, a full-time bather and two part-time employees.

His most recent hire was about a month ago and he's still looking for a fifth groomer.

"At our peak, we had five full-time groomers and we would like to have all five groomers, but we can't find the right person," Mathews said. "If I could just find the right people. Working with dogs, you need a high level of patience. You need to be a true dog lover."

Another Southern Nevada employment executive sees a local trends that belies national statistics.

"It seems to us a lot of people have actually loosened their belt and gone ahead with hiring plans," said Dawn Hathaway Thoman, vice president of Manpower, a 40-year temporary employment agency in Las Vegas.

Hathaway said she continues to meet with companies contemplating moving to Nevada and hiring their staff here.

Added economist Shabi, "You don't see the governor of Nevada going to California and saying, `Please come back.' "

John G. Edwards
John G. Edwards