LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Over the past 30 years, Clark County's population has more than tripled, from 756,000 people in 1990 to about 2.3 million people living in southern Nevada today. The Las Vegas economy has changed a lot during that time as well.
13 Action News spoke with David Schmidt, Nevada's chief economist, and Bob Potts, the deputy director for the Nevada Governor's Office of Economic Development, to find out where Nevada's workforce used to be, where it is today, and where it's going in the future.
You can't talk about employment in Las Vegas without talking about tourism. Tourism was a multi-billion-dollar industry before it was hit hard by COVID-19. Now, the industry is on the rebound, but still has a ways to go.
"Currently, if you look at pre-COVID recession peak employment to now, we're down about 65,000 jobs in the casino-hotel industry statewide, and so it has been a pretty flat trend coming out of the COVID recession," Schmidt said.
Tourism is not the economic titan it once was in southern Nevada, and it was trending that way even before 2020. The leisure and hospitality sector once accounted for 40% of the local workforce, but in recent years that number has dropped to about 25%.
"What we've seen is that it's shrinking as an industry, or it's staying stable while the other industries are growing around it. So, proportionally, the slice of the pie would look like it's smaller, although it may be the same size — same size slice, it's just the pie's gotten bigger," Potts said.
It speaks to the diversification of Nevada's economy, under which some industries have seen significant growth in recent years.
"We've seen growth in a number of different industries and areas, things like health care and social assistance, as there's been an aging population with more need to provide medical care and things like that. That industry has grown up to help support those needs in the population," Schmidt said. "We also have the trade, transportation and warehousing industry, which has been growing because of the location of Nevada in the West, as well as the opportunities that we have with the rise of e-commerce to help support the supply chain in the western part of the U.S."
Meanwhile, the construction industry has seen the sharpest decline, with overall employment falling 6% from 2014 to 2019, and still down about 50,000 jobs since the Great Recession.
"There weren't a lot of people building houses. Land was very cheap, houses were very cheap," said Schmidt about the economic recession around 2007. "As we've gone through the recovery over the last decade, we've been building that up. But when you have such a big hit to an industry, especially one that's lasted for multiple years, that affects the growth, the talent, the development, the recruiting that supports the future of that industry. And so, if you have the construction industry shrink, your capacity to bring on apprentices and get people trained up and recruit people into this occupation and industry are all shrunk, and then you have those downstream impacts of, 'how can we get more people in and how can we move into this industry in the future, compared to where we've been in the past?'"
Finally, looking to the future, Schmidt and Potts say keep a close eye on tech companies, because technology affects almost every other industry.
"We have an amazing capacity and an ability to kind of define what we want to look like when we mature out, when we get fully built out, whatever that looks like. This pandemic has taken, because of technology, in some of these industries that are very technology-intense or on the cusp of that, has just collapsed 10 years into one year," Potts said. "So, think about online retail sales and what's going on with warehousing and distribution and transportation...huge opportunity for us, being located where we are next to the fifth largest economy in the world, Port of Los Angeles, all of that, and points east and points west, right? So when we talk about healthcare, professional business services, warehousing, distribution, advanced manufacturing, all of those are where we've shown that we can really be competitive, and it creates huge opportunities for workforce, not only here but workforce that we can attract them into that as well."
Mining and agriculture remain important industries in Nevada, but predominantly in rural parts of the state.