City Tries To Shake Shady Image To Court Business
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) _ For a city built on sex, sizzle and the whims of lady luck, Las Vegas seems an unlikely candidate to go courting in corporate board rooms.
But civic leaders are now trying to shake that shady image in order to expand the city’s economic base.
A giant step in that direction came in late June when New York-based Citicorp, the nation’s largest bank holding company, formally opened a new $40 million credit-card center here.
Members of the Nevada Development Authority, anxious to coax other companies to Southern Nevada, are citing Citicorp’s move as an example that the state is taking the idea of economic diversification seriously.
″A few years ago economic diversification wasn’t an issue for Las Vegas,″ said NDA President James Cashman III, whose grandfather was one of the city’s pioneers.
″Gaming was what built this town,″ he said. ″There was a never-ending up. Then in the early 1980s we found we could be affected by the economy and other communities; that gaming couldn’t carry everything on its own.″
Andy Grose, Nevada’s director of economic development, agreed.
″We’ve always been an excellent economic development attraction in terms of tax structure, transportation, location, climate, land costs, etc.,″ Grose said. ″But we never developed a statewide consensus that this was an area to cultivate. The reason was that gaming was so good to us we didn’t need to change. The recession of 1981-82 changed all that.″
Officials acknowledge, however, that image is an on-going battle in their effort to woo new companies to Las Vegas.
″Image is always a front-end problem,″ said Sen. Paul Laxalt, R-Nev., whose political clout and close ties to the White House have helped open doors for the state’s industrial development leaders. ″If there’s a reservation, we ask about it and it usually surfaces. We’ve found that as quickly as they go out and see the people, the image problem disappears.″
Cashman said Las Vegas’ image ″is something we can’t get away from, but it’s something that can be overcome. All the people we’ve brought here, when they meet the people, see the town, image becomes a non-issue.″
Citicorp has helped Las Vegas ease the image burden.
″Financial institutions are like insurance companies; they’re seen as very conservative,″ Grose said. ″Landing Citicorp was very different from, say, the leading manufacturer of roller skates. Citicorp was a huge increment in ending the image problem, although it will still be a problem for maybe another 10 years.″
Laxalt used his political muscle earlier this year to convince Aerojet, a defense contractor, to expand its California operations to Henderson, on the outskirts of Las Vegas. The Henderson facility is expected to be involved in the production of hardware for the ″Midgetman″ missile system.
″Anyone who comes through here, who appears to be a good prospect, we give them a pretty good, solid hit,″ Laxalt said in a telephone interview from his Washington, D.C. office.
The senator said the location of Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Test Site in Southern Nevada make Las Vegas an ideal location for defense-relate d industries.
At the state level, the legislature enhanced Nevada’s tax structure by modifying the sales tax on capital equipment to defer the tax for five years. In addition, the legislature swiftly approved funding for an engineering school at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
″The attitude of the government and the people in general is to help businesses get things done as opposed to telling them why they can’t do it,″ Grose said.
Daniel Clark, who heads Citicorp’s Las Vegas facility, said his company was impressed with the state’s economic diversification efforts.
″We see a lot of very positive things in terms of state government and their leaders as well as the state’s business leaders,″ Clark said. ″The economic diversification theme is very strong.″
Citicorp now has 450 employees at the Las Vegas center, plans to eventually hire 1,000, and has received 9,000 applications without advertising for help.
Gov. Richard Bryan, who also has stepped up efforts to court major industry, is given much of the credit for landing Citicorp. He called a special session of the legislature last year to clear the way for the banking giant to come to Nevada.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the credit-card facility, Bryan said, ″Citicorp has sent a message to every corporate board room in America.″