It’s a new year, but the local employment outlook is hardly an occasion to celebrate. Still, the fact that Las Vegas is neither gaining nor losing jobs is firmer ground than we’ve stood on for some time.
Although the term “jobless recovery” continues to be bandied about, analysts point out that the local unemployment rate of 14.5 percent has held fairly steady since June, indicating a stabilizing economy. But stable unemployment is different than creating jobs, says John Restrepo, principal of Restrepo Consulting Group. “We don’t expect hiring binges or spikes in 2011, but we’re not in a dramatic decline, either. We’re just bumping along the bottom now.”
Amid the recession’s continued hangover, however, there’s a little bit of good news. Companies are hiring employees into open positions instead of keeping openings vacant, says Jered McDonald, an economist with the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. And both Las Vegas casino revenue and visitation were up slightly last year compared to 2009 and parts of 2008, analysts say. Additionally, Moody’s Investors Service predicted last month that nationwide, casino revenue will likely increase 2-4 percent in the coming year.
But Las Vegas’ oversupply of gaming and hotel rooms means casino employment won’t increase, analysts say. “Until we see consistent and steady job growth numbers and housing prices for at least six months, in my opinion, we’re still not in sustainable recovery mode,” Restrepo says.
Although areas such as retail, general merchandising and some food and beverage have seen miniscule employment growth over the past year, the increase doesn’t point to a trend. “There’s simply bound to be some growth given the size of our economy,” McDonald says. “The economy contracted so much so quickly that maybe it over-contracted in some areas, and that’s where we’re starting to see some improvement.”
There is one industry, however, that’s as close as we get to a sure bet. Locally, health-care hiring has grown about 7 percent in the last three years and was one of the only industries that posted positive employment numbers last year, according to the state.
Restrepo uses an apt metaphor to describe health-care employment: “If [medical field employment] is a patient, he’s still in the intensive-care unit—not dying, but not getting up and walking out of hospital, either.” This modest growth is not limited to just health providers, but also includes medical assistants, nurses, administrative staff and financial positions.
As the senior population continues to increase, the greatest demand will be in specialized areas such as physical, speech and occupational therapy, as well as for registered nurses, says Douglas Geinzer, CEO of the Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition. “There’s also going to be a tremendous shift in the industry as a whole with health care reform,” he says. “The primary goal with reform is to get people out of hospitals and into skilled nursing facilities or home health care.”
The SNMIC works to place job seekers with employers and provides professional development for entry-level and specialized positions. For example, as part of a federally funded internship program, the SNMIC just started 20 new nurses at Sunrise Hospital two weeks ago, Geinzer says.
Good Night Pediatrics in Henderson is a good example of the kind of growth we’ll see in health care here. It opened with 10 employees, including two pediatricians and eight support staff last January. The clinic plans to open a second office in Summerlin this fall. “The benefit for the local community is that we’re not bringing in people from out of state to provide existing services,” says Larry Blumenthal, chief financial officer. “We’re hiring local, highly skilled workers to provide services that weren’t there before.”
As an alternative to the emergency room, the clinic, which is open 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. 365 days a year, treats children with everything from asthma to ear infections. Good Night Pediatrics opened its first office in Phoenix in 2004 with 10 employees and has since opened four other offices there. Blumenthal says that the company’s growth is due in part to the fact that 2007 was a record year for number of births nationwide, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The clinic has begun recruiting physicians for its second Las Vegas location and is taking applications for support staff. Blumenthal believes Las Vegas could sustain even a third office eventually. The clinic sees Las Vegas, with its young population and 24-7 lifestyle, as an ideal market. “Even though we’re Phoenix-based, we truly want to be a local Las Vegas business.”