A Tale of Three Cities

The Valley’s trio of municipalities sing the same tune during State of the City addresses

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

The new year is a time to contemplate the past and draw up plans for the future. If you’re in politics, this means delivering speeches that maximize achievements, minimize problems and make the future seem neon bright—without overpromising.

Last month, the mayors of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson stayed true to this script during their annual State of the City addresses—addresses that at times seemed to have been prepared by the same speechwriter. Despite representing three very different municipalities, each mayor stressed the importance of diversifying the economy, improving public education and developing an infrastructure that supports both. Beyond that, of course, everyone wants a piece of UNLV’s new medical school.

At City Hall on January 8, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman laid out her focus for 2015 thusly: “Diversify the economy … build or repair our citywide infrastructure and, where allowed, help with education.” Yes, Goodman devoted time to cheerleading for “major league sports” and celebrating the 800 jobs created by tech-device insurers Asurion, as well as the successes of the Mob Museum, The Smith Center and various Downtown-related efforts. But she also discussed charter schools and before/after- school programs, and expressed hope that UNLV’s proposed medical school will be planted in the city’s Medical District.

Meanwhile, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee acknowledged on January 27 that his financially troubled city has had to not only “do the doable” but also “take on the seemingly impossible.” That included cutting the city’s $150 million deficit to $76 million in 2014. What about wiping it out entirely? “Creating solutions through growth takes time,” Lee said, so it will be another seven years before the books are balanced—hence the need for economic diversification. Lee discussed the Apex Industrial Park, which he says is drawing interest from potential tenants, but still needs water and power infrastructure. Lee is still trying to get the College of Southern Nevada’s Cheyenne Campus to change its name to CSN North Las Vegas, and, of course, he believes North Las Vegas would be the best place for UNLV’s medical school.

Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen painted a rosier picture than his colleague to the northeast. Speaking at Green Valley Ranch Resort on January 29, Hafen noted his city’s budget is “in the black for the second year in a row,” but he was most excited about the 2014 groundbreaking of Union Village. He called it “the most innovative, largest health-care village project ever in this state”—so why not put that UNLV medical school in the neighborhood? Hafen also celebrated new road construction, as well as the arrival of such businesses as Barrick Gold mining and Living Ecology organic food, plus expansions by Unilever and K2 Energy. He noted what attracts such businesses: “When parents move here, they want their children to have the best education possible.”

Not to be outdone, local leaders in education and the economy also chimed in. Speaking at Green Valley High School on January 27, Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky acknowledged that Nevada is at or near the bottom of a number of national education rankings. The good news: Graduation rates and test scores have improved some, and CCSD students earned a record $255 million in scholarships last year. However, as overcrowding gets worse, adding new facilities is a top priority. “Right now,” Skorkowsky said, “I could build 26 elementary schools, fill every seat and still be overcrowded.”

The Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, whose job is to lure businesses to Nevada, also stressed education and infrastructure during its gathering at the Mandarin Oriental. Speakers lauded the 14,000 jobs created in the state in 2014, but acknowledged there’s a long way to go. “The high-value companies tell us the single-most important factor in setting up a new business is availability of a highly skilled workforce,” said Jonas Peterson, COO for the LVGEA. Another issue is the lack of large-scale industrial space. “We need more infrastructure,” Peterson said, adding that North Las Vegas’ Apex Park could be “a big part of the solution.”

Indeed, attracting new business to Nevada is constantly on the lips of community leaders. Nevadans have been asking for better jobs, better schools and better infrastructure for years. Maybe the key is not to frame it as helping residents, but pleasing out-of-state corporations. Whatever it takes to get us into a better state—both educationally and financially.