Reviving Las Vegas: Green shoots in a depressed economy

Blue Oasis Pure Shrimp CEO Scott McManus and Chief Operating Officer Adrian Zettelof explain how the farm works

"Nevada's unemployment rate is the highest in the nation. There have been more foreclosures in the city of Las Vegas than anywhere else in the United States."

Start Quote

"We can't just be the world's playground. That's great and it's always going to be a part of who we are, but we need to be more than just that”

End Quote Rory Reid Las Vegas politician

Stephen Brown is an economist at the University of Nevada. He has had a front-row seat for the city's downward spiral.

"Everyone now recognises the need for the Las Vegas economy to diversify away from gaming and construction and we're now finally seeing the beginnings of this diversification."

One of the most unusual new businesses arriving in Las Vegas can be found a few kilometres north of the city in the barren Mojave Desert.

In the blistering 40 degree heat sits a large white tent full of 44 half-buried shipping containers.

Each container contains up to 100,000 shrimp.

The shrimp farm is owned by Blue Oasis Pure Shrimp and it is one of the first of its kind in the world.

Shrimp in a hand People in Las Vegas are said to eat more shrimp than in any other city in the US

"Las Vegas consumes 22 million pounds of shrimp per year," says Scott McManus the company's CEO.

"It makes sense to grow them locally rather than ship them from around the world.

"We can deliver fresh shrimp to the Strip's restaurants from pond to plate in just eight hours."

But it was more than just Las Vegas' appetite for shrimp that brought Mr McManus' business from its headquarters in North Dakota to the city.

"The business-friendly tax structure and the economic benefits that start-up companies get in Nevada are two of the main reasons we came to the city."

Hispanic population

Back in downtown Las Vegas, a more traditional business is finding surprising success.

Tacos El Gordo employee preparing food Tacos El Gordo is popular with Las Vegas's growing Hispanic population

The Mexican fast-food restaurant Tacos el Gordo started in Tijuana, Mexico, but has opened two restaurants in Las Vegas in the past two years.

The city's Hispanic population has grown exponentially over the last decade - 30% of Las Vegas residents are now Hispanic.

Tacos el Gordo's manager, Benjamin Gonzalez, says the restaurant is a natural fit.

"We've actually been really surprised at the demand for authentic Mexican food.

"We're expecting to triple our business over the next five years."

Hollywood aspirations

Property prices in Las Vegas are still falling and the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, but the city's mayor, Carolyn Goodman, sees diversification as the main path to bringing the city out of its slump.

She would like to see the Las Vegas economy develop in three directions: technology, medical tourism and the film industry.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman Mayor Carolyn Goodman: "If you want to have a great life, move to Las Vegas"

"The online retailer Zappos.com just purchased the old city hall. They're bringing 1200 employees into the heart of the city to live, work and play. There is no reason this city can't become a technology hub."

Medical tourism also has a role to play in the city's growth.

Las Vegas has always been a destination for cosmetic surgery, but Mrs Goodman points to the state-of-the art brain clinic, which opened in 2009, as a sign of the city's serious credentials for top-tier medical tourism.

One of Mrs Goodman's long-term goals is to encourage the TV and film industry to permanently set up shop in the city.

"Nevada has no corporate tax, no income tax and no estate tax and movie executives can fly here from Hollywood in an hour's time."

Las Vegas has famously been portrayed in hit films such as "The Hangover" and "Swingers".

Mrs Goodman's Hollywood aspirations look promising.

Currently five different TV series are being filmed in the city including "CSI: Las Vegas" and the History Channel's "Pawn Stars."

Betting on the future

Politician Rory Reid was the chairman of the Clark County Commission - the powerful body that runs and regulates the Las Vegas Strip - during the worst of the economic downturn.

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He believes the city's politicians finally understand that Las Vegas can no longer rely solely on revenue from the gaming and construction industries.

"I don't think we're going to charge off into the future with the same rosy vision that we once had.

"We can't just be the world's playground. That's great and it's always going to be a part of who we are, but we need to be more than just that.

"We need to do some things that provide us with a safety net so that when there is another economic downturn we're prepared with something that is a little more solid under our feet."

Famously, Mayor Goodman's business card is actually a poker chip.

She is definitely betting on the city's future.

"This city is going to come back. If you want to have a great life, move to Las Vegas.

"It is an exciting, growing, energized place to live."

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