Southern Nevada was hailed as the boomtown USA just a few years ago. Those days as many as 54,000 people annually moved into the area from all corners of the country. They came here for jobs and the climate and the good old-fashioned excitement of being able to live in Sin City dominated by the gaming industry and everything that comes with it. The phenomenal growth was partially fueled by affordable housing which was soon followed by more relaxed mortgage underwriting standards that eventually opened the floodgates to an unsustainable real estate boom. And then came the bust.
The effects have been spectacular, rivaling the oohs and aahs the many colorful and exotic Strip shows manage to elicit from their thrilled patrons. It's just that they are now growled through gritted teeth, with the words mortgage foreclosure, short sale and underwater generally dominating the conversation.
And that has actually reversed the steady in-migration Las Vegas has enjoyed at least hundred years. Census data just released shows that from July 2008 to July 2009 the city lost almost 1,300 residents. It's not much on the surface, but when it's compared to the in-migration of 54,000 during the best growth year a few moons ago, then its importance becomes quite clear. In a little bit over a two year period to beginning of this year 130,000 jobs have vanished into the thin desert air. Real estate prices have spiraled down without much resistance, prompting many underwater mortgage borrowers to either do a short sale, pull a strategic default or go into foreclosure. Whichever, they still tend to leave the area in search of a new start.
The chances of Vegas bouncing back are good. The climate won't go anywhere, nor will the desert beauty all around, nor the Strip and its universal appeal. They are important parts of the foundation. The job outlook, though, needs to improve before a sustainable rebound can take hold and that can be a while. One thing local governments ought to do is widen the economic base in Southern Nevada, being so dependent on one industry - gaming - leaves few options when a major recession comes knocking on the door. This has been discussed and written about for years among local and national economic observers, but progress has been slow. Now that this severe downturn has totally exposed Vegas' vulnerability, action might be forthcoming.