Community parks bustling with laughing children. Brightly painted murals accenting old buildings. The rattle of hammers and drills from nearby and distant construction sites. Cracked sidewalks in front of homes that have outlived many Las Vegas Strip properties.
These are just some of the contrasting experiences Andrew Woods encountered in Las Vegas a few years back as he trained for a two-day, 200-mile bicycle race in the Pacific Northwest that he competed in with his dad, an avid bicyclist.
During his training rides, often in the scorching Vegas summer heat, Woods would ride from Downtown Las Vegas all the way to the Red Rock loop and back again. His rides toward the mountains took him through different communities, along sidewalks, through streets, and past athletic fields, parks, public art installations, and green spaces. The long rides – sometimes up to eight hours – gave him time to think about the city he lived in, the modes of transportation available, and what was and wasn’t working. Woods began envisioning what Southern Nevada could be like if the streets were better designed for the communities they encompassed.
“I would think about what would happen if it was a little easier for people to do the things they do every day, like get to work or school, and how little changes could make a big economic impact and set our community apart,” said Woods, who joined UNLV in 2021 as director of the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER).
“You might think getting to work as quickly as possible is all that matters," he said. "But if traffic is better managed, more people are given choices on how to commute, and they are incentivized to drive safely, they'll be less stressed and more productive. I’ve seen data on how these types of projects actually spur economic development and generally help grow and diversify a city.”
His time spent riding his bike through the streets of Las Vegas sparked a lot of ideas. Now, with a passion for building a better community, a background in public policy, business, politics, and a master’s degree in economics, his position as CBER director has given Woods the opportunity to explore those ideas further through research and economic development projects with local governments.
What brought you to Las Vegas?
I moved to Las Vegas in 2014 from upstate New York to work for the Nevada state treasurer. Prior to that, I lived in Buffalo, Chicago, Washington D.C., and even London. I’ve spent time traveling and getting to know the world through the lens of cities of all sizes. Originally from the suburbs of Seattle, Washington, I knew I wanted to return to the West to settle closer to home, which brought me to Las Vegas.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I’ve always been really passionate about cities – how they operate, the people who live, work, and raise a family within them, and understanding what makes certain cities stand out. Prior to coming to UNLV, I was running my own business and I really wanted to be in a position of solving problems right here in Las Vegas.
To me that meant being able to help leaders in our community – from all walks of life – better understand the challenges we face so we can find solutions together. This is where economics, data analysis, and the tools of public policy come into play. These things, coupled with my background as a business owner and public policy experience, made the role of director of CBER a natural fit.
What’s the last big project you completed and how did you celebrate/decompress afterward?
Later this spring, CBER, Lee Business School, and a host of partners will launch an economic micro-credential to help high school public school teachers in Southern Nevada teach economics in the classroom. This supports a requirement the Nevada Legislature passed into law back in 2017.
It’s been inspiring working with multiple departments across the university to help get this program up and running. We’ve received some private funding, too, so it won’t be a financial burden for teachers to take this course..
To celebrate, I don’t necessarily take a victory walk until I know something is really complete. At the same time, I like to think about what’s the next big thing. But in the past, I’ve celebrated by jumping in my car and climbing large mountains a few hours away. My last climb before winter arrived was Mount Massive in Colorado, the second tallest peak in the state. When you are above the clouds, the views are fantastic and it just clears your head.
What projects are you looking forward to in the coming year?
I’m looking forward to launching the Applied Research Collaborative in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Bo Bernhard at the UNLV Office of Economic Development. The goal with this project is to foster private-public partnerships and research between the university and our private sector partners.
What drew you to UNLV?
This opportunity was serendipitous. When I read and heard past stories of what CBER was like under Keith Schwer’s leadership (a former director of the center who passed away in 2009) it resonated with me. He cared deeply about education and economics, and so do I. He was known as a sharp and level-headed economic voice as we navigated the pandemic, and I’m grateful for the the chance to lead CBER and serve the community.
Engineers are constantly tinkering with machinery to make it better. Economics is similar, but instead of a machine we are constantly trying to understand data to better the world and the community we live in. That constant analysis and recalibration of our models and forecasts is very exciting to me.
What surprises people when you tell them about CBER?
I think it surprises people how much work we are producing, how many programs we are working on, and how we are stretching our resources and expertise to help solve problems right here in Las Vegas.
Every day we are producing an economic index, a forecast, responding to questions from the media, working with our graduate students, and fielding requests from the public. I am really impressed with our team, their expertise, reliability, and the quality of the work they produce.
What is an ideal project for CBER?
Cross-disciplinary projects that bring together a team from across the university to tackle big questions. For example, the challenge of transportation and complete streets isn’t just an economics dilemma. It poses challenges for public health, engineering, business, and public policy, to name a few. A perfect project for CBER is one where we can bring many experts at UNLV to the table and be the go-to resource for our leaders in Southern Nevada.
What research of CBER’s do you think deserves more attention?
CBER’s population forecast. We have been doing it since 1997. Keith Schwer forecasted in 2001 that there would be 2.4 million people in the valley by 2020, our current population is over 2.3 million. His models – which we still use today, with some adjustments – are delivering results.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority has been able to accurately plan for further population growth over the past 25 years in part because of CBER’s work. Southern Nevada uses less water today than we did 20 years ago and yet we have almost a million more people. The research we produce annually doesn’t just stop at water; it also impacts transportation, planning, jobs, and so much more.
Outside of the office, what are you passionate about?
I started alpine climbing during the pandemic. I have climbed a lot of peaks in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and Washington. There are certainly people that are more hardcore than me and able to commit more time to the sport, but I enjoy getting my head above the clouds.
Where have you traveled recently and what was your favorite memory from the trip?
In December I went to France and proposed to my now fiancé, Lisa, in front of the Luxembourg Palace. My favorite memory was eating French cuisine in the middle of a rainstorm with her, drinking a bottle of wine, making jokes with the staff, and not worrying about my email inbox.
Because it’s Valentine’s Day, we have to ask . . .Who is the first person you remember giving a Valentine to?
I remember giving my sister’s best friend in high school a Valentine when I was in elementary school – I think I was six or seven years old.