UNLV economic analysts had some good news for us as 2021 came to a close.
Southern Nevada’s economic recovery — though still linked hand in hand with the COVID-19 pandemic and its variants — has a cautiously optimistic outlook as we head into the new year.
Tourism is king in Las Vegas, so it makes sense that its economic future relies heavily on the health of those visiting from across the country and around the world. But UNLV doesn’t just leave things to chance.
Even as the pandemic gripped much of 2021, UNLV made strides to diversify. Throughout the year, the university was busy incubating ideas for economic recovery, helping local small businesses prosper, starting new academic programs, and securing support for fast-growing fields like engineering.
As the pandemic fueled economic challenges, it also brought to light serious social justice inequities, spurring the university to create a forum where productive community conversations could take place.
All the while, a dedicated group of UNLV public health students and faculty were working diligently behind the scenes, helping to keep the pandemic under control and the southern Nevada community safe by implementing and delivering a robust contact tracing program.
The following highlights are just a glimpse into how UNLV — throughout a year that was at times just as unpredictable as 2020 — forged a way ahead, contributing to the community, and to the region’s overall economic vitality, its recovery, and its future growth.
Back in Business
The pandemic’s economic effects could be felt perhaps most strongly by small businesses, and UNLV was a haven for more than 2,000 local entrepreneurs who needed assistance with loans and business plans. In 2020, UNLV’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) helped create more than 950 new jobs in Southern Nevada through support provided to startups, and in 2021, the center partnered with North Las Vegas officials by stationing two advisors at the city’s Small Business Connector. As we head into 2022, the SBDC is launching a workshop series to help minority- and women-owned businesses reach their maximum growth potential. It’s one area of study by Tiffiany Howard, associate professor of political science, who lended expertise on the topic to multiple national news outlets in 2021.
- Small Business Connector: Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now (twice), KSNV-TV: News 3, and KVVU-TV: Fox 5.
- Jamie Schwartz, director of industry and business engagement at UNLV, lends expertise on shopping small for the holidays: KLAS-TV: 8 News Now (twice), Las Vegas Review-Journal
- Black-owned businesses and the racial wealth gap: CNBC, Quartz, The Guardian, The Boston Globe
UNLV is a place where new ideas from students and faculty come to life. Whether it’s research into how the burgeoning esports industry will find its place in casinos of the future, or developing intellectual property, UNLV gives space for student ideas to not only germinate, but become reality.
One such place is the new UNLV Incubator at Hughes Center, which will help aspiring student entrepreneurs do just that. Coupled with Black Fire Innovation — a testing ground for new ideas in gaming, technology, entertainment, and the integrated resort experience — UNLV is moving the hospitality industry forward at a time when it’s needed most.
- Incubator: Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, Hospitality Technology, KVVU-TV: Fox 5 Vegas
- Black Fire: The Nevada Independent, Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), Vegas Inc
An Energy Revolution
As UNLV students start to make a home in the new UNLV Incubator, and their ideas begin to flourish as part of the President’s Innovation Challenge, on campus, one researcher’s discovery is taking shape in a big way.
UNLV physicist Ashkan Salamat and colleagues are making progress on their 2020 groundbreaking discovery of room-temperature superconductivity, long regarded as the “holy grail” of energy efficiency. Mere months after their discovery, Salamat and colleagues recorded a new phenomenon that inches the research closer to reality and could one day “find a place in physics textbooks.”
The groundbreaking nature of the work, which could one day transform the energy grid itself, is being recognized at the highest levels of state government. Early this year, Gov. Steve Sisolak toured the Nevada Extreme Conditions Lab on campus, and even gave Salamat a shoutout in his State of the State address as part of his plan for a new energy economy.
Health Care Heroes
The university made strides this year in all areas of its Academic Health Center, too. While the medical school reached milestone after milestone in 2021 in its quest to shore up the region’s doctor shortage, the schools of public health, dental medicine, integrated health sciences, and nursing rose to the occasion as well.
UNLV’s Contact Tracing Team worked tirelessly to improve the health of the surrounding community throughout the pandemic, and was named the Program of the Year by the Nevada Public Health Association. The Department of Brain Health within the School of Integrated Health Sciences welcomed its second class of students for its new occupational therapy program, which is working to fill the gap in another critical component of our state’s health care workforce.
The School of Nursing hoped to inspire the next generation of nurses when Nurse Camp returned this summer after a year hiatus. Current nursing students also teamed with medical and dental students in the fall for a poverty simulation to understand the challenges community members might face when seeking treatment.
- Contact tracing: KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KVVU-TV: Fox 5 Vegas
- Occupational therapy: Las Vegas Sun, KVVU-TV: Fox 5, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KSNV-TV: News 3
- Nurse camp: Yahoo!, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun (twice), KVVU-TV: Fox 5, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now (twice), KSNV-TV: News 3, KTNV-TV: ABC 13
- Poverty simulation: KSNV-TV: News 3, KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KNPR, MSN
As the community’s future health care providers were learning about how to employ empathy when treating patients, the entire community was thinking about empathy in another way.
The events of 2020 and 2021, namely the global pandemic, a divisive political climate, and calls for social justice following the murder of George Floyd, revealed quite plainly that we need to have frank converations about racism and other difficult topics.
UNLV’s “We Need To Talk” series created a forum for those conversations to take place. Co-sponsored by University Libraries and the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, the educational series aimed to develop solutions to overcoming racism and differences that impact our community and propose steps for individuals and communities to affect positive change. The discussions, which began in late 2020 and continued throughout 2021, were wide-ranging and covered health care, education, antisemitism, criminal justice, and anti-Asian hate. Throughout the year, UNLV experts were also called upon by national media to expound on the topics.
- “We Need To Talk”: Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), KTNV-TV: ABC 13 (twice), (three times), Las Vegas Sun (twice)
- Melva Thompson-Robinson, professor of social behavioral health, discussed health disparities: KVVU-TV: FOX 5, El Periodico, Healthline, Verywell Health
- Psychology professor Gloria Wong-Padoongpatt discussed microaggressions on marginalized people: HuffPost.
- Frank Rudy Cooper, director of the Race, Gender, and Policing Program, discussed how toxic masculinity plays a role in encounters between male police officers and African Americans in The Washington Post.
- African American and African Diaspora Studies professor Tyler D. Parry discussed critical race theory, the Derek Chauvin verdict, and policing reform: The Washington Post, VOA, The Nevada Independent, Le DeVoir, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KTNV-TV: ABC 13
An Optimistic Outlook
UNLV ended the year by giving the community a somewhat positive outlook on what’s to come economically for the region in 2021.
During the annual Outlook event in early November, hosted by the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) at the Lee Business School, UNLV researchers shared that local economic indicators point to a now slowing but continued comeback from a pandemic that they described as an “economic sledgehammer” to Southern Nevada in 2020. Prior to the event, and all throughout the year, local, regional, and national journalists turned to UNLV for context and insight into what the future held for the entertainment capital of the world.
If UNLV and the southern Nevada community has anything to say about it, the future's looking bright.
- Outlook: Reuters, Yahoo!, U.S. Department of the Treasury, CDC Gaming Reports Inc., Casino.org, The Nevada Independent, El Tiempo, Pahrump Valley Times.
- Hospitality professor Amanda Belarmino and International Gaming Institute fellow Alan Feldman talk about crowds returning, and the projected economic recovery of Las Vegas and the travel industry: AP, Markets Insider, The Wall Street Journal, Daily Mail.
- Economist Stephen Miller spoke to Casino.org and Fox Business about casinos reopening and hiring employees as confidence in travel is restored, and with The Wall Street Journal about manufacturing job growth.
- Gaming historian David G. Schwartz spoke with ABC News about all-time-high casino revenues.
- CBER director Andrew Woods projected that Las Vegas’s population will increase by 1 million by the year 2060: AP, U.S. News & World Report.
- Hospitality professor Mehmet Erdem offered insight to USA Today about daily housekeeping trends at hotels.