Company’s goal is to become Silicon Valley of water technology

 

WaterStart, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit partnership of public- and private-sector organizations, is working to diversify the Las Vegas economy, create job growth and provide answers to drought and water quality issues in Nevada. Its goal is for Las Vegas to become the Silicon Valley of water technology.

A spinoff from the Desert Research Institute, WaterStart is a 501(C)6 organization that gets its funding from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. It also receives matching funds for specific projects from its public and private partners, Southern Nevada and Truckee Meadows water authorities, MGM Resorts, Winnemucca Farms, LVGEA, Reno Sparks Tahoe Economic Development Authority, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and University of Nevada, Reno.

Entering its second year of funding, WaterStart was networking with more than 1,500 water conservation professionals from the U.S., Canada and Mexico during the ninth annual Water Smart Innovations Conference and Exposition at the South Point in October.

Nathan Allen, executive director of the WaterStart initiative, explained that there are three basic drivers to the organization: to solve water challenges in Nevada through the use of new and innovative technology, build partnerships between private industry and the academic community and diversify the economy by attracting new businesses that create jobs.

To find these innovative technologies, Allen, with a Bachelor of Arts in environmental science and geology and a master’s degree in environmental education, has participated in the Governor’s Trade Mission, most recently to Australia, in an effort to facilitate an exchange of ideas.

The WaterStart team is not looking at conceptual ideas; it is only interested in prototypes that have been proven in the laboratory but have not had the opportunity to bring the product to market.

In the past 23 months, the four-member WaterStart team has vetted more than 150 technologies, received proposals from more than 60 companies that want to work with them and funded eight projects.

One of the projects is the installation of more than 3 miles of leak detection equipment on the water line that runs below the Las Vegas Strip. Edchologics, a Canadian company, is the first to develop this technology using a special microphone called a hydrophone that can hear water escaping. Another company, Syrinix, headquartered in the U.K., also is testing their TrunkMinder and PipeMinder on water lines in the valley to monitor pressure and flow data.

WaterStart is also responsible for bringing IONEX, a California company that builds customized, small-scale water treatment plants to Nevada. IONEX plans to build an assembly and research and development facility in North Las Vegas, and estimates are this company will bring $2.5 million in tax revenue to the state.

IMGeospatial, a British company, has worked with utility companies throughout Europe to supply water managers with automatic cloud-based analytics for their internal geospatial platforms. WaterStart paired the company with the Desert Research Institute to utilize its automated, patent-pending flood-modeling solutions. WaterStart is also close to completing a deal with IMGeospatial that will establish a Las Vegas branch office to house a software development team.

Winnemucca Farms, the largest agricultural producer in the state with 35,000 acres of irrigated land, has adopted water-saving irrigation technologies from around the world. Working with WaterStart, it is experimenting with a company that uses drone technology to measure plant stress from the air and improve irrigation precision while saving even more water.

All 17 counties in Nevada have been under a Drought Emergency Declaration since 2012. Besides having a lack of water for drinking, the drought has caused major problems with the buildup of nitrates in the groundwater.

Its goal is for Las Vegas to become the Silicon Valley of water technology.

A spinoff from the Desert Research Institute, WaterStart is a 501(C)6 organization that gets its funding from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. It also receives matching funds for specific projects from its public and private partners, Southern Nevada and Truckee Meadows water authorities, MGM Resorts, Winnemucca Farms, LVGEA, Reno Sparks Tahoe Economic Development Authority, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and University of Nevada, Reno.

Entering its second year of funding, WaterStart was networking with more than 1,500 water conservation professionals from the U.S., Canada and Mexico during the ninth annual Water Smart Innovations Conference and Exposition at the South Point in October.

Nathan Allen, executive director of the WaterStart initiative, explained that there are three basic drivers to the organization: to solve water challenges in Nevada through the use of new and innovative technology, build partnerships between private industry and the academic community and diversify the economy by attracting new businesses that create jobs.

To find these innovative technologies, Allen, with a Bachelor of Arts in environmental science and geology and a master’s degree in environmental education, has participated in the Governor’s Trade Mission, most recently to Australia, in an effort to facilitate an exchange of ideas.

The WaterStart team is not looking at conceptual ideas; it is only interested in prototypes that have been proven in the laboratory but have not had the opportunity to bring the product to market.

In the past 23 months, the four-member WaterStart team has vetted more than 150 technologies, received proposals from more than 60 companies that want to work with them and funded eight projects.

One of the projects is the installation of more than 3 miles of leak detection equipment on the water line that runs below the Las Vegas Strip. Edchologics, a Canadian company, is the first to develop this technology using a special microphone called a hydrophone that can hear water escaping. Another company, Syrinix, headquartered in the U.K., also is testing their TrunkMinder and PipeMinder on water lines in the valley to monitor pressure and flow data.

WaterStart is also responsible for bringing IONEX, a California company that builds customized, small-scale water treatment plants to Nevada. IONEX plans to build an assembly and research and development facility in North Las Vegas, and estimates are this company will bring $2.5 million in tax revenue to the state.

IMGeospatial, a British company, has worked with utility companies throughout Europe to supply water managers with automatic cloud-based analytics for their internal geospatial platforms. WaterStart paired the company with the Desert Research Institute to utilize its automated, patent-pending flood-modeling solutions. WaterStart is also close to completing a deal with IMGeospatial that will establish a Las Vegas branch office to house a software development team.

Winnemucca Farms, the largest agricultural producer in the state with 35,000 acres of irrigated land, has adopted water-saving irrigation technologies from around the world. Working with WaterStart, it is experimenting with a company that uses drone technology to measure plant stress from the air and improve irrigation precision while saving even more water.

All 17 counties in Nevada have been under a Drought Emergency Declaration since 2012. Besides having a lack of water for drinking, the drought has caused major problems with the buildup of nitrates in the groundwater.

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UNLV to capitalize on patent technologies

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Office of Economic Development is working to finally capitalize on years of research and development programs that have resulted in successful patents.

Most longtime Las Vegas residents may not realize that UNLV even engages in research activities.

“You could have told me they owned a unicorn and it would be just as believable.” said Bob Glennon, a 40-year resident of Las Vegas and managing partner of Las Vegas Sign and Flag.

The fact is that since 2009, UNLV’s staff and students have applied for and been awarded 179 patents, according to a report compiled by Zachary Miles, attorney and associate vice president for economic development at UNLV.

“Prior to 2009, nothing existed in the way of records for tracking patents owned by the university,” said Miles, who came on board in December 2013.

After organizing his department, Miles, who spent 10 years at the University of Utah in the technology commercialization office, began contacting with his network of individuals and organizations to track down current and future users of UNLV’s patent portfolio.

“We only have two or three technologies that are generating funding right now,” Miles said.

Miles connected with UNLV’s International Gaming Institute to compile a list of low-hanging fruit, such as software programs that were developed by the university and are being used in gaming applications. The next step was to sign agreements to collect revenue on UNLV’s intellectual property. In fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30, 2014, revenue from that low-hanging fruit amounted to $32,281.

Up until 2013, the university received zero dollars for its intellectual properties, but FY 2014 saw revenues climb to nearly $58,000. The revenue more than doubled to just more than $126,000 for FY 2015 and then doubled again in FY 2016 to over $252,000, according to a UNLV report.

This year, UNLV received $53.3 million in funding from federal grants, federal pass-through accounts, the state of Nevada, private industries and foundations and local businesses. This funding allowed for the continuation or startup of 389 research projects.

The UNLV International Gaming Institute averages about 15 disclosures each year. A disclosure is a document that announces a potential discovery or modification of an existing product or process that could result in the filing of a new patent.

“Of those, at least half, if not a little more, we are filing for a provisional patent,” Miles said. “Quite a few are being looked at by either gaming companies or resorts as possible licensing opportunities.”

The Institutes’s Center for Gaming Innovation enables students to create intellectual property, including casino games and innovations that have generated more than 30 patent applications to date. These patents and licensing agreements make up the majority of the $252,000 in revenue. The products are just starting to hit casino floors, according to a UNLV report.

But gaming is not the only research area benefiting from grants.

Recently, UNLV filed a patent on behalf of Zhiyong Wang, associate professor at the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering. Wang and his son developed a process that can increase the strength of a diamond by 5 percent.

Even though a diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance found on Earth, it falls into the “crystalline solid” category, possessing microscopic defects, fault lines, dislocations, occlusions and inclusions that are points of weakness.

The discovery made by Wang and his son is that when diamonds are immersed into a low-temperature — below 212 degrees Fahrenheit — plasma environment on a vibrating surface, the plasma fills the voids and chemically bonds with the carbon elements of the diamond, thereby increasing its crushing strength index by at least 5 percent.

While the strength of the crystalline structure of a diamond is of no importance to the jewelry industry, the majority of diamonds mined are used for industrial purposes. Small diamond particles are embedded in saw blades, drill bits and grinding wheels. The strength of these diamond particles determines how many times a bit, blade or wheel can be used before its abrasiveness wears out.

Miles is working with his contacts to sell this patent process to manufacturers of diamond-embedded cutting tools to monetize this intellectual property. Miles also has reached out to UNLV’s Center for Entrepreneurship to build a business plan around the process and promote it to industry.

UNLV, like most universities, encourages research and development but retains the rights to intellectual property. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 permits a university, small business or nonprofit to pursue patent ownership of an invention, even though the research may have been funded using government money. The act also specifies a reasonable split of the proceeds with the researchers.

UNLV is very generous to its research staff, allocating 60 percent to inventors; the norm at most public universities is 30 to 40 percent. The university department with the patent receives 25 percent of the revenue, while the remaining 15 percent is retained for administrative purposes, Miles said.

While UNLV has not had any truly life-changing patents to date, research is ongoing in two different areas that could put the university on the map.

One research team just developed a compound to prevent the Clostridium difficile bacterium from germinating and spreading. Often referred to as C. difficile or C. diff, this bacterium can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon and most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in longterm care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications. Because of testing requirements by the Food and Drug Administration, Miles expects it to take about eight years before it becomes available for use.

Faculty and students of the College of Engineering teamed with Lockheed Martin to test materials and protocols for their Orion project. The Orion spacecraft is being designed for long-duration, human-rated deep-space exploration and is expected to take astronauts to Mars and return them safely back to Earth.

“This partnership will provide unique opportunities for our students to enhance their knowledge and research capabilities in exciting new areas and help accelerate the efforts of Lockheed Martin research activities and the nation’s ambitious space program,” said Rama Venkat, dean of the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering.


UNLV’s School of Dental Medicine offers clinical experience

A recent American Dental Education Association study showed the average dental school student graduates with more than $247,000 in student debt. That figure has risen by nearly 40 percent since 2010.

Part of the reason for the dental student’s high debt is that she must complete a four-year science degree before entering the four-year dental program. The student must also purchase several thousands dollars worth of special training aids, equipment and books.

With the cost of dental school so high, students are taking a very close look at which school they want to attend. And, the competition for acceptance is fierce. UNLV’s School of Dental Medicine has more than 1,000 applicants that compete for one of the 75 to 80 student positions that are available each year, according to Dr. Philip Devore, DDS, the school’s associate professor.

Kristine San Diego, who came to UNLV from her home in Hawaii, is a third-year student at the School of Dental Medicine.

“I chose UNLV because of the early hands-on clinical experience that UNLV offers.”

In addition, after her first year at UNLV, San Diego was able to claim residency and lower her tuition from $89,987 to $54,677 per year, according to the school’s tuition website, www.unlv.edu/dental/tuition. UNLV’s Dental School tuitions are about 9.5 percent less than the average for all dental schools, according to StartClass.com, a website that tracks U.S. professional schools.

At UNLV, students begin working in the clinic environment during their second year, and by their third year are performing most of the technical procedures. Devore said most dental schools have students entering the clinic stage of their education in the later part of their third year or into their fourth year. In addition, UNLV does not break its program down into specialties, so the students gain experience on a wider variety of procedures.

This year, StartClass.com ranked UNLV School of Dental Medicine 48 out of the top 65 university schools, not including private schools. UNLV School of Dental Medicine is one of the newest on the list, having graduated its first class in 2006.

In December, the school will receive its latest piece of equipment — an inter oral scanner, which is priced at nearly $12,000. This is a sophisticated optical scanner that takes digital images and converts them to a CAD file that is read by different types of machines. One of the uses will be in conjunction with a milling machine that can build a customized crown for a patient’s tooth. Another future use will be to connect the scanner to a 3-D printer that could build dental bridges and false teeth.

Devore moved from California, where he had a 17-year dental practice, to Las Vegas in 1997. He started a local private practice in 2002. He said he is well aware of the advancements made in modern dentistry. “I’m not doing the same thing that I did 35 years ago when I graduated from dental school; it’s not the same. I have to stay current with all of the literature, materials, and methods that we have today.”

The school, at 1700 W. Charleston Blvd. in the UMC medical corridor, has 165 dental treatment rooms along with emergency care, oral pathology, and oral surgery units. The clinic is open to the public and hosts more than 60,000 patient visits each year through its academic, community outreach and Faculty Dental Practice clinic, according to Kevin Dunegan, director of communications for the UNLV School of Dental Medicine, the university’s School of Allied Health Services and its School of Nursing.

One of the unique things about the UNLV School of Dental Medicine is that because of the clinic program, the school is more than 85 percent self-sufficient based upon the fees paid by the patients and their insurance, according to Devore. The school charges a flat fee for services, which are not income-qualified.

According to Devore, the clinic is equipped to accept absolutely everybody that enters the doors, regardless of the severity of their dental problems.

“If a patient is not suitable for a student due to the complexity of their dental needs — too many crowns or bridges or a complex medical issue — they are referred to the General Practice Residency Program,” he said.

In this program, graduate dentists come for additional training in general dentistry, orthodontics or pediatrics.

“If a case is extremely complicated, the patient is referred to the faculty practice, which encompasses all of the dental specialties.”

The school has an operating room on campus and staff privileges at University Medical Center Hospital.

“What I really enjoy about practicing in this environment is that it allows me to offer what I think is the very best to our patients, both in the faculty practice and in the student clinic with the students,” Devore said.

Because the School of Dental Medicine does not have an overhead that a private practice does, it is allowed to practice what Devore called “ideal dentistry.” As such, the staff and students make recommendations to the patients that they consider to be ideal, then depending on the patient’s needs and desires they will tailor the treatment.

When patients go to the clinic, they are put through a battery of preliminary examinations during the record-taking process before any work is performed. As a result, a complete mold of their teeth along with x-rays and photographs are available for the students to look at and analyze with their instructors. Based on their analysis, along with the instructor’s examination, a course of treatment is decided and proposed to the patient.

“You can train most anyone to do the technical side,” Devore said. “However, it is the critical-thinking skills that are crucial to becoming an effective dental practitioner, and that is what we try to teach.”

“We try to give evidence-based criteria to all of our clinical decision makings. We don’t do stuff just because we think it is a good idea. We recommend treatment based on the literature, the curriculum that we have and evidence-based standards that are well-documented,” Devore said.

In addition to the technical and critical thinking, the dental school also has a unique two-semester practice administration course, which all students must pass in order to graduate. The course was developed by Devore in 2005 and is based on his prior years of experience as a consultant to dental practices around the world. In this course, Devore teaches the students how to manage an office, marketing, patient management and how to communicate with patients by explaining their dental needs and the procedures in layman terms.

“Creating value and urgency so that a patient does not put off something that in the future can cause bigger problems both medically and financially is the goal,” Devore said.

San Diego, whose mother is a dentist with a successful practice in Hawaii, worked with her mother on the administrative side before entering dental school.

“After graduation, I would like to work with some other dentists to see how they do things before going back to Hawaii and working with my mother,” she said.

Like San Diego, many of the graduating dentists are weighing their work options. Devore said the average income for a dentist just starting out is about $120,000 a year. The school debt might cause a graduate to take a job with a large dental corporation and a guaranteed salary rather than open an independent practice and incurring the risk associated with entrepreneurship. Regardless of their choice, finding employment should not be a problem. Currently, there is a shortage of 7,300 dentists in the United States, according to the American Dental Association.

Part of the dentist shortage can be solved by importing dentists from other countries. UNLV has a proposal to the Board of Regents to begin offering a foreign dentist curriculum where an accredited dentist from a foreign country can study for two years and graduate with a degree that will enable them to practice in the U.S.


Nevada’s Energy Future

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Debbie Donaldson (L) moderates a panel discussion on the future of green energy with Dr. Patricia “Pat” Spearman, Nat Hodgen, and Jessie Murray.

By Craig A. Ruark

Just before the opening of early voting, energy experts and elected officials told a pair of forums that ballot Question 3 presents a rare opportunity for both consumers and the industry to stake out winning positions for the future.

Question 3 would authorize the Nevada Legislature to “minimize regulations on the Energy Market and eliminate legal energy monopolies.” If approved by voters, it would have to be voted on again in 2018 before it could be implemented in 2023.

On October 19th, the Nevada Energy Star Partners Green Alliance held a panel discussion titled “Nevada’s Energy Future.” Debbie Donaldson, publisher of the Las Vegas Business Press, asked panelists Dr. Patricia “Pat” Spearman, Nevada Senator District 1; Nat Hodgen, executive director of the Southern Nevada Home Builders; and Jessie Murray, director of renewable energy projects for NV Energy, to describe the current energy environment and what we need to do to prepare for the future.

The three speakers, though diverse in their backgrounds, were part of the “New Energy Industry Task Force” that was initiated by Gov. Brian Sandoval and worked toward solutions to grid modernization, carbon emissions, distributed generation and storage, and clean energy sources.

Based on the Task Force’s research and discussions, several recommendations have been sent to the governor for the 2017 legislative session. In addition, a plan for grandfathering residential rooftop solar customers (those who were on-line or had applied to be part of the solar program as of Dec. 31, 2015), was approved by Governor Sandoval. It will take effect in December 2016 and expire November 30, 2036.

Senator Spearman said she is planning several bills for presentation during the 2017 legislative session.

“The technologies that we have right now and those that which are on the horizon are changing, literally, in a nanosecond,” she said. “We don’t have legislative policies in place to address the question about [energy] storage adequately. Because we don’t have policies in place that address an integrated energy system that customers want to go to.”  Spearman supports modifying the electrical grid to include distributive generation including geothermal and wind energy, and advocated for ‘out of the box’ thinking to prepare us for energy possibilities that are unthought of at this time.

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Rose McKinney-James, (L) moderates a panel discussion on ballot initiative Question 3 with Adam Kramer, John Hanger, Gary Aksamit, and Quentin Abramo, president of Faciliteq, representing small business.

On Oct. 20, Clean Energy Project, a non-profit organization, drew more than 100 people to the Switch Innevation Center in Las Vegas for a lunchtime session. The panel discussion was moderated by Rose McKinney-James, lobbyist and managing principal of Energy Works LLC, and included panel experts on distributive energy generation.

The topic title: “How will ballot initiative Question 3 ensure that clean energy development has a place in a well-regulated open market; and how will a restructured market ensure that all customers have the opportunity to access clean energy to power their homes and businesses?”

Adam Kramer, executive vice president of strategy for Switch, worked with environmental and consumer advocacy groups to develop the “Yes on Question 3” stance, answered: “The genesis of Question 3 is to deliver low-cost renewable energy to all Nevadans. As we begin talking about the restructuring and creation of a well-regulated open market, it is important that we do this in a way that is cognizant of the importance of renewables as well as the protection of all ratepayers here in Nevada.”

Switch along with MGM and Wynn Resorts have received approval from the Public Utilities Commission and to leave NV Energy’s grid. The Las Vegas Sands Corp. also filed an exit application that was approved by the PUC, but the company opted not to go forward.

John Hanger, an energy consultant and former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, described this initiative from his perspective is “A huge opportunity for clean energy, but it is also an opportunity for customers.”

Hanger cautioned that there are two important pieces that must be in place both for clean energy and for consumers to make “the power of choice” option work:

  1. You need to have a real-time market monitor — ‘the cop on the beat’ of the retail and wholesale energy market to protect consumers. “The recent changes at FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] are important, but you also need a local cop,” said Hanger
  2. On the demand side of the market, the cleanest energy source is energy efficiency so if you empower consumers with smart meters and thermostats to control their demand, it will help their pocketbook and will also help the air quality and the environment.

Gary Aksamit, founder of Americans for Electricity Choice, offered a glimpse at what the market could look like after restructuring.

Using Texas as an example, Aksamit suggested that consumers check out www.TexasPowerToChoose.org, a clearinghouse database of all of the retail power providers in the state of Texas and competing for consumers. (Readers can put in the zip code 75094 to see how the site works.)

“Once into the website,” said Aksamit. “You are going to find between 150 and 250 offers for your business.”

The consumers in Texas have the opportunity to choose everything from 100 percent renewable energy to energy based on the lowest cost per kilowatt hour. Consumers are also able to lock in rates for whatever period they choose, with, of course, a penalty for early cancellation.

This type of open market program, according to Aksamit, allows the consumer to choose the type of power and the price point that fits their budget and lifestyle. The drawback to this program is with all the choices afforded to the consumers, not everyone is going to have the knowledge or want to take the time to wade through all of the options. In that case, many consumers may just accept what the local utility is offering and call it good.

The idea behind Question 3 is to offer choice to those consumers that want choice and to begin to prepare Nevada for a progressive energy future. That’s a planning process that Senator Spearman stated “must start now.”


LVCAC reports a positive outlook for Las Vegas

During a breakfast presentation to the Las Vegas chapter of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, had some encouraging words about the Las Vegas market.

Between 2000 and 2009, the number of rooms in Las Vegas increased from 125,000 to nearly 150,000. In 2016, Las Vegas lost about 1,300 rooms with the implosion of the Riviera, but saw construction activity at the Lucky Dragon, Resorts World and Alon.

“One of the things that we in Las Vegas do so well is maintain occupancy. Even during the dark days of the recession, the occupancy level never dropped below 80 percent,” Meyer said. Currently, the average occupancy hovers around 89 percent while the rest of the country is in the 60 to 70 percent range.

Contrary to the report on international activity by Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association during this meeting, “Our (Las Vegas) destination is exceeding all expectations,” Meyer said.

The latest figures for 2016 as of the end of July show that all numbers have increased over prior years:

■ Leisure visitation up 1.7 percent at 25.2 million

■ Convention attendance up 14.4 percent at 3.9 million

■ Occupancy up 1.7 percentage points at 89.8 percent

■ Revenue per available room (RevPAR) up 6.8 percent at $113

■ Gaming up 1.3 percent at $5.7 billion

■ Air traffic up 5.2 percent at 27.4 million

The two dominant numbers are the convention attendance, showing a double-digit increase year-over-year, and the RevPAR number, which is twice the national average.

One of the growth trends that will effect Las Vegas is not the number of hotel rooms but the increase in meeting space. Not including the expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center, between now and 2019 resorts in Las Vegas have announced plans to build an additional 555,000 square feet of meeting and convention space.

In addition to promoting Las Vegas as a business and vacation destination, the research and statistics department at the LVCVA has more than 25 years of experience monitoring leisure and business trends according to age, gender, and ethnicity. Research shows that consumers are trading things for experiences. For instance, they are giving up ownership of an automobile in order to be able to afford to travel more.

The LVCVA is also engaging booking agents and travelers through social media. So far in 2016, the fans/followers have increased by 48 percent to 3 million; and videos about Las Vegas have increased by 175 percent to 79 million downloads. Part of the social media program involves reaching out internationally with 10 international social accounts reaching 310,000 users. The LVCVA has had 13.5 million engagements with international Facebook content and launched a WeChat account linking to the largest stand-alone messaging app in the world, serving 680 million active users, most of whom are in China.

The LVCVA has developed what it calls a “content forward trade show experience” that allows Las Vegas-based companies to access a web-based application that is constantly updated with the latest information about events, shows and sightseeing tours in and around Las Vegas. This application can be accessed through a computer or tablet to show customers at trade shows. It will debut Oct. 20.

Access to Las Vegas via air travel has significantly increased during the last 12 months with the addition of more and more direct flights both domestically and internationally.


U.S. travel industry stagnate but going in the right direction

About 80 marketing executives, many from the major Las Vegas casinos, met Sept. 29 to consider potential growth for and obstacles to the city’s ability to draw international tourism.

“The U.S. travel industry generates $2.1 trillion in economic output and supports 15 million jobs. Tourism is Southern Nevada’s No. 1 industry, supporting 368,900 jobs (41.4 percent of the workforce) and generating $51.8 billion in aggregate economic output.”

That was the opening statement of Roger Dow during a breakfast presentation to the Las Vegas chapter of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International. Dow is the president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, an organization that represents all segments of travel in America.

“I keep saying that hospitality, lodging and the travel industry is the front door to economic development. No one ever decided to buy a second home or condo here (Las Vegas) until they first came here for a meeting, event or a vacation. Then they realize wow, pretty cool, lots to do, great restaurants, all these things,” Dow said.

In his talk, Dow outlined how international travel has improved for the hospitality industry and listed some hurdles to be overcome.

On the positive side was the improvement of visa wait times. In the past, the waiting period for a three-minute visa interview was 120 days. That has been shrunk to fewer than five days, and, as a result, the number of international visitors went from 53 million in 2009 to 77 million in 2015. That number is expected to climb to 100 million by 2021.

In addition to improving the visa wait times, the U.S. also expanded the number of countries enrolled in the Visa Waiver Program from 27 to 38. This program enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa when they meet all requirements.

One of the best examples is South Korea. When it was added to the Visa Waiver Program, visitation went up 46 percent in 18 months. An additional 400,000 South Koreans visited the U.S., making an average of 850,000 to 900,000 visitors each year.

One of the most important business and tourist countries in the world is China. In 2009, there were 500,000 Chinese visitors to the U.S. By 2015. that number was 2.2 million, and it is expected to grow to 5 or 6 million visitors each year. China is not one of the countries in the Visa Waiver Program, but the five-day visa processing program has helped to bring more tourists. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with China to allow for 10-year business visas. This means that a Chinese businessman that comes to Las Vegas each year for the CES only needs to apply for a visa every 10 years, making it easier for China to do business in the U.S.

Recently, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority recognized how important the Chinese visitors will be to the lcoal economy and launched a campaign asking local businesses if they are “China ready.” The program talks about the need for improved signage, menus and guest relations personnel that speak Chinese languages.

Challenges that the travel industry faces include:

■ Infrastructure: This must grow to be able to move people throughout destinations. “The problem is the government keeps ‘kicking the can down the road,’ which stifles cities’ ability to grow and properly accommodate incoming travelers,” Dow said.

■ Ability to process people through airports: More travelers should utilize TSA precheck programs.

■ Customs and border protection: The U.S. needs to continue advancing technology including automated passport control and facial recognition.

■ Airplane capacity: In 2006, 11 airlines controlled 85 percent of air traffic in America. Now, there are four legacy carriers: Delta, American, United, and Southwest. “I want them to grow, but we can’t have four airlines controlling our destiny,” Dow said.

■ Improve load factors: Legacy carriers are projecting only 2 percent growth, yet international visitation is predicted to grow by 4 to 6 percent per year. The numbers don’t match, and carriers will stifle visitor growth.

■ Pandemics: The government and the media need to do a better job of identifying the exact areas affected by an epidemic and not make it sound like an entire state, region or country is affected.

The good news for the hotel industry is that, nationwide and in Las Vegas, the number of visitor days has not declined, but the amount of money spent during those stays has. Dow notes that “people are spending less on a hotel room. Instead of purchasing two Gucci bags, they are buying one. Instead of going to a 4-star restaurant, they are going 3-star.”

While nationwide the travel industry is flat, only growing at about 2 to 3 percent at this time, projections are for improved growth.

While business travel is very important to the economy, two-thirds of the travel and hospitality industry is for leisure activity.

One of the main reasons for the stagnated growth is the fact that Americans are not taking vacations. Americans have become what Dow calls “a nation of work martyrs.” In 2000, Americans took 23 days of vacation time. In 2015, that figure dropped to 16.2 days. Millennials, according to Dow, are the “worst offenders.” Because of the challenging work market, “they’re terrified of losing their jobs and want to look good.”

Furthermore, the USTA surveyed children, ages 6 and 7:

■ 75 percent say their parents never disconnect from the office when they come home.

■ 61 percent say the best time they spend with their parents is when they’re on vacation.

■ The surveyed children said, at least three days per week, their parents promised they would be home but were not.

To encourage Americans to take more leisure time, the travel and hospitality industries have teamed up to build a campaign called “Project Time Off,” producing a series of public service announcements touting the social and health benefits, physical and mental, of leisure activities.

MasterCard has committed $80 million to its television campaign where children ask their parents to take a vacation.


Life is Beautiful festival gets mixed reviews from downtown small businesses

 

 

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Las Vegas Container Park

 

When the “Life Is Beautiful” festival opened the gates at 2 p.m. Sept. 23 for its fourth annual three-day event, it was anticipated that nearly a year of planning would result in a huge economic boost to some of the downtown businesses.

The official numbers were not in as of press time. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, however, the 2015 festival was a huge success for the community. Tallies show that there were 57,000 unique attendees for the event, and over the three-day period the total attendance amounted to 131,500. The direct economic result was a $21.5 million boost to the local economy.

“Over the past several years, music festivals have grown in popularity and have become a major draw among our numerous destination offerings,” said Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Life is Beautiful is one of many festivals that have decided to call Las Vegas home, and we look forward to welcoming all of the attendees to downtown Las Vegas.”

During the event, 18 city blocks are fenced off with 2.5 miles of perimeter fencing. “The event is very expensive to produce; we have to build the entire venue,” said Justin Weniger, a co-founder of the event. The venue includes three small stages and a very large main stage, a VIP lounge, culinary villages and art vendor booths.

Although the economic impact has been great over the past few years, the festival has seemed to fall out of favor with some downtown small business owners.

Marchello Tanasi, the owner of Vegas Flip Flop and Vegas Hot Rod and Street Wear stores in Downtown Container Park, did not have a positive experience during last year’s event. “Actually, I think that it catered mostly to the food. The retail side of it, and I can speak for a lot of people; we had no business.” This year, according to Tanasi, was a little better than last but nowhere near an average weekend.

Stella Pappas, the owner of Athena’s Jewelry Box, agreed with Tanasi. From her upstairs window, she could see the festival attendees dancing and partying in the street but did not see any traffic in her store.

Both Tanasi and Pappas, along with a few other shop owners, have asked their landlord, the Downtown Project, if they can close early or not open at all during the festival. Part of their contract with the Container Park required them to remain open during such events.

“People are here to party, they don’t want to be carrying shopping bags around,” commented another shop owner who wants to remain anonymous. “However, even though I did not have any business during the event, I do think that it brought awareness to the Container Park, and I hope that some of the people came back another time to see what we have.”

Kellie Kroplinski, the owner of Art Box, which carries handcrafted jewelry, clothing and art pieces from local artisans, had a better experience.

“I thought the festival was wonderful,” she said. She reported a 20 percent increase in sales and said she is encouraged by the fact that an increased number of locals who never had been to Container Park, visited her shop during the event.

Scott Wurth of San Miguel Collection in Container Park sells home-decorating items, dining, jewelry and other unusual artisan-crafted items. “Last year was pretty good for us during the festival. It was a little difficult because the festival-goers did not want to take things with them because they were busy, so we offered free shipping on everything for the entire event.”

When asked what sort of sales his store had, Wurth explained, “I am not sure that our store is exactly the Life Is Beautiful customer, so our sales stayed the same. We knew that we had to offer free shipping just to make some sales.”

Part of the problem was the fact that on a normal business day, Container Park opens its gates at 10 a.m. During the festival, the gates don’t open until 2 p.m., and only festival-goers who bought tickets are allowed to enter. To make matters worse, the shopping complex is virtually inaccessible for three days before the festival and three days after while crews barricade the streets to assemble and dismantle the stages and booths and other festival equipment.

During this year’s event, in addition to the 80 bands that performed, there were 44 food vendors from restaurants all around Las Vegas. The restaurants of Container Park, while open during the event, were not listed as part of the festival experience.

Co-founders of the event, Weniger and Ryan Doherty, met in 1999 while attending UNLV and have lived in downtown Las Vegas since graduation. In 2001, the pair started WENDO (a combination of their two last names) Media Cos., and in 2006 began publishing Vegas Seven magazine to spotlight the food, entertainment and art culture in Las Vegas.

Weniger and Doherty also opened two bars on East Fremont Street called Commonwealth and Park on Fremont. “Both are designed to be real-life neighborhood community bars,” Doherty said. Their frustrations in trying to entice customers to cross Las Vegas Boulevard, to a somewhat less-desirable neighborhood, turned into the idea behind Life Is Beautiful.

“The inspiration stemmed from the idea that if we combined art, music and culinary together that it would drive the community around the idea of revitalizing downtown, and at the same time build art, culture and community,” Weniger said.

The partners teamed up with Tony Hsieh, who owns Downtown Project, to form Life Is Beautiful LLC. Hsieh has for the past few years been acquiring property along East Fremont Street and several blocks to the north and south. This area is the site for the Life Is Beautiful festival. Downtown Project also owns Container Park at 7th and Fremont streets.

Tickets for the event started at around $125 for single-day general admission and $285 for all three days. VIP tickets start at $655 for the three days and as much as $15,000 for a package that included 10 VIP passes, a bucket of beer, two bottles of hard liquor, a dedicated concierge and cocktail server, private viewing areas and shaded relaxation areas with flushable restrooms among other perks.

Both Life Is Beautiful and the iHeart Radio Music Festival, which was held Sept. 24 and 25, were competing for music lovers. iHeart reported a sellout of 15,000-seats at T-Mobile Arena and a capacity crowd of 25,000 for Saturday’s daytime festival at Las Vegas Village.

Weniger and Doherty are hoping to increase attendance by 40 percent this year. “Early numbers show that occupancy was up in Downtown Las Vegas and spilling over to the Las Vegas Strip,” said Weniger.