Las Vegas News Bureau
LAS VEGAS — The history of Las Vegas runs through the iconic figures who built the city. Bugsy Siegel. Frank Sinatra. Elvis. Steve Wynn. Debbie Harris. Debbie who? Here, let's introduce you.
Debbie Harris is a middle-aged Rotarian who enjoys walks, listening to novels in the car, taking road trips and spending time with extended family. She's never worked in a casino, and she's squeezing in college classes around a full-time job in training and marketing.
In short, Debbie Harris is probably a lot like you. And together, Debbie and fellow Las Vegans are the emblems of Las Vegas' next big era — the Era of Normal.
From rising household income to increasing median age, from the shrinking share of gaming jobs to the growing number of households with kids, indicators show Las Vegas, the cow town that grew up as Sin City, is in many ways becoming Anytown, USA.
Today, Las Vegas has reached a tipping point. Sure, it'll always be a global mecca for millions who want to gamble and carouse, but it's becoming much more than that. Post-boom, Las Vegas is a place to have a career and raise a family, even if you have nothing to do with gaming. And as people stay, they're remaking Sin City, joining clubs, starting businesses and encouraging friends and family to join them.
That's not to say this is the first time southern Nevada has had loyal locals who care about the community. And thousands of Las Vegans likely would vamoose faster than a card counter who just spotted casino security if they weren't underwater on their homes. But fact is, hardly anybody's skipping town.
A new Vegas
The city's newfound stability surprises Jeremy Aguero, a fourth-generation Nevadan and native Las Vegan who studies economic and demographic trends. Aguero's firm, Applied Analysis, gave a presentation in 2009 about top local trends to watch. On the list? Population flight from Southern Nevada as casino construction ground to a halt and people who moved here for jobs fled 14 percent unemployment.
Three years on, that hasn't happened.
"It was a relatively abrupt end to that chapter of gaming and tourism construction, and yet the community goes on," Aguero said. "It continues, and people have stayed here. Who knew?"
Debbie Harris might have known.
It wasn't a resort job that lured Harris, 53, from Connecticut in 2006. She moved for the warm weather and because she had family here. When her job as a real estate social-media marketer disappeared, she wasn't leaving Las Vegas. She opened a social-media marketing consulting business, Performance Intermedia.
Then there's Lisa Jackson, 42, from Austintown, Ohio, who started falling for Las Vegas in 2000 while visiting friends here. She dreamed of moving here, and finally did in 2010, after her mother passed away. Jackson took a marketing job with a local financial-services firm, then was laid off in 2011. A second job that involved marketing and administration for bridal shows also fell victim to the recession.
But, like Harris, Jackson stayed. She's now self-employed as a makeup artist, freelance writer and website builder.
Harris and Jackson constantly tell friends and colleagues back East they need to move here, too. And they aren't recruiting alone.
Jackson and Harris represent a new normal: The job isn't the only reason to be here.
Normal, by the numbers
"If everyone moved here simply for economic opportunity, we should have had tens of thousands of people leave," Aguero said.
Numbers bear that out.