Cautious response to proposed merger of Nevada tourist groups | SierraSun.com

Cautious response to proposed merger of Nevada tourist groups

CATHY BUSSEWITZ
Associated Press Writer

CARSON CITY, Nev. ” Representatives of two Nevada commissions that would merge under a proposal from Gov. Jim Gibbons remained tightlipped Wednesday about the effect of the merger on their job of improving the economy and generating revenue for the state.

The state Commission on Tourism and the Commission on Economic Development both improve the economy through their efforts to draw tourists and companies to Nevada, although representatives said their methods of accomplishing their goals are very different.

Michael Skaggs, director of the Commission on Economic Development, said that outside of administrative support roles there’s not a lot of overlap in job descriptions between the two panels.

The tourism panel’s efforts to draw visitors “are really different than things like the incentives we have put together,” Skaggs said, referring to incentives designed to draw renewable energy companies.

Skaggs added that the incentives are “intended to attract an entire multimillion-dollar business. That’s fairly sophisticated work that we have to do with one company.”

The main savings from the proposed merger would result from elimination of the position of tourism director. Over two years, the Commission on Tourism would save nearly $300,000. But because the commission would incur moving costs, some of those savings would be lost.

“It seems to me not really a great savings if the merger results in the elimination of the executive director of the tourism office,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

The tourism panel faces significant reductions under Gibbons’ proposed budget. Its overall funding would be cut by 60 percent, and the staff would be cut by a third. The commission also would reduce advertising placements by $2 million, and would cut a rural grants program by more than half.

Last year, the Commission on Tourism generated $68 million for the state’s general fund, said Steve Woodbury, acting director. Woodbury added that for every dollar the commission spends on advertising, about $20 is generated in state and local tax revenue.

“I think it’s pretty severe, almost a devastation of any effort to market the rurals,” Raggio said of the tourism budget cuts. “That concerns me. I understand budget constraints, but I wonder if we’re not emasculating what the purpose of the Commission on Tourism is.”

Raggio also said he has heard from many Las Vegas business owners who said business is down ever since President Barack Obama made a statement criticizing companies that planned conventions in Las Vegas.

Woodhouse confirmed that companies are canceling convention plans, paying cancellation fees and going to more expensive locations.

“I think it’s more important that your efforts go forth to tell the potential conventioneers that it’s a lot more cost-effective to go to Las Vegas,” Raggio said. “That’s a strong message that’s got to get out there, and if you don’t have the marketing funds to do that, it can impact our already severely affected economy, particularly in southern Nevada.”

Nevada Magazine, which promotes the state’s history and culture, would reduce its staff to six people under the governor’s proposed budget, and would eliminate freelance photographers and writers.

Janet Geary, the magazine’s publisher, said she didn’t think the reductions would hurt its quality. But Raggio said, “I’m always concerned about the potential for its losing its luster.”

Skaggs also said that the Commission on Economic Development currently has 130 prospects for companies that may open or expand in Nevada, and its mission is to help diversify the state’s casino-dependent economy. The commission attracted 72 companies in the past two fiscal years, which created nearly 2,000 jobs that pay an average wage of more than $20 per hour.

The Commission on Economic Development is set to lose four positions, based on Gibbons’ proposed budget, and must revise its budget because of declining room tax revenues.

“Nearly one-third of all employment in Nevada is related to tourism,” Woodbury said. “Yes, we need to further diversify Nevada’s economy, but we also need to sustain our No. 1 industry.”