LONG BEACH BUSINESS JOURNAL: Four Years After Passage, Just Barely Half Of Dodd-Frank Regulations Completed

By CHRIS SIEROTY
Contributing Writer
Six years after America’s financial industry had to be rescued by the federal government, which spent billions of dollars to stabilize the industry, the economy remains at risk of another downturn due to speculation and bailouts.
The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 promised to overhaul the financial sector. But many of the law’s regulations on proprietary trading, derivatives and the financial wellbeing of the nation’s banks have been delayed or watered down by slow moving federal agencies, notably the Securities and
Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
As of July 1, only 208 of the 398 rules required by Dodd-Frank were complete, according to the American Bankers Association. About 45 percent of rule-making deadlines have been missed.
“The number one thing Dodd-Frank did is change the tone,” said Wayne Abernathy, executive vice president for financial institutions policy with the American Bankers Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C. “The positive is [that] it has brought more attention to financial risks that involve how a bank operates.”
Abernathy said Dodd-Frank has had a negative impact on how banks offer new products to their retail customers. He said no bank wants to offer the new products because of new regulations. “In practice, there has been no new innovation in the last four years,” Abernathy said. He admitted that new technology, including remote check deposits or mobile loan applications, has been introduced in recent years. However, that’s a continuation of new technology that has already been in the pipeline.
Abernathy said new compliance rules have added some costs to banks, but the new rules have made the business of opening new consumer accounts a more difficult and lengthy process. He said opening a new account takes long in the post-recession world. Where it used to take 15 minutes, now that process is 30 minutes as the vetting of new customers has really slowed down the acquisition of new accounts. He said the evaluation of new accounts, even for anti-money laundering and credit worthiness, has made it all the more difficult for banks to bring in new customers.
“We are a small business bank,” said Mike Miller, president and CEO of Long Beach-based International City Bank (ICB). “We are just under $150 million in assets with two branches. Dodd-Frank does not affect us like it would a larger institution.”
Miller said the bank has no mortgages or retail customers. International City Bank strictly deals with Small Business Administration, commercial real estate, working capital and financing deals.
Miller said Dodd-Frank has forced the bank to spend more time and resources on additional compliance. But, he said, with more rules not coming into effect until 2015 and beyond, the costs are still reasonable.
“It’s difficult, but we are still able to meet our compliance obligations,” Miller said. “We can absorb the cost and [time] with the staff we have. Next year or the following year, we will have to add another person.”
In other moves related to Dodd-Frank, big banks have either ended traditional free checking accounts or have raised the average monthly balance needed to get free checking. Other changes directly affecting bank customers include increasing monthly fees, raising fees for overdrafts and out-of-network ATM withdrawals. In some cases, banks are also cutting costs by closing branches and reducing available ATMs.
Volcker Rule
The main component of the Dodd-Frank Act is the Volcker Rule, which was expected to go into effect in 2012, but has been delayed until next year. The Volcker Rule, named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, imposed restrictions in response to the 2008 credit crisis.
The rule bans proprietary trading or banks from making risky investments with clients’ money instead of their own. It also limits banks’ investments in hedge funds and private equity.
Some large banks have resumed the risky investments and have suffered losses. For example, a JP Morgan Chase trader known as the “London Whale” lost billions of dollars from trading on credit default swaps. Meanwhile, Citibank just agreed to a $7 billion settlement over its handling of mortgage securities.
The Volcker Rule will cost U.S. national banks as much as $4.3 billion to implement, according to a study by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The study’s regulator said most of the costs come from the rules that curb investments, such as collateralized loan obligations. The federal agency also said affected banks will most likely be those with more than $10 billion in assets.
“A lot of big banks got out of that line of trading pretty early,” Abernathy said. “They did it so they would not be caught in the crush. For the most part, banks were minority partners in these funds, so they didn’t depress the value by leaving.” He said most banks got into trading “to get some income,” and have sold them off for a modest profit.
The Volcker Rule was adopted Dec.10, 2013, by five U.S. financial regulators. Abernathy said that the rule’s biggest problem is the challenge for banks to work with five different agencies. Regulators responsible for implementing the Volcker Rule have formed an interagency group to coordinate the multiagency rule.
“It is going to get worse as time goes by,” Abernathy said. The Volcker Rule is one of the most contentious measures arising from the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.
Banks with assets of $10 billion to $50 billion must follow guidelines from which International City Bank and other small banks in Long Beach are exempt. One requires an annual stress test, which assesses the potential impact of different economic developments on a bank’s losses, revenue, capital and balance sheet.
Abernathy said banks are still learning about the rule and developing pretty rigorous procedures to the new standards.
“Bank supervision is designed to look at future risk,” Abernathy said. “Bank supervision can’t catch problems early enough . . . more supervision needs to be a motion picture and not a snapshot of activity.” Banks also need to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires financial institutions to help the federal government detect suspicious activity.
Once bank holding companies grow beyond $50 billion in assets, they’re subject to even stricter regulations under Dodd-Frank. They must hold more in reserve as a cushion against losses and may have less control over bonuses and dividends.
“Part of the challenge is that we don’t know when the rest of the rules will be written,” ICB’s Miller said. “There are compliance issues on the way we do business today. We just have to figure it out.”
Miller claimed a lot of the larger banks can take on more regulations. He said what is frustrating for a small business bank is that, “We had nothing to do with the mortgage business. We are kind of being thrown into the mix. But, we would all say that things got out of control. If you didn’t qualify for a mortgage, in the old days they told you to come back when you could qualify. We got totally away from that.”
Miller also questioned whether Dodd-Frank needed to be 700 pages. Many people who have followed the legislation agree that if banks like stability when it comes to regulations, they are in for some uncertain times. Congress has been unproductive, they say, on financial regulation since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010.
Yet they also concur that the Obama administration has had more than five years to write the rules, however complex, to enforce Dodd-Frank.
While banks wait for additional regulations, the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Janet Yellen, remains supportive of the Central Bank’s post-crisis agenda. In a prepared speech on July 10 to an economic conference, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said the country was making “significant progress in strengthening the financial system and reducing the probability of future financial crises.”
Fischer, an economist and former Israeli central banker who took the Fed’s No. 2 job in May, threw his support behind the Fed’s stress testing program and new requirements that large institutions hold higher levels of loss absorbing capital.
The ABA’s Abernathy wanted to remind everyone that the process is only halfway through. “We are about to get more rules being written,” Abernathy said. “Banks need to remember that half of the proposed regulations have not been finalized.”
(This story was published in the July 22-August 4, 2014 issue of the Long Beach Business Press)

NEVADA BUSINESS MAGAZINE: Getting Out: The Financial Planning Features of a Business Exit Strategy

If an IPO is used as an exit strategy, it is important for ownership to begin planning for it right from the start and include it in the business plan.Starting a business takes a large amount of planning. But after the business plan is completed, retail or office space is rented and employees are hired, many entrepreneurs have neglected one crucial question: When the time comes, how will they exit their business?

When owners are immersed in the details of building a business, it’s difficult to imagine selling it or giving it up to the next generation. It’s even harder for business owners to imagine a dream business failing, forcing the liquidation of the contents of the business.

Take, for example, a company that develops slot machines or social apps for the gaming industry. To get the business off the ground the founders need capital. In this case they may be looking for venture capitalists or angel investors, who early on in the funding process are going to want to know how they’ll get a return on their investment. In this instance, an exit strategy at the beginning of a business informs investors of their time-frame for a return.

However, most entrepreneurs who imagine owning a company until they retire usually put off creating or updating their exit strategy. Most business owners will pass the business down to someone else in their family, sell it or close it down.

Regardless of the type of business, having a viable exit strategy in place can save business owners trouble and money later on, according to business brokers and certified public accountants (CPA).

“We see a high level of interest by owners who are ready to sell their businesses,” said Bob House, general manager of BizBuySell.com, a San Francisco-based online business for sale marketplace. “But, most who want to sell have to remember their business has to be in a saleable state.”

House defined “saleable state” as a business attractive to potential buyers. That could be as simple as a fresh coat of paint or a complete face lift. Spend the time and money on capital improvements, he said.

Len Krick, a certified business intermediary with Sunbelt Business Brokers in Las Vegas, said owners need to resolve any unresolved claims against the business or pending litigation before listing a business for sale.

“There are four questions that every buyer asks,” Krick said. “[Why] they are selling the business? How much does it make? Is there upside potential or will I lose money? Where did you get that price?”

Krick said if an owner can’t answer those questions, he or she might want to hold onto the business and try to grow it, instead of attempting a sale. He also said most buyers want to see three to five years of proven cash flow before they make an offer.

Leaving Before a Sale

House said some business owners may also choose to extricate themselves as a necessary entity and turn it over to a family member or business partner.

The degree of involvement in the business determines the importance, time required, and difficulty a business owner has in extracting themselves from the business. For example, no one knows, or cares, who owns a McDonalds franchise in Henderson; not the customers and oftentimes, not the employees.

However, Krick said when a sole-practitioner sells a medical practice, patient retention becomes a major issue. The buyer might want the doctor to stay on for a year to ensure that there is a seamless turnover, minimize patient loss and cash flow continuity.
Since the buyers are purchasing the implied value of the future cash flow, anything that makes that more volatile, increases the risk and, therefore decreases the price. Krick said the opposite is also true.

“If the business has a long, steady history and lots of contracts in the pipeline, then the risk is lower and the price is higher,” Krick said.

When a business owner decides to sell a business, House said they should prepare for a two to three year process. Once a business is listed for sale it can take anywhere from six months to five years to get out of it, depending on market conditions.

“In the Great Recession, a lot of people wanted to retire, but their values took a hit leaving them with few options to sell their business,” House said. “We are now seeing a lot more buyers in the marketplace and asset values have increased.”

Chris Abts, president of Cornerstone Retirement Group in Reno, agreed and added that economic conditions may have improved, but valuations of most businesses are not where they were in 2007.

According to BizBuySell.com, the median asking price for businesses for sale in Las Vegas during the first quarter of 2014 was $169,000. Those businesses had median revenues of $314,623 and a median cash flow of $81,143.

Owners asked for, on average, a revenue multiple of 0.76 percent and a cash flow multiple of 2.73 percent. Those numbers are mostly in line with figures reported in the fourth quarter.

The median asking price for a business for sale in Las Vegas in the fourth quarter was $184,999. The median revenue was $316,949 and the median cash flow was $96,200. On average, owners asked for a revenue multiple of 0.77 percent and a cash flow multiple of 2.68 percent.

Krick said 70 percent of all potential buyers in Las Vegas are from somewhere else, many from Southern California. While the remaining 30 percent are local entrepreneurs, he said.

BizBuySell.com noted that a dry cleaning business with slot machines in Clark County sold for its asking price of $199,000 in the fourth-quarter. The business, which was not identified by name, had revenue of $131,000 and cash flow of $78,000.

Details Matter

“Planning is the key,” said Audry Batiste, president of Precise Financial Planning in Las Vegas. “At least 50 percent of businesses have no transition plan until it’s too late.”

One item that is often overlooked when planning an exit strategy is the condition of financial records, do the tax returns match the year-end profit and loss statements. Many buyers use Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and should be ready for a close inspection of the business.

Batiste said it’s important to understand the issues that affect a business including life cycle, geographic and economic cycles as well. He said planning an exit strategy is extremely important especially if an owner of a business is disabled or dies.

A majority of business owners who are disabled or die leave it to others to liquidate their company without proper planning. Many businesses in Nevada were also forced to liquidate assets during the recession. Businesses that are struggling financially to survive may also choose to liquidate their assets. A common example of this during the recession was the multitude of “Going out of Business” sales.

When a business liquidates, it typically marks down the prices of its inventory to sell it quickly. Any proceeds are used to pay off creditors and then any shareholders in that business. Most of the time, creditors and investors receive pennies on the dollar when a business shuts its doors.

Many businesses don’t plan for the day they can liquidate their company; however, it can be a good contingency plan in an emergency or everything must go situation.

Standard Exit Strategies

Exit strategies include buyouts, friendly sales, mergers and acquisitions, shutting down a lifestyle company or initial public offerings.

Typically with a buyout, the sale is executed within the company, meaning there is a planned successor, either a family member or someone in an upper level management position, who will assume responsibility for the company. If a company is co-owned, another option is for one partner to arrange to sell their shares in the business to the other partner.

In most cases of an owner buyout the founder or employees will want to keep their jobs. This scenario assumes a well-performing company is generating positive cash flow and profits, Batiste said.

With an owner buyout an agreement is reached with the investors, stockholders or lien holders establishing the value of the company. The employee group will find a way to finance the amount necessary to buy out the interest of the others, taking control of the company away from an outside bidder.

Meanwhile, a simple acquisition entails selling the company, often to a larger outside business. With an acquisition, there is often plenty of room for negotiation. But, Batiste said the trick is making sure the company is a good fit with your business.

House urges owners to think about which acquirer can help their company get into different markets, or how their product or service could bring something new to existing customers. Companies are willing to pay more if they know there is a real and lasting value in the acquisition for them.

“What your company is appraised for is within your control,” House said. “Think about what you can do to increase the value of your business. They are buying a business for its cash flow, so you want to show that cash flow growth.”

House said some business owners, whether they run a small or large company, make the mistake of running their business with the notion that a certain company will immediately want to acquire it. Just like everything else in business, he said never make assumptions about potential buyers.

It’s best if a business owner keeps their options open and run their company without any expectations of who the perfect buyer would be.

If a business is not attractive to a larger company, many entrepreneurs come to a point when merging with a similar company can maximize revenue for both owners. Merging allows a business to increase market share and the value of a company for investors or shareholders.

It can also open up an opportunity for a business to enter a new market and develop new products while lowering operating costs.
Batiste said a merger can be a stepping-stone to an exit, as owners slowly transition the management of the company. In some cases, merging can also allow an owner to retire and take on an advisory role, permitting them to remove themselves from the business over time.

He added that a merger can also give an owner time to ensure that their business and its employees are properly cared for and not laid off with a change in management.

Abts noted that there is another type of business to consider, he called it the lifestyle company. He described a lifestyle company as one where it is the intent of the owner to make as much money as possible for themselves without planning for future expansion.

With these businesses, all profits go directly into their pocket instead of being put back into the business to help it grow, and expenses are kept to a minimum, Abts said.

These businesses tend to be small and private, and the owner dissolves the business when it is no longer profitable or they want to move on to a new business venture. An example of a lifestyle company is a business consulting firm.

An IPO as an Out

One exit strategy that has received a lot of attention over the years is the initial public offering, or IPO. If an IPO is used as an exit strategy, it is important for ownership to begin planning for it right from the start and include it in the business plan.

Taking a company public can be expensive; it can also be hugely profitable.

“We don’t see too many IPOs in Northern Nevada,” Abts said. “It’s not the culture here. In the past, we’ve been driven by two industries, gambling and construction.”

Business brokers caution that out of the millions of businesses in the U.S., only about 7,000 of them are public, and most of those were not started by entrepreneurs, but spun out from existing corporations.

“Somewhere as you’re building your business, there needs to be a succession plan or exit strategy,” Abts said. “It needs to be done sooner rather than later. Too many times, business owners looking to retire and sell their business can’t tell me what their exit strategy is.”

Abts said what tends to happen is a sale is put off for six months to two years while the business is organized and prepared to be sold. A crucial delay to make the business saleable that could affect the sale price of the business.

Abts and Krick agree that all businesses are different, but 2014 is probably the best time since 2007 to consider selling a business in Nevada.

Cosmopolitan tries new effort to set itself apart

 

By CHRIS SIEROTY

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
January 13, 2014 – 7:51pm

Over the past three years, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has emerged as the luxury Strip resort known for its sexy and edgy advertising, a corporate philosophy that has set the property apart in a crowded gaming landscape.

Today, the $3.9 billion casino-hotel continues to move beyond the normal associated with casino advertising, introducing carve-out ads in Esquire and Vanity Fair as well as offering mints and coupons on United flights and running ads in movie theaters.

That industry normal includes ads in luxury magazines and newspapers, billboards, TV commercials and ads running continuously on small TV screens in local taxicabs.

“The Cosmopolitan does a terrific job,” said Jim Signorelli, CEO of ESW Partners in Chicago. “Most casino advertising is centered around ‘come and play and win.’ They are selling an attitude that goes beyond what the typical casino promotes.”

Signorelli said The Cosmopolitan is concerned about reaching an audience that might not be interested in visiting a casino. He compared its commercials to those produced by Nike or Apple.

“They were the first to do it,” Signorelli said. “They put the first flag in, and it’s very hard for others to copy. Instead of selling the church, they are selling the religion.”

That approach to advertising is overseen by Lisa Marchese, who helped set The Cosmopolitan apart with its provocative media campaign launched alongside the hotel’s opening in 2010 with the theme “Just the Right Amount of Wrong.”

The Cosmopolitan also wrapped taxis in Las Vegas with advertisements.

“We’ve always tried to find unique ways to connect with customers,” said Marchese, The Cosmopolitan’s chief marketing officer.

Marchese’s challenge now is to find ways to continue the property’s string of successful campaigns.

The “Just the Right Amount of Wrong” campaign released two months before opening day celebrated all sorts of misbehavior happening within the property.

That campaign was followed in 2012 by a spot featuring a man flirting with a blonde at the poolside bar with lyrics to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the only dialogue.

Now, The Cosmopolitan has taken to the friendly skies as it expands its reach by offering passengers a gift box with seven cards with tips about Las Vegas and special offers along with sugar-free mints.

The gift boxes are being offered on United Airlines flights to McCarran International Airport from its 10 hubs, including Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Marchese acknowledged that there were a “fair amount of operational challenges” in the beginning.

With 2 million passengers visiting Las Vegas annually on United flights, she said, the passengers were “a captive audience” for The Cosmopolitan.

She said the campaign also taps into their excitement about visiting Las Vegas.

“It’s been a fantastic way to reach visitors,” Marchese said. “Even if they aren’t staying at The Cosmopolitan, we’re hopeful we will get them interested in visiting our property.”

Marchese said advertising is about connecting with customers.

“We get to engage them for three or four minutes on a flight in a more gracious way than our competition,” she said. “It’s about making sure they have a fantastic experience in Las Vegas.”

One gift box given out on a flight from Chicago included a 2-for-1 deal at The Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon buffet, $25 in free slot play, a free cocktail at chef Jose Andres’ China Poblano or Jaleo restaurants and a coupon for three nights for the price of two.

The offers will be changed every three months, Marchese said.

She said the property also bought ads in Esquire and Vanity Fair magazines to market Rose. Rabbit. Lie. , a new social club that opened on New Year’s Eve.

The seven-page ad has black-and-white photos of party scenes and celebrities from the 1940s. In the middle is a booklet titled “The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas presents”

The booklet features messages, including “We desire a place to gather” and “Experiment with the night.”

“We thought the social club harkened back to the days of the speakeasy,” Marchese said. “So we used that as a launching point. We knew it was a super impactful way to get our message out. It’s a compelling insert in compelling magazines.”

The Cosmopolitan is also buying 60-second ads in movie theaters in Dallas, Chicago New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Those mini-movies market Rose. Rabbit. Lie.

It’s an expensive media strategy. Marchese declined to disclose the advertising budget, beyond saying that media buys “come at a premium.”

“They are unique but more impactful,” she said. “We are going to look for more opportunities like our United campaign. We are doing our best to separate ourselves from the competition.”

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @sierotyfeatures on Twitter.

NEVADA BUSINESS MAGAZINE: A Future of Change: Economic Development

By Chris Sieroty
At the top of the economic development wish list is unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, presenting one of the biggest opportunities for Nevada.Nevada, because of its narrow focus on three industries, was devastated by the recession and eventually led the nation in foreclosures and unemployment. As both the director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and a resident of Nevada, Steve Hill believes there is a rising wave of economic development diversifying an outdated and vulnerable economy built on construction, gaming and mining.
However, Hill believes the state’s current development efforts will produce stronger economic diversity and growth in the future, protecting Nevada from the vicious effects of the next recession.
“It took a while to identify the opportunities and design the plans to make them a reality,” Hill said. “We are seeing progress.”
Hill said Brookings Mountain West’s “Unify, Regionalize, Diversify” plan for diversifying the state’s economy was an important starting point for GOED, but the state used the report to develop its own economic plan.GOED is focusing on aerospace and defense, manufacturing, logistics and operations, agriculture, information technology, energy, healthcare, mining and tourism and gaming.

Nevada’s Future in Flight

At the top of the economic development wish list is unmanned aerial vehicles. Hill said unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, present one of the biggest opportunities for Nevada.

In December, Nevada was chosen as one of six states to host test sites as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into the national airspace.

Nevada was selected as one of the test sites partly because it has been home to military drone operations for almost two decades. Drone aircraft operate from Creech Air Force Base north of Las Vegas. Pilots and system operators live in Southern Nevada.

“Nevada has been home to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for decades,” said Governor Brian Sandoval. “Our climate, terrain and abundance of air space create a perfect environment for the emerging drone industry.”

Sandoval said by working with private industry, the university system, community colleges and local school districts, “we have been building Nevada’s unmanned aerial systems civilian workforce for the future.” He believes those efforts led to attracting the state’s first drone company and discussions with other companies.

Other sites the state has found suitable for drone testing are Nellis Air Force Base in North Las Vegas, the Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada National Security site/Desert Rock Airport and the Reno-Stead Airport.

“It is something the state has put a lot of focus on,” Hill said. “We certainly are talking to a large number of companies in the industry that are interested in Nevada. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to work through the process and that’s really the key.”

Hill said once the FAA has approved its drone rules and testing gets started “you’ll start to see more companies coming to the state.” The FAA is expected to approve its rules by September 2015, according to GOED.

Nevada expects drones to become a huge economic development opportunity. Nationwide, drones are expected to become an $11 billion-a-year industry with 70,000 jobs.

Within a decade, GOED officials expect 15,000 people in Nevada to be involved in the drone industry. That’s the size of the Silver State’s mining industry.

UAS operators make an average of $80,000 a year and the average salary of a pilot is about $110,000. Hill said the state has set aside $1 million in its budget plus $4 million in contingency funds to establish the non-profit Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Management Office when it was lobbying to become a test site.

GOED officials are also looking to the state’s two major universities to train a drone workforce.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) have both developed educational programs to produce skilled workers for the industry.

By spring 2015, UNLV’s School of Engineering will offer a minor in unmanned aerial systems. The program includes three core courses, including design and application, vehicle simulation and testing and a law course to address privacy issues.

In addition to core courses, students will take four courses within their specialization track; systems-design, control systems, communications or human-computer interaction.

In Reno, university officials say 25 students enrolled in January in the college’s drone minor. The program focuses on aerodynamics, control systems and autonomous mobile robots. UNR’s decision to offer an unmanned aerial systems minor is part of economic development officials’ pitch to potential companies.

Northern Nevada

“We are not waiting to promote the region,” said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN). “We are selling our region as a potential growth area for companies.”

Kazmierski said EDAWN executives have been to two or three conferences to promote the region. He said those visits have resulted in eight to nine companies seriously considering Northern Nevada to base some, or all, of its drone operations.

Kazmierski said EDAWN’s economic development efforts go beyond drones. He cited the arrival of Apple Inc.’s data center in Reno as a deal that “gives our region some credibility.”

Kazmierski said the Apple deal opened the door to be considered a location for Tesla Motors giant, $5 billion battery plant. The “gigafactory” would put 6,500 people to work in a 10 million-square-foot facility, Tesla said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Construction should start later this year. Tesla expects the plant to open in 2017 and reach full production capacity by 2020. The company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., wouldn’t specify what locations are up for consideration.

“We are pretty happy about the possibility of Tesla choosing Northern Nevada and we are hoping for an announcement soon,” Kazmierski said. He declined further comment.

But at 500 to 1,000 acres, Tesla is looking for a large piece of property. Options for Tesla include the 107,000-acre Tahoe Reno Industrial Park in Storey County, about nine miles east of Reno. The facility is already home to distribution centers for Wal-Mart, eBay and Toys R Us.

“Only 8 percent of our economy here is tied to gaming,” Kazmierski said. “We are known for logistics, distribution and manufacturing. That’s our strength here.”

Kazmierski said officials are also in discussions with companies in Northern California about moving backroom operations to Reno. He said they’ve been marketing the region to Silicon Valley firms and pitching them the corporate tax benefits by moving to Nevada.

“We tell them they are next to California, but not in California,” Kazmierski said. “We are offering them what they have there but at half the (price).”

He said EDAWN’s efforts brought 3,400 jobs to the region last year. EDAWN is on track to bring more than 3,100 jobs to Northern Nevada this year, according to the agency.

The story is the same for the Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA). The economic development agency, whose area includes Carson City as well as Churchill, Douglas, Storey and Lyon counties, has a number of projects in the works.

“We have a number of defined projects, but they are not turning dirt over yet,” said Maurice Washington, deputy director of the NNDA. “There is the Western Nevada Rail project, a trans-loading center for recycling tires. Once it’s full-blown we expect 1,000 jobs to be created.”

Washington said the biggest development project is the Capital Mall project, an eight city block development near the state Capitol and Legislative building that includes office space, retail, a Marriott hotel and convention center.

The $100 million development will include 180,000 square feet of Class A office space and a 60,000-square-foot conference center. Washington said the NNDA is also looking to support development of commercial buildings, whether they are built on spec or built-to-suit projects.

“We have the dirt to offer,” Washington said. “We are engaging speculative builders because we have exhausted our inventory of commercial buildings.”

Washington also said the region’s economy was based on mining, manufacturing, agriculture and some railroad logistics. The NNDA is looking to diversify even further by attracting telecommunications and fiber optics companies to the region.

He added that the Brookings Mountain West report was helpful in determining the agency’s direction.

“It wasn’t anything we didn’t know, but it confirmed what we needed to do,” Washington said.

Henderson Development

A nine hour drive from Carson City you’ll find Barbra Coffee in a modest office in Henderson developing plans for the city’s economic development and diversification efforts. Her goal is simply to use the city’s “well-educated workforce and quality of life” to attract companies to the state’s second-largest city.

“You always want to have a healthy workforce and enough jobs,” said Coffee, manager of economic development and redevelopment for the city of Henderson. “We want to grow our economy to be less of a bedroom community that is reliant on other areas.”

To diversify Henderson’s economy, Coffee is about creating clusters of industries. Those industries include financial service, manufacturing, healthcare and bio-technology, high-tech, aerospace and defense and warehouse and logistics.

To build upon FedEx’s arrival, Henderson is auctioning off 358 industrial acres near Interstate 15.

“We are targeting industrial development,” Coffee said. “It’s a great employment opportunity. We have some assets that position us to be attractive to big-box retailers. We haven’t always had the space, but the 358 acres gives us some additional options.”

She said the area’s existing industrial space is filling up. But in the 100,000-square-foot industrial market, Henderson doesn’t have existing build-to-suit opportunities.

“It’s about building a strong and diverse economy,” Coffee said. “We will have some logistics and transportation, but there will be a balance.”

Coffee explained healthcare and bio-technology is a good fit for Henderson. She expects to attract companies that can work in partnership with Touro University and Roseman University of Health Sciences.

Coffee said her development efforts also include downtown Henderson. The city is working to attract commercial businesses to downtown as well as mixed-use developments in order to achieve a work-live environment.

Tax Woes

Despite their best efforts at promoting Nevada as a place to do business, economic development officials are unanimous in their belief that “The Education Initiative,” also known as the business margins tax would complicate their efforts.

“Part of our efforts have been focused on making Nevada the most business friendly state in the nation,” Sandoval said. “When it comes to bringing new companies and jobs to Nevada, we must maintain a positive business environment and pursue every opportunity to attract those businesses to our state.”

The business margins tax is on the November 4th ballot. The initiative proposes a 2 percent revenue tax on businesses generating more than $1 million a year.

“It’s not good to increase taxes on business,” said Coffee. “Our goal is to keep a low tax environment. Any tax that is in addition to our current taxes is going to make it more difficult to attract or maintain businesses.”

Coffee said it’s something Henderson economic development officials “are sensitive about.”

Those supporting the measure, lobbied for by the Nevada State Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, say the tax is needed after years of inaction in the Legislature over boosting education funding for the state’s K-12 system.

Opponents question where the tax’s proceeds will end up. The Education Initiative, if approved by voters, is expected to generate $650 million to $750 million annually.

They also believe that the added tax burden on business will slowdown economic growth as well as send businesses elsewhere as Nevada continues its post-recession recovery.

“It’s not helpful at all,” Hill said. “Anytime you add a tax it is not going to be helpful. The counter side of that is everybody wants to improve the results of K-12. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive.”

If approved by voters, the margins tax would be effective in January.

“No question, it will have a negative impact on our efforts to attract businesses here,” said Tom Skancke, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance.

Washington said the NNDA’s biggest concern is the margins tax will stifle the progress the economy has made. Many business owners have a wait and see attitude about the proposed tax.

Economic development in the Silver State is in a time of transition. Diversifying Nevada’s economy, improving education and boosting tourism are on the minds of business-owners throughout the state. The next few years will likely hold some interesting times for Nevada.

Federal solution to online gaming debate preferred – iGaming North America

By Chris Sieroty
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Posted: Feb. 22, 2013 | 2:29 a.m.

For legislator Bobby Moak, getting his bill to legalize online gaming through Mississippi’s Legislature and signed by its governor is only part of the difficulty.

Moak, a Democrat and House minority leader, introduced the legislation for the second consecutive year, and a hearing on the new bill likely will take place in a committee that rejected it last year.

But Moak told gaming executives and regulators Thursday that he’d prefer a federal solution. He spoke at a panel discussion on issues facing state legislatures at the 2013 iGaming North America Conference at Planet Hollywood Resort.

He warned that without a federal bill legalizing online gaming, it would create “a patchwork quilt of laws” in each state.

Moak said his bill has the support of the state’s land-based casinos, and he’s hopeful it will attract bipartisan support. But any gaming bills face opposition, he said, from religious groups and those focused on morality.

Still, he added, “You have to have those conversations. We can get through those issues.”

Mississippi is home to 30 land-based or riverboat casinos and three tribal casinos, according to the American Gaming Association.

Besides Moak, lawmakers in California, Hawaii, Illinois and Iowa have introduced online gaming bills this year. And Jonathan Griffin, policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, expects more to be introduced.

Griffin said efforts by Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware to legalize complete online casino gambling are motivating other states to consider similar measures. New Jersey’s updated bill should be unveiled by the end of the month, he said.

Meanwhile, Delaware expects to launch online gambling by Sept. 30, and lawmakers in Nevada are expected to remove the final restrictions preventing online gambling’s full arrival in 30 days.

Iowa Democratic state Sen. Jeff Danielson said his state needs to be aware of trends that could affect its gaming industry. He called it “an economic issue as much as a gaming issue.”

The two-day conference hosted a series of panel discussions on topics such as online marketing, customer service and responsible gaming, expanded sports wagering and Internet lotteries.

Danielson doesn’t expect a divided Congress to take up online gaming.

Caesars Interactive Entertainment CEO Mitch Garber said Thursday during a panel discussion on online gaming’s future that he expects federal legislation in five years.

Joel Leonoff, president and CEO of Optical Payments, said the growth of online gaming on a state level will create a need for a federal bill.

A lot of eyes are on Nevada and New Jersey, he said, to see if they’ll be successful.

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal .com or 702-477-3893. Follow @sierotyfeatures on Twitter.

AGA’s CEO Frank Fahrenkopf expects federal poker bill to be revived

By Chris Sieroty
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Posted: Feb. 20, 2013 | 2:54 p.m.

Frank Fahrenkopf, who will step down in June after 18 years as president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, said Wednesday he believes a comprehensive federal bill legalizing online poker will be brought back to Capitol Hill this year.

Fahrenkopf expects Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, to reintroduce an Internet poker-only bill in the House. Barton has tried before but failed to garner enough support in the House to pass an online poker bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and former Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., were working on a bill last year, but it never materialized, much to the disappointment of Fahrenkopf and other gaming industry leaders.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a new bill was introduced in this session,” Fahrenkopf told gaming regulators and executives during a question-and-answer session at the 2013 iGaming North America Conference at Planet Hollywood Resorts.

He said the association was “still hopeful something will get done,” but with Kyl’s retirement they are working to “find a conservative Republican from a nongaming state” to support a federal bill legalizing online poker.

When asked by Sue Schneider, founder of eGamingBrokerage.com, why the U.S. has lagged in online gaming, Fahrenkopf responded, “Puritanism.”

He said some far-right Republicans, who normally want government out of peoples’ lives, opposes any gaming for religious reasons. He said some on the far left believe people aren’t smart enough to make decisions for themselves and need government to be involved.

“It’s a strange marriage between left and right,” Fahrenkopf said.

Fahrenkopf, 73, has led the Washington-based gaming industry lobbying group since it was formed in 1995. His resignation takes effect June 30.

Despite efforts by Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey to legalize online gaming, Fahrenkopf believes a federal bill would be the best option for casinos, operators and technology companies.

He said online gaming companies had to establish consumer protections to protect the integrity of the game, implement to prevent underage gambling, and implement programs to help the 1 percent of the population that can’t gamble responsibly.

Fahrenkopf, a Reno native and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, warned that state compacts brokered to create liquidity for online states – that is, add enough players to make the venture profitable – would force Congress to block the partnerships.

“When you are talking about wagering, I wouldn’t be surprised if Congress holds hearings,” Fahrenkopf said.

He said federal approval for state deals in other industries has not been needed in recent years. But those deals didn’t involve real-money online gaming, he said.

In taped remarks to iGaming North America attendees, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval noted that Nevada was first state to implement online poker regulations.

Sandoval said his administration would continue to push for interstate online gaming compacts. He said he expected lawmakers to pass a bill in 30 days that removes the final restrictions preventing online gambling’s full arrival.

“It’s important to pass this legislation,” the governor said.

New Jersey and Delaware are proceeding with efforts to legalize online gaming.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday he would sign an Internet gaming bill if lawmakers make the changes he wants to the legislation. Christie wants a 10-year trial period on Internet gambling and higher taxes on the casinos’ online winnings.

In Delaware, Lottery officials issued requests for proposals seeking bids from vendors to operate the state’s centralized online gaming system with the strict stipulation that it would be up and running by Sept. 30.

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @sierotyfeatures on Twitter.

Kazuo Okada resigns from Wynn Resorts board of directors

By Chris Sieroty
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Posted: Feb. 21, 2013 | 1:25 p.m.

Kazuo Okada, co-founder and one-time largest shareholder in Wynn Resorts Ltd., resigned Thursday from the gaming company’s board of directors, just one day before a shareholder vote likely would have removed him.

“I no longer believe it is appropriate for me to serve on the board of directors of a company that is behaving in a manner that I deeply believe to be unethical, and that has refused my reasonable requests to promptly investigate what appears to me to be misconduct by Steve Wynn, and thus is under the dictatorship of Mr. Wynn and fails to fulfill its original function,” Okada said in a six-page letter announcing his resignation to shareholders and media.

Okada, chairman of Tokyo-based Universal Entertainment Corp., said he will still fight Wynn Resorts’ in­voluntary redemption of his nearly 20 percent ownership. The Las Vegas-based company seized Okada’s shares at a 30 percent discount last year, giving the Japanese billionaire a 10-year promissory note valued at $1.9 billion.

Okada said his resignation from the board “will not impede me from protecting my good name and reputation as Universal and Aruze USA forcefully prosecute the claims made against Wynn Resorts in Nevada State Court.”

Okada and Aruze USA, a subsidiary of Universal Entertainment, invested $260 million in November 2000 for a 50 percent stake in Valvino Lamore LLC, the predecessor to Wynn Resorts.

The fight between the former business partners began when Okada questioned a $135 million donation Wynn Resorts made to the University of Macau Development Foundation.

That was followed by an internal investigation by Wynn Resorts and allegations that Okada’s company, Universal, had violated U.S. anti-corruption laws through payments it had made to gaming regulators in the Philippines.

Wynn Resorts shares fell $1.03, or 0.88 percent, to $115.53 Thursday on the Nasdaq Global Select Market.

A Wynn Resorts’ statement Thursday said preliminary results received so far show that 99.7 percent of early share­holder votes favored Okada’s removal.

The company will hold its special shareholder meeting as planned today , according to the statement.

“We greatly appreciate the overwhelming support from our stock­holders for this important action to protect the company’s business and the interests of stockholders,” said Wynn, the 71-year-old company CEO and chairman, in the statement.

He said the preliminary vote count “clearly illustrates that our stock­holders understand that removing an unsuitable person from the board is vital to the continuing success of the company.”

Okada, 70, failed last week to have a federal judge in Las Vegas halt today’s special shareholder meeting. Wynn Resort shareholders will also vote today on a proposal to reduce the company’s board from 12 to eight directors, including six independent directors.

In 2011, Okada was removed as a director of Wynn Macau Ltd., a subsidiary of Wynn Resorts, which operates Wynn Las Vegas and Encore on the Strip, and Wynn Macau. The company recently began building a $3.5 billion property in Cotai.

Wynn and his ex-wife Elaine control more than 18 percent of the company after Okada’s shares were redeemed.

Okada said in his letter that he will continue to focus his efforts on managing Universal.

And he reminded Wynn that he supported him “during some of his darkest days” and helped get the company off the ground, and also that he invested another $120 million as it entered Macau:

“When Mr. Wynn needed my money, I was more than good enough for him and the company.”

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal .com or 702-477-3893. Follow @sierotyfeatures on Twitter.

 
 

Nevada business owners take a class in exporting

By Chris Sieroty
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Posted: Feb. 15, 2013 | 2:48 p.m.

International exports might not be at the top of the list for businesses in Southern Nevada, but a Las Vegas-based marketing expert would argue that without thinking globally, businesses are limiting their potential growth and profitability by focusing locally.

“The world loves American brands and you want your far share,” Jay Dash, CEO of Jay Dash International, told company executives and government officials at an ExporTech seminar at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Dash said he would recommend to any company to export their goods and services. He recommended local companies focus their efforts on the so-called BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China.

“All of them like American goods, want to live like Americans, and are four countries that have a growing middle class,” Dash said.

China is building 12 cities with 1 million residents in each, he said.

“Those are your future clients,” Dash said. The five companies participating in the three-month program are Phoenix Industries, Tate Snyder Kimsey, Brock Racing Enterprises, Sable Systems and Pictograpichs.

Companies that participate in ExporTech attend three daylong seminars through April. In between, each company works on developing their export plan with the support of a coach, project manager from Nevada Industry Excellence, and a UNLV intern.

The second session on March 13 focuses on finances, export controls, legal issues, intellectual property and finding representatives or distributor partners. On April 17, a panel of experts on exports will analyze each of the company’s plans before they begin to implement their export strategies.

“Nevada is recognized for this program and the collaboration that occurs here,” said Terry Culp, deputy director of Nevada Industry Excellence. “Companies that graduate from our program begin exporting within six months.”

Participants spent most the first session Wednesday designing an export strategy and trying to define the obstacles and risks of exporting their products. The seminar also included group and individual discussion on market research, targeting market selection, and manufacturing and growth challenges.

Culp said between sessions the five companies will develop an export plan and strategies to go the market.

Nevada’s exports in 2012 totaled $10.2 billion, while 2,504 companies exported their goods or services, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The Silver State’s largest market is Switzerland with exports topping $3.7 billion, followed by India ($1.8 billion), Canada ($1.4 billion), China ($561 million), and Mexico ($330 million).

“We are at the very beginning of getting out to the world,” said Frederico Bastos, sales director with Phoenix Industries. “We don’t want to mess it up.”

Based in North Las Vegas, Phoenix Industries designs, manufacturers and installs recycling facilities, including recycling tires into asphalt and other products. Bastos said the firm exported a few products late last year to Brazil, Russia and Great Britain.

“They were one-offs,” he said. “We are here because we need to get a plan together and too learn what exists out there for us.”

At Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects taking part in ExporTech is about growing their business overseas. Among its business overseas, the company designed the Bay Technology High-Rise Towers in Shenzhen, China.

“We are here because we are still in the infancy stage of doing global work,” said J. Windom Kimsey, president of the Henderson-based firm. “We are not a very large company. This will help us understand how to get our message out.”

Kimsey said in five years he wants to double his firm’s business overseas to 40 percent.

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @sierotyfeatures on Twitter.

Downtown Grand marks latest step in its redevelopment

By Chris Sieroty
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Posted: Feb. 12, 2013 | 4:38 p.m.
Updated: Feb. 13, 2013 | 10:13 a.m.

Zachary Conine stood among employees, reporters and curious onlookers Tuesday wearing a blue pinstripe suit and bow tie as he cheered the latest step in the two-year redevelopment of the Downtown Grand, formerly the Lady Luck.

The project, which is well under construction with an opening date later this year, displayed two of its new hotel rooms, and an upcoming advertising campaign called “Make Your Move,” which features a 95-foot by 44-foot outdoor sign featuring the King of Downtown.

Conine said a companion Queen of Downtown sign will be up later this week.

“It’s a deliberate act,” said Conine, the Downtown Grand’s chief operating officer and chief business development officer with Fifth Street Gaming. “There are more parts of the ad campaign to come.”

Fifth Street Gaming is overseeing the project, which is the centerpiece of Downtown3rd, a walkable district featuring restaurants and shops between Stewart and Ogden avenues. CIM Group is investing more than $100 million in the project.

The 743-room Lady Luck closed in February 2006 and the building has been vacant ever since. CIM acquired the property in 2007.

Conine said all that remains of the old Lady Luck are walls, ceilings and structural steel. The hotel-casino taking its place will have 650 rooms, 600 slot machines, 30 table games and a 35,000-square-foot rooftop pool area.

And the property will offer gaming al fresco.

“It’s a private street so we can do gaming in the middle of Third Street,” Conine said. “We will be doing gaming outside.”

The Downtown Grand will employ 750 people, he said.

Conine said the hotel will offer about 102 King Casino Block rooms, designed with wool chocolate-cherry carpet, custom red paint, striated sheets and full blackout draperies, as well as solid maple furniture and custom-made lounge chairs. Rooms feature a 46-inch high-definition television sets and extra outlets to charge smartphones and tablet computers.

The standard room features greens, blues, golds and maplewood elements. The model standard room on display had custom green paint, two queen beds, a wall-to-wall art mural, and custom maple-veneer armoire.

The room also offers an overstuffed winged lounge chair finished with Citron velvet fabric, as well as a 40-inch HDTV.

The Downtown Grand will also have about a dozen penthouse suites.

“We think these are some of the finest rooms in downtown Las Vegas,” Conine said. “Our rooms will be priced at about $69.”

The hotel will include a sports book and deli; a diner and bistro called Stewart & Ogden; The Commissary – a food court that converts into a club three nights a week – and a yet-to-be-named “coffee and desert” space.

“We have no intention of being Strip light,” Conine said. “Our intention is to be the Downtown Grand.”

The Downtown Grand’s Asian restaurant is still being developed. He said the hotel-casino will market itself to the Asian communities in Las Vegas and California’s Inland Empire, which is something relatively new for a downtown gaming property.

Conine said through a partnership with Las Vegas-based Viva Tours, the Downtown Grand is “actively selling the brand in Asia.”

Mob Bar will move from its location on Third Street to the bottom floor of the hotel’s east tower, across the street from the Mob Museum. He said Triple George Grill will occupy the space until it’s leased to a new restaurant.

 

G2E 2012: Sports-wagering execs watching outcome of N.J. legal battle

By Chris Sieroty
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Posted: Oct. 2, 2012 | 4:47 p.m.

Sports betting will probably never be regulated federally anytime soon.

But industry executives believe that a positive outcome of New Jersey’s court battle to legalize wagering on sports in the Garden State could set the stage for other states to legalize the industry.

“New Jersey’s challenge to (the federal ban) is the best place to start,” said Jeff Burge, chief financial officer with Cantor Gaming. “I expect it will be around in the courts for a while.”

Only four states allow sports betting, and Nevada is the only state where bettors can wager on individual sporting events, from soccer to basketball and football.

In 1992, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which banned sports betting in all states except for those that allowed it in some form. The federal law gave New Jersey an extra year to legalize sports wagering, a deadline it failed to meet.

The other states that have legalized sports wagering are Oregon, Montana and Delaware.

Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill U.S., said New Jersey was “a big focus for our industry in the US.”

“No one knows how this will play out,” said Asher. “Outside of the courts, it’s not realistic that Congress will move in the short-term … too much going one.”

New Jersey voted 2-to-1 on a referendum to allow sports betting. Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., signed the bill this year, allowing sports wagering at casinos and horse racing tracks.

Bookmakers in Las Vegas have praised Christie for tackling the issue but are worried about federal government interference. Asher said he had no doubts that one day sports betting would be “widespread and legal in the United States.”

Art Manteris, vice president race and sports book operations at Station Casinos LLC; Nicky Senyard, CEO of Income Access; and Anthony Coles, senior partner with the law firm of Jeffrey Green Russell; joined Asher and Burge on Tuesday for a panel discussion on sports betting at Global Gaming Expo 2012 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

Asher said a court date is scheduled for this month. The National Football League, National Basketball League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the state’s efforts to allow gambling on their games.

Senyard said there is already a “very big illegal market,” which could be significantly reduced with the legalization of sports wagering.

“We’ve seen this as a driver of a lot of growth,” especially in Europe,” Senyard said. That growth has been seen in an increase in jobs, charitable donations and taxes.

She said legalized sports betting in New Jersey would lead to other states legalizing the industry. Senyard said it wasn’t about “creating a new market,” instead it was legalizing an illegal market that already exists.

But will New Jersey be successful in overturning the federal ban?

“It’s a very tough call,” Manteris said. “I look at it as a bookmaker. I would love to set the odds. Right now I would make the NFL and (Justice Department) a very slight favorite.”

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow@sierotyfeatures on Twitter.