Part I: People are dancing in Las Vegas, but there's no music
I spent four days in Las Vegas last week attending Medtrade Spring. The show was great, lots of energy, one of the best in years--the town, not so much. Poor Las Vegas. Something is broken. People are dancing but there's no music. The city has lost its mojo.
Here's some stuff about Vegas' current depression that I picked up from various sources, including the 10 or so cab drivers who shuttled me around
- The unemployment rate is about 13%--second only to Michigan.
- A house that sold for $400,000 four years ago is today lucky to fetch $130,000.
- Despite the drop in home values, there's a home building frenzy going on in Vegas. Most people willing pay $130,000 for a home, it seems, prefer new to used. Something weird and wasteful about that.
- The flagging economy and tumbling home values has created a whole new class of adult escort: desperate housewives trying to pick up some extra cash to pay the mortages on those $400,000 homes that today are worth only $130,000. So said the cabbie who drove me to the airport at 4:45 a.m. Friday morning.
- For $37.50, a person could could eat at seven buffets in a single day. What kind of person would want to do that?
- Restaurants are still expensive, but hotel rooms are dirt cheep. My bill for three nights at the Flamingo: $282. An industry acquaintance told me he stayed at a more upscale establishment for $69 a night. Hotels are dropping their prices dramatically/desperately to entice people to visit Vegas.
Tomorrow, I'll talk more specifically about Medtade Spring, where the mood inside the show was much different from that outside on the street. Even with the ax of national competitive bidding poised over the industry's outstretched neck, the show offered plenty of reasons to feel, if not completely optimistic, at least hopeful.