Overlooking the city skyline from a multimillion-dollar mansion in Summerlin’s wealthy Summit Club, a group of millionaires and tech billionaires — mostly from California — were being thrown into the idea of moving to Las Vegas.
The one-day summit, sponsored by the city of Las Vegas, Clark County, and Howard Hughes Corp., brought together the heavyweights and attendees included billionaire Andrew Cherng, co-founder of Panda Express, social activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the president of the Las Vegas Raiders. Sandra Douglass Morgan.
Cherng, who moved to Las Vegas from Southern California in 2014, said selling Las Vegas to California tech entrepreneurs and founders isn’t difficult if you look at it from a financial standpoint.
“I didn’t like the idea of people voting for higher taxes in California,” he explains. “It’s a very important idea for me, and I didn’t like it. And that’s why I decided to move.”
Las Vegas is the top destination for homebuyers from Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to online real estate agency Redfin, and about five thousand Los Angeles residents moved to Las Vegas in August alone. Currently, Las Vegas adds about 115 people a day to its population.
The much-publicized exodus from California began during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been fueled in part by the rise of remote work. The state has three consecutive years of population decline, and long-term estimates predict that the population of America’s most populous state will remain stagnant until 2060. Several factors contribute to the exodus, including high tax rates (California has the highest personal income tax in the country and Nevada does not). An increase in violent and property crime has also been reported.
Many Californians who have moved to Las Vegas, including Cherng, point to the state’s political bias as the main complaint, in which politicians have been voted in under the idea of higher tax rates that offer more government programs and social services; however, California has the highest poverty rate and the state’s opioid death rate has continued to rise since COVID.
This is part of the concern many Las Vegas natives have expressed: that Californians will import the very ideals they flee from in the first place. But Teddy Liaw, summit organizer and founder of NexRep, which moved from the Bay Area to Las Vegas nearly three years ago, said Nevadans are fully aware that they don’t want to transplant California’s ideals and ideology.
“I think people who leave California do so for specific reasons,” he said. “None of us are here to recreate what we left behind, we leave it for a reason.”
Nan Wang, co-founder, and CEO of Sleeper, an online sports fantasy app and website, moved from San Diego to Las Vegas two and a half years ago and said he has no regrets about his decision at all and that making the switch to become a Nevadan hasn’t had any problems.
“I love it, the airport is very convenient to go anywhere in the United States, Chinatown is incredible and there is a community of entrepreneurs and people who pull the strings. So I felt like I was dropping by here and not missing anything in terms of having friends and people here who are building and aspiring to bring economic prosperity to Las Vegas.”
David Chao, co-founder and general partner of DCM, a multibillion-dollar venture capital firm, which moved from the Bay Area to Las Vegas in 2021, said he has found his political network has expanded dramatically, and said he now counts several Republicans as friends and fellow golfers.
“I don’t think one’s political views will change, I’ll probably remain a liberal,” he said. “But if you don’t understand the other party, you’re always going to have that abyss. And if you look at the United States today, if you don’t understand the other side, you’re just going to get further apart, and I don’t think that’s good for the country.”
The government rolls out the red carpet
California’s loss is Nevada’s gain if you ask local officials. Several high-level representatives were part of last week’s Technology Summit — the second iteration, which had more than 100 attendees — including Nevada State Treasurer Zachary Conine, Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, and Ryan Smith, director of Economic and Urban Development for the City of Las Vegas. Smith said the message from the Las Vegas city government is that officials should focus on helping industries create jobs and economic growth, not focus on imposing and controlling the population.
“I think there’s a tipping point that occurs in certain cities and areas over time, where the perception is that the government needs the people and that we represent the people, and we need enterprise and business development, versus they need the government,” said. “So I think when the tide starts to turn when the private sector and industries feel like they’re at war with people, it becomes a much bigger conflict.”
However, the influx of people with high incomes always leads to an increase in the cost of living for the local population, and the authorities are aware that the increase in wealth comes at a price. Jones mentioned the Welcome Home Program and the Clark County Community Housing Fund, which were created in 2022 to address an “urgent” need for low-income housing throughout the valley. It is estimated that the county already lacks 85,000 affordable homes and the real estate sector was another reason that many attendees at the technology summit pointed out as key in their decision to move to Las Vegas.
According to Redfin, the median sales price of a single-family home in California is $794,300, compared to $440,100 in Nevada.
“We have the advantage of people moving here, we can look at what California is doing right and what California is doing wrong,” Jones said. “And be selective about what to incorporate here. And the business climate that we have here is something we want to maintain because if we end up with the same business climate as California, we’re going to have shot ourselves in the foot.”
Many Californians are landing in Summerlin’s upper-class community, like Hollywood actor Mark Wahlberg, who relocated last year from Los Angeles. Alex Hancock, senior vice president of national sales and leasing, says the idea is to build Summerlin’s 22,000 hectares following a model of “sustainable growth” to avoid falling victim to phenomena such as uncontrolled urban sprawl and the mosaic of disparate housing communities grouped without real planning.
“Collaboration between local and state governments is very important,” he says. “And ensuring that growth is done in a way that maintains quality of life and maintains a business-friendly environment… And so, from our perspective as developers, it’s about working collaboratively to ensure that we don’t fall victim to what might have happened in other states.”
Conine said “intentional growth” is the key mantra they are using to make sure Nevada is formed sustainably during this population boom. He said they’re paying attention to what California transplants are telling them as to why they’ve left their homes for a fresh start.
“First of all, you have to identify why these people come here,” he said. “They come here because they think it’s a better place to grow their business and a better place to create a life for themselves… and many Californians are relocating to Nevada so they can get a better bang for their buck in terms of housing, but that creates an increase in the cost to the housing market for Nevadans, both new and existing. So the state is spending a ton of time and a lot of money to make sure that we can continue to build affordable housing, market housing, and labor housing. It’s not enough to attract businesses, you have to make sure you support the communities that are already here.”
Jason Lin, managing partner of Super Capital Group, a tech venture capital firm that led the initial investment in Twitch, moved from San Francisco to Las Vegas three years ago, after 13 years in the Bay Area. He said another important function of government is law and order, and part of the reason he left California.
“I think the government’s support on that front has been incredible here,” said Lin, who is one of the tech summit’s co-chairs. “The first and most important thing is safety. If you go to San Francisco, crime is tough right now, and from what I’ve seen here, there’s a big emphasis on making safety and security paramount, and that was a big push to come here.”