High above Fremont Street looms a statuesque metal structure. This radio tower is part of a network established by LV.net, a local Internet service provider, that connects numerous businesses and residential areas to the internet, from Primm to Boulder City. LV.net made multiple headlines in 2013 with the announcement and implementation of a deal with the city of Las Vegas to bring free WiFi to the Downtown corridor.
WiFi was still an unrealized dream, and Downtown had no tech scene to speak of, when the company opened its doors in 1996, offering dial-up and T-1 services. Nearly two decades later, 40 employees work from a former bank on Fremont Street—the company’s servers are housed in the old vault—and oversee a network that operates through a series of microwave, wireless and fiber links.
Owner Marty Mizrahi says that while he’s been glad to see the revitalization of Fremont and the influx of new businesses including Zappos, he sees the need for another large tech company to put roots in the area before any true Silicon Valley comparisons can be made. Despite Nevada’s tax incentives and Las Vegas’ attractiveness as a natural disaster-free zone (an important factor in the data center industry), Mizrahi echoes an often-cited stumbling block in the creation of a local tech industry: the limited pool of local-grown IT workers.
The trouble, he says, is that few graduates leave college with the specific skill sets that tech companies demand.
“The problem with our industry is they don’t teach our industry because we’re cutting edge,” he says. “We’re tomorrow’s technology. Who could teach tomorrow’s technology? The only way to learn it is if you learn it from the Internet, so we have to get the young kids who just want to learn and keep learning and don’t have degrees, for the most part. Most of these young kids run circles around the guys who have degrees.”
Having seen firsthand the Dotcom Boom of the 1990s—with its large-scale investments, hype and subsequent crash—Mizrahi is curious about how the startups affiliated with the Vegas Tech Fund, a $50 million wing of the Downtown Project, will fare. But he’s not holding his breath.
“Hopefully, one company will make $100 million and make up for the 49 companies that lost,” he says. “There’s no way every business is going to make it.”
PHOTO BY ERIN TIMRAWI