A Rethink on Office Developments
Attracting Innovation and Business
to Las Vegas
What is AFWERX?
AFWERX is an innovation cell within the United States Air Force, which employs both, government and non-government employees. I happen to work in the non-governmental portion of AFWERX in our Las Vegas hub. The majority of AFWERX team members are government employees who have been tasked with changing the culture of the Air Force by enhancing its sense of entrepreneurialism and innovation.
Nellis Air Force Base with the Las Vegas Strip in the backdrop.
This involves getting the organization to a place where we can take risks and do things faster, as well as connect with non-traditional companies, which are firms that have not historically worked with the government. Our objective is to find the challenges within the Air Force, and find the right private sector companies that can bring ideas forth to solve those problems quickly.
"...the sheer fact that Las Vegas attracts a million people per week made a lot of sense for selecting this site."
The number of visitors to Las Vegas' many tech conferences makes
it the ideal location for the main AFWERX facility.
Why did AFWERX choose Las Vegas as a location for one of its facilities?
Here in Las Vegas, we have a 30,000 square foot facility in the Hughes Center, where we can connect government representatives with the non-traditional companies that we interact with to find solutions.
There are three AFWERX locations: DC, Austin, and Las Vegas, which is the flagship and the largest facility between the three. The Washington, DC location makes sense because it’s close to the Pentagon. The Austin facility is within close proximity to several military bases in the area, and is a thriving entrepreneurial hub, which means they can attract a lot of the non-traditional companies that we tend to target. The Las Vegas location was selected because of its proximity to Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases, respectively, which are both very important facilities to the Air Force. In addition, the sheer fact that Las Vegas attracts a million people per week made a lot of sense for selecting this site. Among those visitors are the types of people from industries that AFWERX is trying to connect with. We always try and engage with people coming to events, such as CES, and invite them to tour our facility and engage with us.
We like the fact that we’re within close distance to Los Angeles, which is the fastest growing tech hub, as well, as San Francisco, which is the largest tech hub in the country. Frankly, we wanted a West Coast presence because of how many tech firms are based on this side of the country, and we also like the fact that space is much less expensive here than in other tech hubs.
"Las Vegas office space is simply going to have to go through a redesign to be more in tune with current needs."
What are some of the challenges with the type of office space that Las Vegas has to offer, specifically when it comes to innovation hubs?
When I first moved to Las Vegas, I had heard that it was a growing tech and entrepreneur hub. It certainly is, but from a very small base. We don’t have a lot of the tech universities that have strong ties to the industry, like they do in California. We also didn’t have many existing entrepreneurs and co-working spaces, which are both important elements that you need when you’re trying to grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Co-working spaces are becoming a popular alternative to traditional office space in Las Vegas.
Back in 2013, when I was working with Tony Hsieh to help develop his vision downtown, we asked ourselves what it took to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem within the community. We realized that the co-working space where businesses could connect and share ideas was an important part of that. Even good coffee shops buzzing with people on their laptops would be moving in a positive direction. Las Vegas simply did not have enough of that.
Fast-forward to the 2019 version of Las Vegas and we have two WeWork locations, as well as a number of other co-working spaces. The next step would be for the traditional office spaces that we have here to turn into something more in line with what you would find in the more entrepreneurial cities around the country.
"The ability to walk in a city-like environment, without having to drive everywhere, is attractive to a lot of people."
Coffee lounges are frequently being incorporated into office settings.
What can developers learn when designing and constructing facilities office space?
My office here at the Howard Hughes Center is about a mile from the nearest coffee shop. This is in contrast to many of the newer offices being built now, which would have one on the ground floor of the building where people can mingle and connect. Luckily, we now have a retrofitted lounge, which is a great place to gather with other tenants and get to know them. Otherwise, I would have no idea who works in the building, other than chatting with people in the elevator.
So, to answer your question, a coffee shop, restaurant or lounge is a great start. They’re ideal for having impromptu conversations and they encourage business activity. We’ve gone from cubicle-style offices to less-efficient open plan, and are now moving towards a sort of hybrid. Las Vegas office space is simply going to have to go through a redesign to be more in tune with current needs. We ourselves had to spend a considerable amount of money to get our space fit for purpose in line with our objectives.
On a more general level, developments will have to accommodate for spaces for living, as well as working. The ability to walk in a city-like environment, without having to drive everywhere, is attractive to a lot of people. Las Vegas is a difficult place to construct something like that, but Summerlin is a good example, particularly in the area around the ballpark. We’re a suburban city without a traditional downtown and efficient public transportation, so it probably means that we’ll need to find ways of developing a hybrid model.
"This is a great opportunity to ask ourselves what type of developments we need to serve the influx of people coming into this city over the next 20-30 years."
Innovative office environments have the ability
to attract talent and cultivate new ideas.
Do you feel that if Las Vegas were to offer more specialized office space, it would attract a larger entrepreneur community?
Absolutely. We’re living in a very exciting time in Las Vegas, as it becomes a sports city and diversifies, with the new ballpark, the Golden Knights, the Aces, the Lights and the arrival of the Raiders next year. This has traditionally been a hospitality-based economy, and now, thanks in part to the sports industry, it’s evolving. Of course, it’s far more interesting when you bump into a hundred people that work in various different industries, rather than a hundred people that work in the same industry. It cultivates interesting conversations and the exchange of new and different ideas. We’re slowly headed in that direction. This is a great opportunity to ask ourselves what type of developments we need to serve the influx of people coming into this city over the next 20-30 years.