Back in the 1930s, when the Las Vegas strip of casinos and hotels were being built, African Americans were allowed to work in these establishments but were barred from gambling or attending the shows. In response, they built their own hotels and casinos west of town – most notably the Moulin Rouge Hotel, which became the first integrated hotel casino in Las Vegas, and the first to be co-owned by an African American, boxing great Joe Louis.
Fast forward 60 years, and the remnants of the area's segregated past have all but disappeared. In fact, the Las Vegas area, including the city of North Las Vegas, has been ranked among the least segregated metropolitan areas in the country. This is one of many reasons why we've named it one of the Best U.S. Cities for African Americans.
Cassandra Smith, an African-American agent with Realty One Group and a lifelong native of the Las Vegas area, says part of the reason North Las Vegas ranks so high on the integration scale is the close proximity to Nellis Air Force Base.
"When you have a military installation, you're getting people from all over the country and that adds to the diversity of the city," Smith says. "Also many people want to stay in some proximity to family and where they may have grown up. You have African-American families that may have established themselves in Las Vegas or west Las Vegas and then just kind of spread out a little bit. However, the close proximity between west Las Vegas and North Las Vegas allows African Americans to progress, yet still remain close to their roots."
African Americans make up around 20 percent of the population in North Las Vegas and nearly 40 percent are homeowners, though that number appears to be on the rise. Smith estimates half of her clients are African Americans and says because housing costs are lower in North Las Vegas, many are able to afford homes in more upscale developments.
"There has been so much development and growth, and that development is just beautiful. So the city is a place you can be proud to live in. There are parts of the city that have opportunity for growth and development, but overall, the city is gaining ground," Smith says.
North Las Vegas also offers good news for African-American job seekers. While the hospitality and manufacturing industries have traditionally dominated the North Las Vegas economy, the city has begun diversifying its market with an influx of high-tech, renewable energy, and green technology companies. The mayor of North Las Vegas, John Lee, has emphasized an effort to bring non-service-industry jobs to North Las Vegas, including Faraday Future, which is planning to build a $1 billion manufacturing plant for its electric cars in North Las Vegas and add more than 4,000 jobs to the workforce.
"He's very aggressive," Smith says of the mayor. "He's been in North Las Vegas a long time himself. He grew up here, so he's very motivated to grow the city. For African Americans, the opportunity to obtain a quality job here will be even greater."
Career advancement is also a priority for African Americans, and those wanting to advance their careers through technical training or continued education don't have far to look. The Cheyenne campus of the College of Southern Nevada offers certificates and degrees in its award-winning culinary arts program and the automotive service education program housed in the new 35,000-square-foot Transportation Technology Building, among others.
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The University of Nevada at Las Vegas also plans to open a campus in North Las Vegas. The area also boasts the Urban Chamber of Commerce, dedicated to helping African-American entrepreneurs succeed in business, and the Las Vegas Urban League's Entrepreneur Center offers technical assistance, strategic planning and mentorship to African-American small businesses.
Culturally, North Las Vegas offers a number of venues and events for African Americans, including the Smith Center, which in the past has hosted the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and the annual Las Vegas Jazz Festival. The city and Las Vegas area are home to several historically African-American churches and black owned restaurants and other businesses. Smith recommends newcomers join the Blacks in Vegas Facebook group for a calendar of cultural events and to get connected with African-American organizations and businesses.