Battered Nevada takes aim at Calif. businesses

/ Source: The Associated Press

Talk about kicking a neighbor while he's down: Nevada is spending $250,000 for an ad campaign that compares California legislators to talking chimps and tells business owners they can "kiss their assets goodbye" if they stay put.

It's the latest salvo in a generally friendly rivalry that's taken on a harder edge with both states among the recession's hardest-hit areas and desperately fighting to stay afloat — California recently had to issue more than $1 billion in IOUs to survive a prolonged budget crisis while trying to slash a $26.3 billion debt.

Nevada leaders paint their clever but biting campaign — aimed at California business owners considering a move — as simply a matter of helping the Silver State fight high unemployment and diversify an economy heavily dependent on struggling casinos and tourism. Nevada business advocates are pitting their state's low taxes against rising workers' compensation rates and fears of bankruptcy in California.

But there is clearly a certain amount of grim glee at getting under the skin of their Golden State counterparts. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said he can't wait for the new ads and a chance to needle California leaders about picking off companies and jobs.

"It's going to drive them bonkers," Goodman said. "We're going to crush them."

He and others say they want to erect one billboard outside California's state Capitol building in Sacramento.

The Nevada Development Authority, a nonprofit that recruits businesses, is funding the radio, TV and print ads.

Somer Hollingsworth, president of the development authority, says Nevada is hoping to stand out among the 49 states trying to get Californians to flee.

"Everyone's trying to pull companies out because ... they really smell blood," he said.

The ads have the attention of business promoters at the California Chamber of Commerce, who say Nevada needs the campaign because it is hurting, too.

"I would match California's higher education system and quality of life against theirs any day," said Allan Zaremberg, the chamber's president and CEO.

Nevada had 12 percent unemployment in June, compared with 9.5 percent unemployment nationwide. Meanwhile, California's unemployment was 11.6 percent in June, with more than 766,000 jobs lost in the past year.

Nevada's campaign is the latest pull in an ongoing tug-of-war between the two states.

In 2004, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger drove a moving van down the Las Vegas Strip to bring a small business back to California. Nevada retaliated with a "Will Your Business be Terminated?" campaign, which referenced Schwarzenegger's famous role in the "Terminator" action flicks.

Serious business
Last year, Nevada launched a print cartoon series featuring California's grizzly bear mascot as a "tax bear" preying on business owners. This time, the not-so-friendly pitches include comparing California legislators to talking chimps, saying the Golden State will be more business-friendly when pigs fly, and telling business owners that they can "kiss their assets goodbye" if they don't move.

At least one television station, KABC-TV in Los Angeles, has declined to air Nevada's latest commercials, which were scheduled to begin running Friday for 90 days in Southern California markets.

"We live, work and play in L.A. and we're not going to run commercials that will be detrimental to our state," said KABC-TV President and General Manager Arnold Kleiner.

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben said he thinks businesses will pay attention to the campaign, but aren't likely to immediately pack up and bolt eastward.

"Right now, most businesses are more concerned about survival than they are about relocation," Toebben said.

Hollingsworth said previous campaigns have resulted in a 10 percent to 20 percent uptick in businesses relocating from California to southern Nevada. In the past five years, 59 businesses worked through the development authority to make that move, creating 1,436 jobs in Nevada.

Toebben said he's taking the competition seriously and is treating the budget crisis and potential California job losses as an emergency.

"This is like having an earthquake," he said. "When you have an earthquake, you take action."