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Qiong Liu interview, June 8, 2016: transcript






Interviewed by Claytee White. Dr. Liu is the City Manager for the City of North Las Vegas. Discusses housing, diversifying the economy, Apex, Faraday and negotiations to secure that business for North LV.

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Lui, Qiong Interview, 2016 June 8. OH-02711. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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1 AN INTERVIEW WITH QIONG LIU An Oral History Conducted by Claytee D. White The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas 2 ©The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2016 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Editors: Vanessa Concepcion, Kristel Peralta, Cecilia Winchell, and Aryton Yamaguchi Transcribers: Kristin Hicks, Frances Smith Interviewer: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Stefani Evans 3 The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of the UNLV University Libraries. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea and the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Building Las Vegas Oral History Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada, Las Vegas 4 PREFACE “I feel a personal love for those projects every time I drive along those sections.” Born and raised in China, Qiong Liu is one of the many faces who has witnessed the growth of North Las Vegas due to her role as City Manager. As a child she frequently moved cities and grew up in Changsha, Hunan province, with her parents. Upon graduating with a masters degree and working for China Academy of Railway Sciences in Beijing, she eventually managed to receive a full scholarship to the University of Arizona in Tucson. There, Liu received her Ph.D in Civil Engineering, and went on to work for the URS Corporation, which helped her land a job as City Manager of North Las Vegas. In October, 1999, she moved to Nevada with her husband and two-year-old daughter. In this interview, Dr. Liu discusses the many ways a city can be planned, and all the necessary steps one has to take when building new communities. Her expertise in traffic management, as well as her engineering background make it possible for communities to succeed and to satisfy the people who have moved there. Over the years, she has mapped traffic routes, planned buildings such as The Smith Center and Premium Mall, and worked on numerous projects such as Apex Industrial Park and Eldorado and Aliante master planned communities. Her plans for the future and for future generations are hopeful and reflect in the way she sees a growing city. 5 TABLE OF CONTENTS Interview with Qiong Liu June 8th, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by Claytee D. White Preface…………………………………………………………………………………..………..iv Liu talks about growing up in China; moving around, what life was like in the ‘60’s, and her parent’s occupations. She explains the process by which she came to the United States after receiving a full scholarship from the University of Arizona, culture shock, her time spent in Florida, and the job offer which eventually brought her to Las Vegas…………………………1-5 Liu recounts the projects she has overseen ever since moving to Vegas in 1990. While acting as the city’s transportation planning manager, she oversaw infrastructure planning all around the valley including some of the freeways and development of the downtown area. While acting as the North Las Vegas city manager, she was involved in projects such as the Apex Industrial Park and UNEV…………………………………………………………………..…………………6-15 Liu discusses the various projects she has worked on such as Apex Industrial Park and Eldorado and Aliante master planned communities. She goes over the fundamentals of planning projects and how culture, business, and other essential resources are taken into account. Future projects such as Tule Springs Villages are also foreshadowed………………………...……..………16-19 Liu outlines her relationship with Faraday and how she was able to convince the company to come to Las Vegas. Her plans for the next three years are discussed and she hopes that diversity will be the key to bring more people to the Las Vegas area. She believes that new technology and businesses will attract more people. Ideas for local business with casinos and city sustained job opportunities are her main focuses. One setback for Liu is the lack of workforce to pursue these projects. She suggests support for higher education and more challenging programs would be beneficial to the city overall. Finally, she mentions the partnership with Faraday and College of Southern Nevada and the advantages the city will have with the completion of the North Las Vegas area………………………………………...……………………………………………….…19-22 6 1 This is Claytee White. I'm in the City Hall of North Las Vegas today, June eighth, 2016, and I am with the city manager. Dr. Liu, could you please pronounce your name correctly and spell it for me? Sure. Qiong Liu. That's Q-I-O-N-G, L-I-U. What are these letters behind your name? I guess… Ph.D., you know that, PE is a professional engineer, and PTOE is a professional traffic operations engineer. What does that mean? That basically means that I know the operations and the design and the mechanisms of the traffic system—traffic signal, traffic lights and design and construction. Great. I've never seen those initials before. So thank you so much. You're welcome. Tell me a little about your early life; where you grew up, what that was like? I was born and raised in China. I was born in Beijing and lived there for the first five years and then lived in Shanghai for a few years and then lived in Changsha; that's the capital of Hunan province. So basically my parents moved around quite a bit, I guess, because of their work. Tell me about China, just a little. We have all kinds of preconceived notions; half of them are completely wrong. Tell me what life was like in China as a little girl. Did you play games? Did you do the same thing little girls do here? Well, we did play games, but we basically did not have as much as the children have today. We didn't have a Game Boy or (indiscernible). I didn't have that either. 2 Or any video stuff. Mostly simple games without really requiring your parents to purchase even something, but it was a wonderful time back then because people lived in harmony, even though almost everyone didn't really have much and just had the most essential stuff to live on. Life was very pure and a joy. What year were you born? I was born in 1963. It was actually only three short years after the years that China actually had famine because the crops were—natural disasters, because the crops were destroyed by those national disasters. There were quite a few. People actually died from famine. So remind me of those natural disasters in '63. It was actually in the beginning of '60, 1960. I was not born yet. By the time I was born, I was too young really to tell what it was like back then. Like I said, I was growing up and heard it from my parents or grandparents. Quite a few people died from hunger, but I personally did not have experience being unfed or anything like that. What did your parents do for a living? My dad was an engineer. Actually, he's an aerospace engineer. My mom is a contractor. Oh, wonderful. So how did you get to the United States? In the beginning of 1990, I received a full scholarship from University of Arizona in Tucson. So that was my… How did you get in touch with the University of Arizona? Well, at the time of the vacation, I only graduated with a master's degree in Beijing, and I was actually working as a research engineer for China Academy of Railway Sciences in Beijing. Just, kind of, because of my curiosity about what it is like on the other side of the 3 world, and I started doing research on that. There was really not a whole lot of information to get back then because we didn’t have the Internet living in the late eighties, right? Basically just trying to find as much information as possible at a Beijing library and also exchange information with friends, my classmates or whatnot, or colleagues who were also interested in finding out what it's like in America. First, I started taking the English, and then the [entrance] exams when applying for colleges here. Of course, I was applying for graduate school since I already had my bachelor's degree and master's degree, so I was only interested in [getting] my doctorate degree here. I applied to, maybe, a handful of universities and received a scholarship from two of them, but U of A was the only one that gave me a full scholarship. At the time their engineering program actually ranked number twenty-eight in the public universities—and that was my field, my specialty—so I thought it was a pretty good deal to go there. Oh, yes, exactly. What were the surprises about this country? Probably cultural shock was the most significant, most memorable to me. I remember after twenty-something hours on the airplane, I arrived [in Tucson]. Actually, that really was my first airplane ride. So, I came here and I was so sick of this plane, flying so long, never been on a plane before. I was very sick by the time I arrived in the airport at Tucson. And there was a person that was supposed to pick me up, which I have never met. I didn't know who was supposed to pick me up, but [I] was not at the second floor of the arrival gate and I didn't know that I was supposed to go down to the first floor to meet him or her. I was just waiting there after a half hour or so and still, no one. I was getting so tired. I didn't even know… I had figured out I needed to call, but I didn't even know 4 how to use the pay phone because back then we did not have pay phones in China. Of course, I didn't have a quarter with me. A gentleman standing next to me—I used my very broken English to ask him a question—gave me quarters to use that phone there, the pay phone. So, I finally called the civil engineering department and talked to the secretary and they said, "Oh, so and so is supposed to pick you up. You need to go down to the first floor." So [Tucson International] airport. So that's how. Of course, the language and the alignment and the food, everything, everything is so new. Just think about [how] I've never even talked to an American or any English speaking person before the trip. So it was quite an adventure. Even six years after, I can still remember those vividly. Oh, yes. So where are your parents now? They both retired and they're in Changsha, back to their hometown. Do you see each other? Yes. For the first twelve years I was here. I was just so busy. I was trying to get my next—I got my degree, got my next job, got my license, got published—and all this stuff. After twelve years I went back home to see them, but that was not the first time I saw them. They came to visit me. Good, good. Yes, they've come to visit me a few times. Oh, that's wonderful. So how did you get to North Las Vegas? What were some of the jobs in between graduate school, getting the Ph.D., and coming here? I entered the program, the Ph.D. program, with a major in civil engineering and a minor in systems engineering in the beginning, like January 1990, and I graduated in May '94. I went to work for URS Corporation, which was the top three ranked engineering firm in 5 the nation. That was in Florida; Tallahassee, Florida. Before I went to work for URS, I actually worked part time for JHK Associates in Tucson. That is a design engineering firm. I think it's the three year part-time—during school, and full-time during summer— really helped me to land the job with URS. Obviously, I worked there as a consultant for a private company and for five years or so. During that time we did a lot of projects for DOT, or the Department of Transportation. During that time I got to know some of the engineers or managers at Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and they like my work. They go, "Why didn't you come to work for us?" So that was very good to work for FDOT until August 1999. I came to Las Vegas for an annual conference. That's the transportation engineers’ annual conference here in Las Vegas that year. I had a paper to present and met some people from the City of Las Vegas. Again, they said, "Oh, we're looking for someone just like you who is a professional engineer who knows engineering and also knows planning and computers, relations, all that.” So before that trip ended, they offered me the job. So I told them, "No, it would take some time for me to really…" I've got my husband and my young daughter who was two at the time. Everything was arranged in three months before I started at the end of October 1999. So before you tell me about working here, what was it like leaving Phoenix area, Tucson, and going to Florida? There is a difference because one place is brown, just like here in Las Vegas; the other is so green, very lush and a lot of rain, not as dry, but it was a very good experience. I really enjoyed every place I've lived. Wonderful. That is so good. That is so good. So tell me about North Las Vegas. 6 What do you know about—there are so many things I want to ask. I'm going to start with just the beginning, back in 1990. What were some of the projects that the city was working on at that time? My experience in Las Vegas actually has to break into two different organizations or sections or whatever you want to call it. My first five and a half years, I worked as the transportation planning manager for the City of Las Vegas. The transportation planning division is responsible for a lot of the infrastructure planning and programming effort. So at that time we obviously were growing very rapidly and there were a lot of demands for infrastructure; yet, we were at infancy in terms of planning a long-range vision and a plan to put in place to support such drastic growth. That's why they wanted someone who also knows planning to lead that team. At the beginning we had to start from scratch, so we started to have all the data connection for traffic, cars. We set up a program—so that we know how many cars travel on each of those major corridors—and so we can do better planning based on the real data. Then we also established the travel demand forecast group. Basically we used computer simulation based on the counts we collected, also based on the projection on population and projection on land use growth. Then you can project the traffic demand down the road, as they say. You actually can plan for a twenty-year horizon what roads need to (?), how many lanes, what kind of connection that it needs, parallel roads, and the timing of those roads, so that was a great tool. I was directly involved with a lot of those specific projects during that time frame, including the Las Vegas Premier Mall right there by the Government Center and the I-15, the outlet mall, right? Yes, yes. 7 And the World Market Center and The Smith Center. At the time, The Smith Center was not built, but we did do the planning. The planning tells us what types of uses would be conducive to put in there and what kinds of structures should be planned for. So we'll have all those laid out so specific projects can go to specific locations or parcels to make it a nice (indiscernible). So I'm very glad to see the Premium Mall is successful. Actually, our team would identify what access points and what kind of layout will be suitable and also will be adequate for them to operate. So at that time, when you would look at a corner like the [Las Vegas] Strip and Flamingo [Road], let's say, how did you count? So you're back in 1999. How did you count? What mechanism did you use for that original count? We actually have both manual counts and also have machine counts. There is equipment that you could use. So is it that little thing that runs across—yes—and your car runs over it? Yes, (indiscernible). Also, the equipment. I did a box that could count the different types of vehicles. Also at turning moments, how many left and how many right turns, we actually use person, manual counts. Really? Yes, because there's no machine that's accurate enough to really tell them those vehicles making the (indiscernible). The person can count different movements, but the machine cannot. Oh, okay, so that makes it clearer. We actually established those counts at all major intersections. Then we plot those numbers into the computer model, then plot in the population for forecast. 8 So were the forecasts pretty accurate for the number of people that would move here? I think it is probably as accurate as it can be. The growth was unprecedented. Nobody really expected that to be in the teens, like 12 percent, 13 percent. That growth is unprecedented, but what I am proud of is that when I look back even twelve years after, you can still see that those facilities are working, so I've been here for… nineteen years? Seventeen years. Oh, wow. So what other parts of that project are memorable; that five years there with—five and a half years as the transportation planning manager? We did quite a few. I just think from the original perspective besides those projects I mentioned, we did set the tone for how this valley came to grow and to diversify and not just build casinos. You have all the sectors that can come in to support the local growth and also the commerce. The other projects, like some of the freeway, U.S. 95 and the I-15 widening and some of the interchanges, even the Summerlin Parkway, additional ramps that we built at Durango [Drive] and Summerlin Parkway, all those are points that we add to make it more accessible to residents and tourists alike. I feel a personal love for those projects every time I drive along those sections. Yes. And when you drive into Summerlin—I was on the Summerlin Parkway this morning—it's just amazing. And I've also been involved with multiple land development projects besides downtown. So every time I go out there whether it's downtown project, everything happening in Las Vegas downtown, (indiscernible). Sixty-one acres that were owned by the City of Las 9 Vegas we were trying to figure out what would be the best way to develop it and make it unique and also attractive to other residents and visitors here. We're kind of in the same kind of process here in North Las Vegas, our downtown is kind of déjà vu because twelve years old, some fifteen years later. Exactly. So first tell me what Apex is. I was just looking at this. I was a little surprised by that, so describe to me what Apex is before we start talking about the other plans that you are putting into the works for this city. Apex Industrial Park has been in existence for a few decades. Originally, it was in Clark County. Starting 2008, numerous parcels were annexed to the City of North Las Vegas partially because they wanted to look for opportunities to develop, so when you're in the county, it's a different mentality. Most cities will do more business for urbanization, but since this is a county, it's more low key, slower development than municipalities just in general, right? So those lands were annexed to the City of North Las Vegas, but at the time I was the director of Public Works and I obviously observed and also involved firsthand with those efforts. So once we get those annexed in there—and the goal for both the city and the landowners is to develop—it's been a long haul we've come to this point. We did not really have some of the tools or even the vision and determination from the top to get it here, to do whatever it takes to get it developed. What I point at there, that's actually the groundbreaking event for the Mountain View Industrial Park. This goes back 2008. That was shortly after they were annexed to the City of North Las Vegas. We did quite a few projects here, including some solar farms. Like the solar projects, we have a few of those that are operational.We also have UNEV—which is the pipeline for gas—that actually runs a few hundred miles from north 10 Utah and to here. So those projects were built five, six years ago as part of that effort. So the pipeline brings fuel in? Yes, fuel into Las Vegas. That's been operational for four years, five years. Wow. We never hear anything about that. It's called UNEV. That's the company that's been in Apex, Apex Industrial Park. So looking back we have made some progress, but think about eight years, less than eight, it's not really enough progress to show for it. So a couple of years ago when Mayor John Jay Lee announced his vision to really get the Apex Industrial Park developed, we start really focusing on how to make that happen and focus on infrastructure. The reason that it has been limited—that we have only made limited progress to show the world—is because infrastructure. They need water. Now they need wastewater treatment. They need roads. They also need all the utilities—power, gas—all this stuff that's needed for a business to locate there. So we have made great strides in this regard. I'm sure you have read a lot of reports. Not as many as I should, but it's okay. So go ahead. Those infrastructure mechanisms have gone in now—or some. Yes, some have been built, but the majority of them have not been built. We are planning for the whole system to be built and also quite a few of those components are currently under design. We're also very, very actively looking for funding to build them because those are quite expensive and the city's finances certainly cannot support those expensive projects, but we're working with partners whether it's the state or other jurisdictions, all partners. We're trying to find the best solution to really support the need to develop that park. I don't know if you know how big it is, it's over twenty thousand acres. 11 Over twenty thousand. Yes, yes. Then we have at least seven to eight thousand acres that are flat enough. Basically they are ready for development. We also have hills on those parcels. So from where we're sitting right now in the [North Las Vegas] City Hall building, where is Apex? It's northeast. It's northeast of here. About how many miles north? That's a good question. I should know, but I don't. It's about a twenty-minute drive. Oh, okay, good. That gives me an idea. So with this kind of development on the planning boards, and now it looks like something is really going to happen, tell me about housing before I get back to talk about Faraday. Tell me about housing. I started here with North Las Vegas in May of 2005. At that time we were really in the boom, especially North Las Vegas. We were named as the “fastest- and largest-growing” city for several consecutive years, and that actually is quite impressive to see so many homes and rooftops that are coming up. As the Public Works director, I was very fortunate to have that opportunity to foresee a lot of the infrastructure including roads and bridges and libraries and parks and trails and fire stations and police stations, foreseeing all those facilities and how many of those were built, so that was quite a surreal experience for an engineer. You don't always get this kind of opportunity, almost like going into a candy store, whatever. Yes, yes. This is the same kind of experience. When I was in my apprentice job, Florida especially, you design—maybe take you a year or so to design this—and you put it on a shelf for a 12 few years because there's no funding to construct it. Then it may or may not get built. Here we cannot design fast enough to build [models] because of the growth, so it's very memorable and very rewarding to see those plans put into work and people enjoy them—whether it's trails, parks and all that. So at the time that the residential development is ready, folks are in Aliante back then. So Aliante, of course, is a master planned community. It's actually the second master planned community in North Las Vegas. The first one is Eldorado. Eldorado is kind of north by Ann Road, kind of passing through the (?) on both sides. So I had witnessed the growth during that period of time. Of course, 2008, the housing market crashed and North Las Vegas certainly was among the hardest hit cities. We had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation and many folks lost their home. And I think we saw that all over the valley. Right. So North Las Vegas probably hit the hardest. Of course, the financial situation really prompted it because of such high foreclosure rate and the city's finance was in the low bottom, bottom, really challenged. So you probably heard that just a short three years ago our city was on the brink of receivership by the state. So just looking back at the last three years when I first served as the deputy city manager and then the last two years I've served as the city manager, first was acting and then was appointed to the position, like I said, we have made great strides to really change not just the city's finance, but actually the city's image. We change the culture. We change the way we do business. We're not as conventional. We are forced to be more creative, to be more open minded, and also to be more frugal in a sense that way, too. So we use the limited resources to provide 13 maximized service and the best service we can possibly provide. I am very proud of what we have done as a team. Yes, yes, you've done great work. My sister moved into Aliante before the downturn and we saw her community, the building stop, but then two or three years ago we saw the houses completed. So, yes, I saw that whole process just by looking at her community. Right. And the future is actually even more promising because we have another master planned community that is coming on now; that is the Tule Springs Villages there at Tule Springs. I don't know if you have heard about it, the Tule Springs Lands Bill that got passed by the federal government a few years ago. Actually that carved out the national monument. Yes, yes. It's going to be treasured by everyone, not just everyone in this valley, actually people who come from all over the world will enjoy seeing the fossil and all the wonderful heritage that we have along Las Vegas Wash. So part of Tule Springs is North Las Vegas? Yes, the majority of that is actually in North Las Vegas. I didn't know that. So we have this particular master plan coming in here that I just mentioned at Tule Springs, and has about twenty seven hundred acres of land ready for development. It includes two parcels; one is on the west side that is South Grand Teton and east of Decatur has six hundred acres there—then we have Aliante kind of sandwiched in between—and then if go further to the east to the northern part of Aliante, there's more 14 than two thousand acres of land for residential development. We have been working with the developers and builders trying to get the plans approved. I was told that the first village that they're trying to start construction is the second quarter, second quarter of next year. Oh, that's wonderful. I think that's amazing. So you have the people? So you have the workforce? So tell me about Faraday and tell me from the beginning how did you get in touch with Faraday? How did that relationship start? I think that it started with someone the mayor knows and the history between China. Simon Pan was actually the one that introduced us to information about Faraday for a site for their future manufacturing plant. At the time they were already considering about two hundred other places all over the country, in California, from the West Coast to the East Coast. They have a lot of sites that are already in the running. Of course, Las Vegas, Nevada, was not even on their list. So once we heard about this, we started just to go after them with persistence trying to convince them this is the best place for them to be. So we started pursuing that at the beginning of 2015. We had the first meeting that was in December of 2014. Our first trip, actually, the mayor and I traveled to Los Angeles in February 2015. We presented our sales pitch, if you will, and then told them that we will have the best opportunity and the best services that we can provide. So we courted them for quite a few months until probably in the early summer of 2015 we introduced them to the governor and also the Governor's Office of Economic Development. We actually shuttled them to Carson City and accompanied them to meet with the governor and arranged all those 15 meetings. So it is a miracle that we landed—after they already considered all these other places that we were able to win them over. What did you say? What convinced them to come to North Las Vegas? I think we have a great asset here and we have a very business-friendly environment. Government agencies are always willing to work with those developments trying to diversify our economy. I also think being the number one or the top tourist attraction of the world helps us, too, because we said, "If you want to sell your product, what could be a better place for you to be able to showcase your forty three million business entity? Plus, Las Vegas is exciting. People hear about, "Oh, go to Las Vegas." There's always something exciting, right? Yes, yes. Probably it is really the connection, cultural or the personal connection. I think that we made them [Faraday] feel comfortable because it is a Chinese company and they had not done business in America or in this kind of environment before. Someone who can speak their language, who can communicate with them and make them feel they have someone they can trust and to understand them, I think that also helped us to land this. Oh, you have been in the right place at the right time when we look at Florida, when we look at the planning— Georgia, Tennessee, a lot of states, California. Yes, yes. That actually was their preferred site from the top investor; he really wants to stay in California although we win them over. Good. That is great. What do you envision, let's say, three years from now? Three 16 years from today what do you see Apex looking like? You just told me about all the vacant land out there. I think three years from now we would have Faraday producing the vehicles and at that time they probably will have approached, if not reached, their capacity because the company is very optimistic about it. Their beginning phase—a hundred and fifty thousand vehicles—they want to increase, double that capacity. That is very exciting and feasible in the near future. But Faraday is just the beginning. What we want really to see is that entire park to develop. So keep in mind, Faraday only purchased 935 acres. We have about eight thousand acres of land for development. So if that project continues to be the leader of that district, it would have other projects to come in. So that's why we're working so hard to get infrastructure in place. Once we have the water and sewer and the utilities in there, the cost to develop in that area will be feasible for many businesses, not just to a giant company like Faraday. So a few minutes ago when you said how many cars per day they expect to be producing, so then it makes me think of the old Detroit. How do we prevent that from becoming the Detroit of today? I think the number one key is to diversify. To diversify the economy is the only solution. I think we had a similar experience like Detroit; when we had the economic downturn a lot of people, the reason why they lost their houses, is because we didn’t have many people come to casinos. The business dropped and people in the service industry or in the hospitality industry lost their jobs because of that. This Faraday or any other business that we're trying to attract, we really need to focus on the diversity. So if we can attract new 17 factories and new technology or innovative sectors here, like the medical field or research, manufacturing and all those, if we can start focusing on diversity, that will really make us if not recession-proof, but I guess recession-resistance. That's what we need to focus on. It certainly takes more than just the City of North Las Vegas to work to make that a reality. It takes other regional partne