Finding and retaining quality employees in Las Vegas is an increasingly expensive proposition, business executives say.

A December business survey from the Review-Journal found that local employers expect to pay more in wages and benefits to recruit and keep workers in 2008. Companies are also striving to preserve health insurance, and they’re emphasizing new benefits such as flex time.

A plurality of companies — 40.7 percent — said in the survey that they would cut staff rosters in 2008, while 13 percent said they plan to add workers.

The survey participants who returned phone calls seeking comment said they would likely increase employee counts in the next 12 months.

Biotechnology company CardioVascular BioTherapeutics will spend 2008 running clinical trials on therapies designed to form blood vessels in ailing hearts and in skin wounds. Depending on the trials’ outcome, the company could supplement its 25-person local staff by five to 15 workers — and that’s a “conservative” estimate, said Jody Mack, director of corporate affairs. Positions would come online in accounting, legal affairs, research and development and investor education.

A new line of business could generate significant employment jumps at Somers Furniture.

The 18-year-old Las Vegas company made much of its nut renting exhibition furniture to trade shows and to hospitality venues hosting special events. Now, it’s moving into custom-furniture manufacturing for nightclubs and other resort operations.

The fresh focus could push staffing levels at Somers Furniture from 20 employees now to between 30 and 40 workers by 2008’s end, President Debbi Somers said.

And slower economic expansion across Southern Nevada won’t block new hires at Shred-It Las Vegas. Bob Linden, the company’s president, said he plans to bring on two workers in sales and service, in addition to the 16 employees he has now.

Growth won’t come cheap, though.

More than a third of survey respondents said they would augment pay 5 percent or more. Those wage gains could set the stage for another year of big local pay increases, especially among small businesses, whose owners have granted steep salary increases in a bid to compete with megaresorts for workers.

Compensation among Nevada operations with 100 or fewer workers rose 16.6 percent in 2007, according to data from Illinois paycheck-service company SurePayroll. The Silver State posted the nation’s only double-digit salary growth in the SurePayroll study. The average small-business paycheck in Nevada stood at $33,395 by the end of 2007, compared with a national average of $32,609.

Staying competitive in the local marketplace will require pay hikes of at least 5 percent at Shred-It, Linden said.

“We want to attract and retain the best people out there,” he said. “We’ve been an employer of choice in the past, although not just based on pay.”

Somers also predicted higher wages at her company in 2008, based largely on commission spikes from increased sales. It’s difficult to forecast how much commissions will grow, Somers said, though she expects the biggest sales improvements in her company’s retail division.

Raises alone won’t always lure and hold the best talent, so local businesses also plan to pile on benefits in 2008.

Health insurance remains the king of perks: Just 11 percent of business executives surveyed said they would shed health coverage in the coming year, while 65 percent said they’d keep offering insurance.

The commitment to offering health plans is both altruistic and practical.

Somers said she wants to protect her employees’ health because it’s the right thing to do. But coverage is also essential because her staff members work alongside union members at the Las Vegas Convention Center and inside local resorts.

The rich benefits packages those union workers enjoy could enable bigger operations to poach Somers’ best employees, transforming her business into a “training ground” that would lose skilled workers to other businesses. She’s planning “absolutely” no decreases in health insurance this year.

Linden isn’t reducing benefits in 2008, but he has managed to push down insurance expenses at Shred-It. He covers 80 percent of his workers’ premiums, plus 50 percent of the cost for employees’ dependents. Shopping around for a new plan uncovered a more-affordable option: Linden switched to health coverage through the 7,000-member Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and cut premiums for family coverage from $273 to $195 each pay period. Per-paycheck expenses for single insureds fell from $42 to $34.

“From my point of view, offering health insurance is not a choice,” Linden said. “It’s part of being a responsible employer.”

The same philosophy reigns at CardioVascular BioTherapeutics.

The business doesn’t have many local labor competitors because Southern Nevada’s biotech sector is relatively undeveloped, said Mitzy Cooper, manager of human resources. So health benefits are a moral imperative rather than a recruiting tool. CardioVascular BioTherapeutics provides employees with three PPO choices and contributes more than $500 a month to flexible-spending accounts to pay for treatments insurance doesn’t cover.

“Our company is very interested in the well-being of our employees,” Mack said.

“We have an extremely caring founder who knows the importance of family and health, so he does everything possible to promote that culture in the company.”

Businesses are adding benefits outside the health realm, too.

Shred-It and CardioVascular BioTherapeutics emphasize flexible scheduling for employees seeking work-life balance. Full-time employees at CardioVascular BioTherapeutics have also received stock options in the public company, and they can indulge in free beverages from a well-stocked office refrigerator. At Somers Furniture, all employees, including truck drivers, repairmen and furniture makers, earn commissions on top of salaries. The surplus pay helps every worker buy into the success of the business, Somers said.

“You need to realize your employees can either make you or break you,” she said. “Every employee is motivated by something different. Some want time off. Some are motivated by money. You have to realize where they fit. Benefits might be a little different, but they’re what keep an employee.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at or (702) 380-4512.

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