Las Vegas Sun

May 28, 2015

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WHERE I STAND:

Another chance for our leaders to lead

Let’s try something different in Nevada.

Until recently — the past three years — Nevadans have had a pretty easy time of it compared with our 49 sister states.

Growth has come easily. Success came easier. And becoming the envy of the rest of the country as the place everyone wants to live has been, well, very easy. Lately, though, things have been hard around here.

It is no secret that Las Vegas has been ground zero in this most depressing recession that has gripped the United States so tightly that it just won’t let go. What caused our success over the past six decades has also caused our fall into a muddled economic mess. In short, our almost total reliance on the rest of the world’s desire to come to Nevada to spend discretionary dollars has, as soon as those dollars disappeared, turned into the overriding reason for our despair.

In the middle of Nevada’s economic bust there were some good things happening. One of those sweet treasures has been the relationship that has grown between the Brookings Institution, acknowledged as the oldest and most responsible think tank in Washington, D.C., and our own UNLV.

That’s right, while the economy and some very short-sighted politicians were doing their best to decimate our institution of higher learning — and our way forward through the 21st century — UNLV President Neal Smatresk, Brookings President Strobe Talbott, and Kirk Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation were coming together on a bold plan that would catapult UNLV into the upper ranks of academic thought. As a matter of full disclosure, I am a trustee of Brookings and a supporter of UNLV so that makes me completely biased when it comes to this issue.

That said, Brookings Mountain West and the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, together with SRI International, released a study last week called “Unify, Regionalize, Diversify: An Economic Development Agenda for Nevada.” It is available at www.brookings.edu both in the full report of 178 pages and the more user friendly 12-page executive summary. I recommend, at a minimum, the executive summary for any Nevadan who desires to live in a booming Nevada in the coming years.

There is nothing new about a study in Nevada. Those of us who have been around awhile can point to numerous documents prepared every decade or so by some reputable outfit that purported to tell us which way to grow, how to get the revenue to do so, and what we should do once we got where we thought we should be.

No one other than a few concerned citizens paid much attention to them, either because life was so good all those years that there was no reason to change anything and no time to take away from our success to plan for future, or because a changing political climate made consensus far more difficult to achieve in the face of a do-nothing attitude that, frankly, brings us to today.

We now know what happens when we hide our heads in the sand. Nothing, at least nothing good.

So let’s try something different for a change.

When you read the Brookings report, you learn a great deal about what many people in the state already knew. Or thought they knew. This time, though, there is really something different in the way it has been prepared.

As Brookings has been known to do during its first 100 years, its analysis has been based on fact, not philosophy. As you read through the many sections that explain our challenges and opportunities, there is no discernible political ideology and certainly no talking points by which one could pigeonhole the work as being left or right and, thereby, dismiss it.

More importantly, what this document does is not only show us our shortcomings and our opportunities, but also it describes in some delicious detail what we have to do as a state to achieve the goals that, although difficult, are very possible. It deals with strategy, as well as tactics that to make things happen.

One can take a great deal of comfort from this report, despite the nagging feeling that to make it work, we still need leadership, which is the unanswered question. That question, I hope, will be answered soon as Gov. Brian Sandoval, legislative leaders and business communities in the North and South dig deep enough to understand the way forward.

The comfort comes from the fact that there is logic, there are facts and there is reason behind every suggestion, every idea and every plan that suggest that the Silver State can shine again. And soon.

It’s going to take engagement. The more people understand how we put Nevada back on top of the financial heap, the easier it will be for us to get there. We can start by reading all about our opportunities and our challenges, and to understand them in a way that doesn’t lead to ideological standstills. You can start by reading the Sun’s editorial pages, where questions about our future have been asked and answers will be forthcoming.

So, besides the fact that Brookings has added a huge dimension in terms of fact-based analyses of our challenges, what is different this time?

This time we can’t afford to stick it in a drawer. This time our leaders have no choice but to read it, react and implement. This time, the people have access and can read and understand it. This time we have UNLV to thank for making it happen.

Get it? Thank you UNLV for something academic and meaningful and vital to our future.

Brian Greenspun is president and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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