Las Vegas Sun

July 5, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

The debate on the state’s economy has skirted the issues for too long

For decades, Nevada’s economy had a reputation for being bulletproof. It quickly rebounded from any economic downturn and continued to grow. A decade ago, Nevada was dealing with the slump after the 9/11 terrorist attacks but would quickly rebound and take off on a torrid pace of growth.

Then the unforgiving Great Recession hit, and Nevada was proved to be mortal.

Tourism, housing and construction were hammered, and the state has had the highest unemployment rate in the country for 16 months. Nevada has also suffered from high rates of foreclosures.

While there have been some positives signs showing a gradual improvement in the economy, no one with any sense is suggesting that the state will spring back to where it once was. The housing market has been flooded with foreclosures, leaving a glut of homes and no rush to build. The tourism industry has seen an upturn, but it is a shadow of the growth it once saw.

As we have noted before, Nevada has long been on a boom-and-bust cycle economically, and that dates back to the founding of the state. Good times came when the price of minerals and metals being mined in Nevada went up, and the economy faltered when the markets slipped or the mines went bust. Although more stable than mining, the casino industry has been vulnerable to economic fluctuations as well.

Given how the recession has decimated the state, it’s time for Nevada to fundamentally reconsider its economy and how the state moves forward.

This shouldn’t be news to state leaders. They have long talked about the need to recruit new businesses and industries to the state to diversify and help stabilize the economy. Unfortunately, there has been little progress made.

Now, the state’s economic troubles have spurred some action in Carson City. The Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval took initial steps this year by approving an overhaul of the state’s economic development efforts. Last week, the Brookings Institution and SRI International provided a foundation for the work with a major report outlining issues and opportunities facing the state. The report takes a serious, sober look at Nevada, and state leaders should consider it to be a guide for the way forward.

The report outlines any number of problems facing Nevada, many of which are old news. For example, the education system has struggled and there hasn’t been the investment in higher education, which could help spur the economy forward. In the past, state leaders have been content to make minor changes and push off tough decisions, pledging to take them up when better times came. But when the good times came, they were never good enough for the politicians to act, and as a result the schools and other essential services have languished.

The can’t be acceptable anymore. What state leaders have tried in the past hasn’t worked to prepare Nevada for the 21st century. They need to take bold action and invest in the state, build the education system and strengthen any other number of important services to help provide a future for the next generation of Nevadans.

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