Las Vegas Sun

July 4, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Building the future

Economic development should be strategic, continued focus for state

Nevada 3.0: Economic development

As the Legislature considers several proposals to improve the economy, the Sun's editorial board weighs in on the state's direction in this piece.

The Sun also askesSteve Hill, the executive director of the Governor's Office for Economic Development, a few questions about the state's progress. And CSN President Dr. Michael Richards writes about his views of the community college's role. The Sun's

This is all part of the Sun's Nevada 3.0 project, which is looking at issues confronting the state and ways to move forward.

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In every recent economic downturn, Nevadans have talked about diversifying the economy. It would typically be a short-lived discussion. When the economy rebounded, people moved on.

But that changed with the Great Recession. Once hailed as “bullet-proof,” the state’s economy was found to be all too mortal. And sure enough, state leaders began preaching economic development. But this time, they seem to be taking the challenge seriously.

Two years ago, Gov. Brian Sandoval and the state Legislature overhauled Nevada’s push to bring more jobs and diversify the economy. Since then, the governor has pledged to create 50,000 jobs by the end of his term in 2014, and Nevada’s economy appears to be well on its way toward achieving that.

That’s a good start, but economic development is more than just landing a certain number of jobs. For Nevada, it’s going to be about diversifying the economy, which has long been dependent on two industries: gaming and mining. And diversifying is more complex than just adding more industries. It will take improving the state’s education system, bolstering infrastructure and providing a higher quality of life.

The state’s effort has been guided by a comprehensive report by the Brookings Institution and SRI International, which smartly looked at the state’s strengths and targeted several industries to develop. And with the new Catalyst Fund, which offers incentives for businesses to come here or expand, Nevada officials have worked to lure companies that they hope will anchor specific clusters of businesses, including renewable energy, information technology and aerospace.

Some critics have complained that’s “picking winners and losers,” but it’s simply common sense. Nevada has long been touted as a business-friendly state with low taxes, but that on its own hasn’t been enough. The state should be strategic, take advantage of the opportunities that exist and build on what already exists.

In a relatively short time, the state effort has shown good progress. Steve Hill, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, says the recent agreement between the state, Desert Research Institute and IBM to create a center of excellence to study water will hopefully spur industry development here. He also pointed to work on battery technology for solar energy projects and said that manufacturing could be centered here as a result.

Those types of projects show great potential toward improving the state’s economic future. But it will take more than that.

For example, companies need a qualified workforce, and Nevada’s education system has a poor reputation. Education has become one of the focal points of the current Legislature, and lawmakers must do all they can to improve the state’s schools and align the higher education system with key industries.

As part of that, the Legislature should put money in the Knowledge Fund, which would provide money to help take inventions and ideas developed in the universities into the market. Programs like that across the country have helped boost economies, but in an only-in-Nevada moment, the fund was created last session but left unfunded.

As well, state leaders should look at the state’s infrastructure and how it affects the economy. One key project is the proposed Interstate 11 to Phoenix, which would provide a wide thoroughfare for commerce and tourists. Transportation experts say the interstate would be an important route for goods coming into ports in Mexico and California. Nevada should do its part to build the interstate.

Overall, state officials have made progress toward building a new and better economy, but there’s still more to do. After witnessing the damage of the Great Recession, Nevada can’t lose its zeal for economic development.

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