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October 23, 2014

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While Northern Nevada cashes in on Tesla, will Southern Nevada push for its own medical school?

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Scott Sonner / AP

Mustangs graze at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center 15 miles east of Sparks on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. Tesla Motors Inc. plans to build a 6,500-worker “gigafactory” to mass produce cheaper lithium batteries for its next line of more-affordable electric cars near the center.

Before Nevada's Tesla deal is finalized, Gov. Brian Sandoval will need Southern Nevada lawmakers to sign off on a $1.3 billion package of tax breaks that won’t do much to directly benefit Las Vegas.

It's unlikely that Southern Nevada lawmakers will hold up the deal when the Legislature meets for a special session on Wednesday.

But with their support critical to passing the proposal, Southern Nevada legislators will have some leverage to push one of their own economic priorities.

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Rob Lang is the director of Brookings Mountain West.

For example: “Where’s our medical school?” said Brookings Mountain West director Rob Lang, a vocal advocate for a UNLV medical school. “It’s a reasonable ask. It’s a much smaller (cost) than Tesla.”

Lang said bringing Tesla to Northern Nevada will boost the entire state’s economy. A 2011 Brookings Mountain West study identified manufacturing as Northern Nevada’s best way to diversify the region’s economy. Tesla fits perfectly with that plan, Lang said.

That same report named health care as Southern Nevada’s best shot at growing beyond gaming and hospitality.

“They both do wonders for each regional economy,” Lang said.

A Southern Nevada medical school would create 8,000 jobs — more than the 6,500 predicted at the Tesla plant, Lang said. At a cost of about $20 million per year, it would also cost less than the $1.3 billion in incentives Tesla will receive over the next two decades.

With incentives for Tesla on the line, Lang said Southern Nevada legislators would be in a better position to argue for state dollars for their own needs.

“I wouldn’t want to get in the way of the deal,” Lang said. “I would say, ‘I want you to take note that when we go into general session, we’re going to expect the same amount of consideration paid to our economic priorities.’”

It's not clear yet how Southern Nevada leaders will respond to Sandoval's proposal. Lawmakers declined to answer specific questions Thursday out of respect to Sandoval and his big announcement.

UNLV political scientist David Damore said the Tesla debate could open an opportunity for Southern Nevada.

But he said members of the delegation “haven’t proven themselves to be the best negotiators.”

“The story in Nevada has always been when Southern Nevada asks for money, the response is ‘There’s no money; build it yourself,’” Damore said.

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