Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 | 2:06 a.m.
When a Colorado State University engineering professor, W.S. Sampath, found a way to cut costs in making solar panels, he turned to Hunt Lambert, a university official tasked with taking researchers’ efforts to the market.
Lambert, the university’s economic development officer, found investors, and next year a solar panel manufacturing plant is scheduled to open in Colorado and employ 500 people.
As J. Patrick Coolican reported in Sunday’s Las Vegas Sun, Colorado has made a determined effort to diversify its economy, in part by leveraging the brain power in its colleges and universities. In addition, Colorado’s governor, Bill Ritter, has worked to foster the renewable energy industry in his state.
Several Western states have developed plans to broaden their economies and have made investments in higher education to foster that growth. In Arizona, for example, political leaders have boosted bioscience programs and helped a nonprofit genetics company.
In Nevada, Gov. Jim Gibbons is cutting education as well as other government services. Instead of looking for ways to strengthen the state’s economy through diversification, Gibbons prefers the laissez-faire approach. In other words, until the economy rebounds, we’ll just suffer through it.
University system Chancellor Jim Rogers has questioned Gibbons in several letters, and the governor’s childish response was to list the number of university employees who make $100,000 or more.
Rogers said Gibbons’ letter “confirmed every one of my fears and concerns. It is apparent that in your desire to reduce the size of government, you have no problem sacrificing education.”
Rogers is correct. Gibbons has been reactive in his approach to dealing with the economy, much less anything else, and cutting an education system already suffering from a lack of funding will only hamstring the state. Nevada could be poised to become the nation’s leader in renewable energy, but without strong leadership and without strong universities, that may never amount to anything more than a dream.