Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Education and the economy
We’ve heard and received several comments over the past several months about how higher education does, or doesn’t, contribute to the economy and economic development in Nevada. The Sun asked three people for their insight: Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich, and writer
Patrick Gibbons. Here are their thoughts. What are yours? Send us a letter: 2360 Corporate Circle, Henderson, NV 89074; e-mail:
[email protected]; or post your comments on these pieces online.
One of the earliest economic development efforts by a Nevada governor came in 1907 when Gov. John Sparks appointed the State Industrial and Publicity Commission. In the ensuing century, Nevada’s leaders have searched for a silver bullet that would lead to the creation of an economic model safe from downturns. We now know, of course, that no single step will deliver such a system. Economic development isn’t a quick-fix assignment; it requires systemic action on many fronts.
Today’s economic reality is remarkably different from the 20th century model that delivered so much success for our state. Nevada’s workforce needs are changing as well. There was a day when thousands of Nevadans could find work with only a high school diploma — or even without graduating from high school at all. But if we are to compete in the 21st century economy, this is no longer true. Future employment will require significantly higher levels of education. For this reason, the Nevada System of Higher Education is an integral part of the new economic development infrastructure created in the 2011 legislative session.
The new structure, formed through Assembly Bill 449, created the Office of Economic Development, a Cabinet-level department within state government. The office is guided by a new Board of Economic Development on which the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education serves, together with the director of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. This inclusion of higher education and the state’s workforce development was deliberate — it reflects Nevada’s recognition that publicity alone will not draw businesses to our state, or cause local firms to grow.
For Nevada to compete long-term, we must change our approach to workforce development. Colleges, universities and training programs throughout the state must align with those sectors targeted for future job creation. There is a role for private as well as public institutions, for certificate programs as well as doctoral degrees. A diverse economy will require an equally diverse workforce, with skills that range from the vocational and technical to the furthest reaches of experimental research.
Delivery of this new economic model is, like economic development in general, a complex and systemic process. The lack of state revenue during our most recent legislative session required significant changes to the funding levels of higher education and the K-12 system. However, as the presidents of both UNR and UNLV have acknowledged in recent speeches, these budget cuts also resulted in the creation of new delivery mechanisms for the type of education tomorrow’s graduates will need. More is being done to ensure students complete their college and university education. I applaud the efforts of NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich and the Board of Regents in focusing on accountability efforts and a financing model that will prove to be both more stable and more flexible.
One part of the long-term return on investment in Nevada’s new economic development model will come from the Knowledge Fund created by AB449. The fund will allocate money among the state’s research universities, the Desert Research Institute, and a new technology outreach program in order to support commercialization and technology transfer to the private sector — thus putting into practice, and bringing to market, patents and innovations that are conceived right here in Nevada.
Nevada has an immediate, short-term need for thousands of jobs. But we also have long-term needs for a different kind of workforce to meet future demands. We are therefore operating on two tracks. Just as the Nevada System of Higher Education is now engaged in a strategic planning effort, my administration’s approach to the training and development of tomorrow’s workforce is being redesigned as well.
We are partners in this effort. The chancellor has joined my Cabinet where, together with the state superintendent of public instruction, he will influence a wide range of policy issues and debates as long as I have the honor of serving as governor.
It is possible that things were simpler for Gov. Sparks in 1907 — or perhaps hindsight only makes it seem that way. But I remain committed to the belief that Nevada’s leaders cannot be deterred by the challenges of the times in which we are privileged to serve. Working together, we can and will provide the system that aids businesses in job creation today while building a new economy and training a new workforce for the next century of Nevada’s growth.
Brian Sandoval, a Republican, is the 30th governor of Nevada.