Sunday, April 9, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Several years ago, Brookings Institution scholars Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley published a book promoting what they called the “Metropolitan Revolution.” Katz and Bradley argue that metropolitan areas better manage their own business than Washington, D.C., or even state capitals. Metros should control many local assets and agencies historically administered by federal or state governments.
Nevada, in the wake of the Great Recession, embraced the Metropolitan Revolution. In 2011, the state commissioned a report from Brookings that “regionalized” economic development efforts. By 2013, Southern Nevada’s legislative delegation formed a caucus to advocate for the region. The caucus successfully delivered on a new UNLV medical school during the 2015 legislative session, and several other regional priorities.
Clark County’s Cooperative Extension Services forms the latest opportunity in Southern Nevada’s Metropolitan Revolution. Currently, CES in the region is a partnership between Clark County and UNR, with the goal to deliver health, education and agricultural services to local residents. However, a bill now in the Nevada Legislature sponsored by Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, D-North Las Vegas, proposes transferring UNR’s management of CES in Clark, Lincoln, and Nye Counties to UNLV.
The Lincy Institute at UNLV issued a research brief last month titled, “Rethinking Cooperative Extension in Southern Nevada.” The report reviews UNLV’s legal eligibility to run the CES-South region, evaluates UNR’s management of the region and proposes a framework to improve CES-South by transitioning its management to UNLV.
First, as a “land-grant” institution, UNLV can legally administer CES-South. During the March 27, 2017, hearing on Diaz’s bill, A.B. 407, Brenda J. Erdoes from the Nevada Legislative Council Bureau confirmed again that the entire University of Nevada system (including UNR, UNLV and the Desert Research Institute) collectively holds land-grant status. She further noted that UNLV’s land-grant designation dates to a 1969 opinion (No. 69-556) by then Nevada Attorney General Harvey Dickerson.
Second, UNLV is better positioned to integrate CES-South within the local community. UNLV is the most connected nonprofit in Southern Nevada based on research by Shannon Monnat from Penn State University. Monnat conducted an analysis of all Southern Nevada nonprofits to test the extent to which they join a larger regional network of community service providers. Most often, organizations with more network connections have better funding, support and leverage opportunities compared to nonprofits with weaker ties. Unfortunately, UNR’s CES-South ranks 262nd in connectivity within the region, which places it not only behind UNLV, but also far lower than Nevada State College (21st-ranked) and the College of Southern Nevada (39th-ranked). UNLV is the local land-grant university and currently serves as the de facto CES in Southern Nevada, despite receiving no county, state or federal resources to support its substantial extension efforts.
Third, UNLV has the institutional capacity and faculty quality to run CES-South. UNLV operates Nevada’s largest and most comprehensive graduate and professional education program, with medical, dental, nursing, law, business, hotel, health, architecture, science, engineering, and urban affairs schools and colleges. The reputations and performance of these programs continue to improve. The Harrah College of Hotel Administration ranks among the best in the world. Founded less than two decades ago, UNLV’s Boyd School of Law is now a top-third program according to US News and World Report.
Finally, Southern Nevada local governments want UNLV to manage CES-South. That preference recently was affirmed by two Clark County commissioners at the hearing on A.B. 407. Cities such as Las Vegas and North Las Vegas expressed the same view. Perhaps the best case for UNLV to run CES-South came in testimony on A.B. 407 by Brian McAnallen, Las Vegas government affairs manager. In response to CES in Clark County currently running a $13 million budget surplus, McAnallen stated, “as a property taxpayer in Clark County, it would be nice to see that the property taxes we pay toward cooperative extension is used in our community and not left in a bank account.”
UNR’s CES-South has been running a $10 million-plus surplus for over a decade. Even during the Great Recession, the CES account in Clark County increased by 25 percent. Think about that. At a time when every Nevada government was cutting programs and sweeping reserves to find additional resources, CES-South saw its budget surplus grow. The reason: UNR failed to invest fully in Clark County services and is prohibited from transferring CES-South surplus funds to Reno.
In 2014, when the Lincy Institute published its first study showing the economic value of a UNLV-based medical school, some claimed that no such institution was needed because the Reno-based University of Nevada School of Medicine already ran a clinic in Las Vegas. In reality, an independent UNLV medical school made perfect sense for every possible reason — health outcomes, academic quality, economic development, community outreach and philanthropic support. Although the UNLV medical school idea seemed controversial at first, almost every business leader and policymaker in Nevada eventually came to support its establishment.
The skepticism shown toward UNLV’s School of Medicine is now being directed by some to a UNLV-led CES-South. Like the medical school, these arguments are isolated and misread the new Nevada economy. Regions do matter. Regions run local economies. No one else can or should. Southern Nevadans must take charge of CES-South. Ultimately, a Clark County-UNLV partnership has the capacity to fully program CES-South and use its significant tax resources to benefit the entire region.
Robert Lang is executive director of the Lincy Institute and director of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV. David Damore is a UNLV professor and a Brookings Institution fellow.