Ramping down Nevada’s dependence on the gambling industry (and associated consumer spending) through developing new job-creating industries was the main topic at last Friday’s Nevada 2.0 economic forum at UNLV.
Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki used the word “retooling” as he spoke of the need for diversity in his opening remarks, adding that he did not believe the vision of an economically robust Nevada was “Pollyanna-ish.”
“Building sustainability into the budget” so the state can be “better buffered against downturns” should happen simultaneously with immediate job-creating initiatives, added state Senator Steven Horsford.
Speaker after speaker at the forum pointed out that while millions of tourists emptied their pockets in casinos, the state ignored warnings that its economy lacked diversity and was headed for a crash.
Nevada has ranked behind eight other western states for industrial diversity since for over a decade, according to Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Nevada also needs to stop outsourcing so many service jobs to other states and backfill certain sectors in ratios that make sense based on our current population, said Lang.
Much of the discussion focused on the state’s comparatively undereducated work force. Roughly 19 percent of Las Vegans possess a bachelor’s degree, compared to between 25 and 30 percent of the population in most major cities. Of 100 ninth graders in Nevada, only 48 graduate high school, 26 enter college, 18 are still enrolled after year two, and just 4 graduate with college degrees, on average.
Though a gaming-supported working-class population may not need much more than high school diplomas to get the job done, employees who hope to work in high-end industries do need college degrees.
Business owners and government officials from Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City suggested any comprehensive economic plan must include a greater focus on education.
Utah’s economic initiatives included attracting world class faculty members from other states in order to bolster research and patent registrations and bring in federal grant money, said Ted McAleer of the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR). But faculty-stealing can cost a great deal of money, acknowledged Aleer.
Suggestions for diversifying the state’s industries included attracting film, television and media companies along with corporations rooted in the medical field, defense contracts, technology and renewable energy. But most such plans developed in neighboring states relied heavily on public monies, something Nevada sorely lacks.
Will last week’s forum add a sense of urgency to a now decades-long call for expanding Nevada’s economy beyond gaming, tourism and construction?
“You can never get out of a recession by doing anything,” said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “What you do in a recession is prepare for the recovery.”
While business leaders and elected officials continue to talk, the state’s unemployment, bankruptcy and foreclosure rates remain the highest in the nation.
Video clips below posted and captioned by Mike Chamberlain
The Nevada News Bureau was able to obtain some interviews with participants and attendees at the Nevada 2.0 economic conference held last Friday, January 7, 2011 at UNLV.
Nevada Assembly Speaker John Oceguera was asked if making the types of investments in sciences and engineering programs that some had recommended to drive the Nevada economy may have to be done at the expense of liberal arts and other programs that may not be effective economic drivers (a point made later in the program by Robert Lang, Director of Brookings Mountain West):
Ted McAleer of the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR) described how Utah was able to fund its development initiative. He admitted that the circumstances are different in other states, including Nevada, which may have to look for a different solution:
Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki explained why Nevada may have to find a more innovative answer:
Somer Hollingsworth of the Nevada Development Authority discussed how the public and private sectors can work together to improve the economic conditions in Nevada:
Lt. Gov. Krolicki listed some of the strengths of the Silver State that could help improve economic development and diversification.