Our Turning Point

As Nevadans discuss strategies to rebuild the economy, solutions are tossed about with such ease.

Diversify the economy. Attract new businesses. Invest in new industries.

There are no easy answers or one perfect solution. However, the recently released report by the Brookings Institute and SRI lays out a plan for rebuilding Nevada's economy that is a comprehensive roadmap to diversification and economic growth.

The highly-publicized Unify | Regionalize | Diversify: An Economic Development Agenda for Nevada brings to light myriad issues related to the opportunities and challenges that currently exist in Nevada's economy. This report also outlines steps that have the potential to take advantage of and build upon areas of strength while aggressively approaching weaknesses with a comprehensive agenda that proactively changes the area's economic status quo, and how the business community can actively embrace these opportunities.

The report was created in part for the newly-established Office of Economic Development, which is charged to examine opportunities to diversify and strengthen Nevada's economy, as well as suggest policy options that enable the state to work more efficiently and in conjunction with other business, community and non-profit organizations in developing plans for a more diversified economic climate.

"This report is worth taking a look at," explains Steve Hill, executive director of the Office of Economic Development and former chairman of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. "It's not just for the economic development community; it's a report for everyone in the state. The restructuring of economic development in Nevada is a topic many people should be interested in."

Unify | Regionalize | Diversify offers insight into the industries that have the potential for growth and shines a light on current roadblocks that prevent Nevada from taking progressive steps toward overcoming obstacles. Many of the issues introduced through the report are related to areas on which the business community can focus. These include:

  • Focusing on ensuring a strong, skilled and educated local workforce through improving K-12 education
  • Supporting collaborative efforts between educators and business professionals to ensure knowledge of real-world work skills
  • Maintaining a business-friendly environment free of regulatory red tape that prohibits ease of business start-up, operation and expansion
  • Supporting legislation that keeps the small business tax burden low and equitable
  • Promoting the potential of Southern Nevada's natural clean energy resources as a viable component of economic diversification
  • Encouraging innovation through public/private partnerships, creating mentoring opportunities and working in conjunction with other organizations to connect burgeoning start-ups with the tools, resources and support they need to successfully launch businesses in Southern Nevada

While the report addresses the nature of Nevada's economic challenges and suggests policy options that may aid in diversification efforts, it has received some level of criticism for focusing more on theories and broad-range overviews than specific steps to be taken to initiate recommendations.

To elaborate on these details, report lead Mark Muro, senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and the co-director of Brookings Mountain West, addressed some of the concerns over the report's specifics. Speaking to the Project Steering Committee of the Nevada State Board of Economic Development in mid-November, Muro noted that the recommendations in the report must be received and acted upon, rather than just talked about. Muro also cautioned against looking for either short-term fixes or large-scale plans that are difficult to implement.

"Our work counsels you, I think, to reject grandiose thinking or silver bullets and get your hands dirty with real-world, piece-by-piece execution… In the same way, I think the trick now is to focus on the real economy, real market niches and the basic block-and-tackling of improving your industries firm-by-firm, expansion-by-expansion, niche-by-niche, cluster-by-cluster. Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will the next Nevada likely be built with flashy 10,000-job firm relocations. Instead, we are recommending a more grounded approach that calls on you to set a compelling sector strategy, put in place an effective set of aligned efforts, and build from the ground up."

Much of Unify | Regionalize | Diversify was based on a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) assessment designed to outline the state's economic pros and cons. The pros indicate strength in Nevada's business-friendly environment, including a low tax base, paired with cons of what the report describes as "spotty economic planning and cooperation," weak efforts toward innovation and technology commercialization and serious deficits in workforce skills.

In addition to the strength and weakness assessment, the report identifies industries that possess the greatest potential for growth, new job creation and economic diversification. Industries identified as having these qualities include tourism, gaming and entertainment as well as health and medical services, business IT ecosystems, clean energy and mining, materials and manufacturing. The report also identified strong possibilities for industries related to logistics and operations and aerospace and defense.

So what needs to be done to put recommendations into actionable steps? The report encourages upgrading the state's economic development systems in the following ways:

Unify:

Install an operating system for 21st century economic development

Regionalize:

Support smart sector strategies in the regions

Diversify:

Set a platform for higher-value growth through innovation and global engagement

The report urges that such an undertaking be carefully crafted and executed to be effective.

The Chamber will continue to keep the business community apprised of actions taken with regard to Unify | Regionalize | Diversify recommendations.

To read the report in its entirety, visit brookings.edu