Las Vegas Sun

March 2, 2015

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2020 Vision:

UNLV president: Economic diversity key to meaningful education reform

UNLV President Neal Smatresk

UNLV President Neal Smatresk

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Our most urgent priorities over the next decade are to address the things we’ve identified with the Brookings Institution as our highest-need areas for the state: economic diversification, building our human capital and creating an infrastructure that supports those.

We will see our biotech industry grow, revolving around the Cleveland Clinic, the UNLV dental school and University of Nevada School of Medicine, so there will be a supply chain for the health care industry.

Our concrete reforms in public education will mean K-12 students are coming to the university ready to get the advanced knowledge and skills they need, with little remediation. We will be producing a more diversified and technology-oriented workforce.

I absolutely believe 10 years from now we will be the acknowledged solar power capital of the world. We might be in a race with China for that title, but in this nation we will be the place to go for research and development, as well as solar manufacturing and production.

If we expect to pull in those new industries, they in turn will expect a higher-quality education system, public transportation systems that make it easy for workers to get in and out of the city and the quality-of-life features that will make this a place people want to live.

For all of that to work, we’re really going to have to revise our revenue structure. That’s going to take all of us — UNLV, the community, state and federal lawmakers — to work cogently together.

The goal for our state isn’t just better health care and it isn’t just better transportation or a more diversified economy — the goal is for us to have a prosperous and sustainable economy that isn’t subject to the vagaries of travel and tourism.

We’re going to come out of hard times — maybe four years from now — and there’s going to be some euphoria when real estate developers feel like they’re back in the game and big projects are being completed. I hope that euphoria doesn’t make us forget we still need the rest of our economy to work. We need to invest in diversification and infrastructure. What we don’t need to do is create the same crazy real estate bubble.

My hope is that we will have learned a lesson. My fear is that we will go back to business as usual.

Neal Smatresk is president of UNLV.

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