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April 18, 2014

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Washington think tank with ideas for the West starts UNLV partnership

Brookings Institution’s Mountain West Initiative announcement

Brian Greenspun, left, and UNLV President Neal Smatresk listen as new director William Antholis speaks at the announcement of the Brookings Institution's new Mountain West Initiative at UNLV's Greenspun Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009.  Launch slideshow »

Getting right to work

  • The Brookings announcement will take place at UNLV’s Greenspun Hall at 9 a.m. today, and be followed at 10:30 a.m. by the inaugural Brookings Scholars Lectures, which are free and open to the public. William Antholis, Brookings’ managing director, will discuss “How We’re Doing: A Composite Index of Global and National Trends.” Mark Muro, fellow and director of policy, and Robert Lang, nonresident senior fellow of Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, will discuss “Metropolitan Las Vegas: Challenges, Opportunities, and a Vision.”

Last summer the Brookings Institution identified Nevada as one of five Western states — along with Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah — poised to become a new American heartland.

Scholars and researchers at Brookings, a preeminent nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, concluded that Nevada needs significant investments and cooperation at the local, state and federal levels to develop the human capital, diversified economy and infrastructure needed to support growth.

A year after its study, Brookings is setting up shop in Las Vegas to help achieve those goals, launching what it says is its most comprehensive operation in the United States outside of its Washington, D.C. headquarters. It’s also the first endeavor that will bring together all five of the institution’s existing research programs.

Brookings will dispatch some of the nation’s leading scholars on issues critical to Western states — including growth, energy and economics — for rotating residencies in Las Vegas, as part of a new joint endeavor with UNLV.

The think tank’s leadership and UNLV President Neal Smatresk will announce the Brookings Institution’s new Mountain West Initiative today. The program will focus on addressing infrastructure, public policy and quality of life challenges in Las Vegas as well as the broader western region. UNLV faculty and staff will interact with the Brookings scholars.

“We’ll become a hub for the Intermountain West states to develop policy,” Smatresk said last week. “This is an unparalleled opportunity.”

While Smatresk is barely a month into his presidency, this is his second announcement of a major step toward expanding the breadth and scope of UNLV’s research and community involvement.

$14 Million for UNLV

Kirk Kerkorian through his Lincy Foundation has given UNLV a $14 million grant in honor of his longtime friend Senator Harry Reid. The grant will fund the creation of the Lincy Institute at UNLV, which will work to unite local non-profits.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV President Neal Smatresk speaks at the official announcement of a $14 million grant from Kirk Kerkorian's Lincy Foundation to fund the creation of The Lincy Institute at UNLV Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009.

Two weeks ago the Lincy Foundation, created by billionaire entrepreneur and MGM Mirage major shareholder Kirk Kerkorian, announced a $14 million gift to UNLV. The money will be used to establish the Lincy Institute, which will help raise money and support research aimed at advancing health care, education and social services in Southern Nevada.

The Brookings Institution is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious public policy institutions. Its research has influenced policymakers at all levels of government, both nationally and internationally.

“Brookings is top flight,” said Marshall Vest, director of the Economic and Business Research Center at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. “For Brookings to establish a presence at UNLV is going to be great for Las Vegas and all of the West.”

Having Brookings closer will also make it easier for regional researchers, scholars and policymakers to participate in the ongoing conversation about shared concerns such as water use, immigration and growth, Vest said.

Bill Antholis, Brookings’ managing director, said the UNLV endeavor would start with a two-year pilot phase. Robert Lang, a Brooking senior fellow and urban policy and planning expert, will serve as the Mountain West Initiative’s research director.

The institution has selected the first 10 scholars who will visit UNLV on a regular basis beginning Oct. 1. The scholars will be in residence for three-week rotations, during which time they will meet with faculty and community leaders, and hold seminars and public lectures.

Although the scholars will be drawn from all five of Brookings’ established research programs, there will be a particular focus on energy issues, Antholis said.

Among the first Brookings scholars to participate in the initiative will be Antholis, whose expertise is in foreign security and economic policy, and Charles Ebinger, director of Brookings’ Energy Security Initiative. Pietro Nivola, a senior fellow in government studies who focuses on how political institutions manage energy issues, and Adele Morris, a global economy and development fellow, are also on the list. Morris is renowned for her expertise in developing models showing the economic effects of climate changes.

“We tried to select scholars who can be immediate, on-the-ground resources on issues that are important to the community,” Antholis said. “We’re going to be putting a lot of different faces around a core set of issues we share with UNLV.”

The cost of operating the Mountain West Initiative is estimated at $1.5 million annually, and will be funded by the Lincy Institute, university officials confirmed.

For the UNLV leadership, Brookings’ report last summer about the emergence of the five Western states as a new heartland was further evidence that higher education would need to play a critical role as an engine in the state’s new economy.

The report “galvanized us into realizing that what we were saying about ourselves really matched what the region needed,” Smatresk said. Southern Nevada’s growing pains are “very much part of a global phenomenon — instant cities in desert climates, built off large immigrant populations.”

Smatresk, who was UNLV’s executive vice president and provost before being appointed president in early August, said he wanted to find a way to formally connect the university’s mission with the blueprint laid out by the Brookings brain trust. He sought input from Brian Greenspun, editor of the Las Vegas Sun, who has been a trustee of the Brookings Institution since 2000.

Greenspun introduced Antholis to Smatresk in February. A preliminary visit to UNLV followed in March.

From the outset, it seemed like a natural partnership, Antholis said. And that perception has only been reinforced in the weeks since Smatresk was named UNLV’s president.

“The excitement and enthusiasm in the UNLV community, the sense of shared ambition, has been a huge source of encouragement,” Antholis said. “We’re going to be able to do a lot, and we’re going to learn a lot in the process.”

The new Brookings initiative will help UNLV build its reputation for quality research, Greenspun said. In terms of the potential benefits to the community, Greenspun said the initiative is on par with the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic assuming the clinical and research responsibilities for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.

“What that relationship is going to do for medicine in our community, the Brookings initiative is going to do for higher education in our community,” Greenspun said.

“I have watched UNLV try to grow with some tremendous odds stacked against it,” Greenspun said. “The fact that President Smatresk and others have seen the value of partnerships with the Brookings Institution and the Lincy Foundation reaffirms my opinion that UNLV has a very bright future.”

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