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October 24, 2014

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Innovation touted as a way out of recession

The auditorium at UNLV was filled about to capacity, some 150 business leaders, scholars and government people, gathered to discuss Nevada’s future and how to pull it out of the Great Recession.

They were mostly quiet and attentive on this Monday afternoon, called to order by the vice president of the Brookings Institution, which established the Mountain West Initiative at UNLV.

Among its purposes: Divine Las Vegas’ role in the region and what the Sun Belt needs to do to transform its economies.

Like attentive students glued to their mentor’s words, everyone wanted to hear the answers and how to achieve them.

A lot of attention paid to the executive of the company with 53,000 employees — the largest private employer in Clark County and a company that barely clung to the safe side of bankruptcy last year — when he stood to speak.

Click to enlarge photo

Jim Murren

There will be some improvement in the economy this year, MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren told the audience, and 2011 will be better. He looked stern, somber. This didn’t amount to much of a pep rally and he got no applause, just gentle nods.

The first order of business, he said, is to improve education. He described the level of state funding for schools as sinful.

Beyond schools, Nevada needs to improve its sustainability, health care and its technological and physical infrastructure, Murren said.

And he wondered why Nevada has missed opportunities.

“2007 was a pretty damn good year, and we did nothing to address these issues,” Murren said. “Shame on us.”

Bruce Katz, the Brookings executive who convened the gathering, suggested three areas the state and community could tackle to reposition itself for the “next economy” — increasing exports, innovating and developing industry and services based on low-carbon energy use.

Katz encouraged people to look at the United States not just as a union of 50 states but more of an “economic network” — a way to improve the vision of how locales and regions should position themselves to develop new business.

He said it’s important for political leaders locally to view themselves as working together in competing for business, instead of competing against one another.

Calling for more dollars on research and development, in part toward the goal of creating energy and innovation hubs across the country, including in Nevada, should be the mantra of local and federal political leaders from the area, he said.

“The key is open innovation embedded in the market,” Katz added.

A man in the audience stood. He said he was an inventor and had just come up with another device having to do with efficient energy.

This is good, Katz said. This is just what we need: entrepreneurs.

And people in the room gently nodded their heads.

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