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October 25, 2014

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Where I Stand — Guest Column:

Embracing economic development

In August, Brian Greenspun turns over his Where I Stand column to guest writers. Glenn Christenson is today’s guest columnist. Christenson, managing director of Velstand Investments, is chairman of the board of the Nevada Development Authority.

We have myriad problems facing our community today, but none greater than economic development. Through economic development, we can enhance the efforts to reduce unemployment, solidify the residential and commercial real estate markets, expand the tax base for education and other social needs, and lessen our dependence on a few industries.

There has never been more interest in economic development in our community. It is a complex issue. We will not diversify our economy overnight, but I am encouraged by the recent attention given to the issue and the seriousness with which it is being addressed.

The passage of Assembly Bill 449 during the legislative session provides some structure to a previously very disorganized effort. With the endorsement of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, the bill had strong bipartisan support and sets the stage for meaningful, coordinated improvements in the public-private efforts to attract, expand and retain businesses as well as diversify Nevada’s economy.

To be successful, our community needs to adopt a cooperative effort through a long-term strategy that includes at least five provisions.

First, as a community, we have to embrace the concept of economic development with the same passion that has made us the Entertainment Capital of the World.

Second, we need to begin thinking of Southern Nevada from a regional perspective, not a collection of individual communities. We have to think even more cooperatively than we have historically. To that end, the Nevada Development Authority and the municipalities are actively working on a memorandum of understanding to establish a regional development authority and the “rules” for cooperative effort going forward. This is a very positive step.

Third, we have to expand the number and depth of public-private partnerships. We are making progress in this area. The authority has been working more closely with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce than at any time in recent memory. With the assistance of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Nevada Development Authority has a booth on the Convention Center floor where millions of conventioneers can learn about why they should move their business to Southern Nevada. Five years ago, this could never have happened. To be successful will take a team effort, and we are building the team.

Fourth, we must leverage our resources — financial, human and intellectual. Given the status of our economy, the NDA and other municipal economic development agencies clearly do not have the resources to do the job effectively, so we need to pool our efforts. The effort needs to work with the private sector as well — especially financially. Even little things like tag lines on national advertisements encouraging businesses to visit the authority’s website can be very constructive for the economic development effort.

Fifth, it is imperative that our community do a better job of communication — both internally and externally. Internally it means bringing down long-existent “silos” among the public and private entities working on economic development. For example, AB449 has a provision for a knowledge fund that is a natural for UNLV and the higher education system in Southern Nevada to work with the economic development effort to encourage “incubators.” External communication is essential to inform businesses about the opportunity that exists here. We have spent the past 50-plus years telling the world to come here and have fun. Now we need to expand our messaging to the following: We are a great destination for your vacation, but we are also a great destination for your business.

Another recent positive in the economic development effort is that AB449 provides for a study to identify which business clusters are the most appropriate for Nevada. This study, which is under way, will be a joint effort of SRI and Brookings Mountain West at UNLV and will help with the statewide economic development effort.

Bottom line, having witnessed the miracle of the growth of Las Vegas over the past 39 years, I know we can do this if we are willing to commit to the effort. The more I talk to leaders in our community, the more encouraged I become. Our community is taking some great first steps in what will be a protracted effort, but I am confident that the Nevada pioneering spirit will prevail again.

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  1. 1. Let's suppose I have an invention. Where is the closes place for me to be able to do a complete search of "prior art" required for my patent application? In order, they are: Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Reno. So if we have "incubators" in Southern Nevada, where will the folks in those incubators have to go to do the homework for their patent applications? They have to go and camp out in LA, Phoenix or Reno.

    2. Let's suppose I have a new manufacturing process. Where does my new equipment come from? Not here. Where is the closest technical support? Why in the LA Area, or the San Francisco Area or possibly Phoenix. Where do my spare parts come from? Probably through LA. So why would I put my new plant in Nevada which costs me a least one extra day of downtime while I import the people and parts to make repairs?

    3. Let's suppose I'm a distributor of imported goods from China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc., who is sick of California. What does it cost me extra to locate here rather than next to the port of Los Angeles/Long Beach? It costs me at least a day extra to haul the goods from the port to Nevada. When diesel fuel and interest rates are extraordinarily low, it doesn't cost me much. But when diesel fuel rises in price, it costs more money to haul longer distances. And when interest rates rise, I'm paying more for the delay. And, when the goods do get here, can I ship them off to my customers promptly using a cost effective method of distribution? Without easy intermodal access, for many distributors that answer will be no. And with access limited to the areas served by the Union Pacific, that answer might be no as well, as there is no way to deliver goods to areas served by BNSF without undue cost and delay.

    We can talk about incubation, but if the hatchlings don't survive do provide eggs or put meat on the table, what is the point of incubation?

  2. Until this State decides that EDUCATION is important, there will be no diversification of the economy, which is what we need.

  3. "AB449 has a provision for a knowledge fund that is a natural for UNLV and the higher education system in Southern Nevada to work with the economic development effort to encourage "incubators.""

    The law certainly has a "provision for" such a fund, but does not actually put any state money into the fund. So either the private sector needs to fund it or it does not exist.

    Indeed, we need to do a better job of communicating and of mobilizing resources. But that also means we need to be honest: there's no free lunch. We can't call upon UNLV and higher education generally to support economic development if we can't invest our resources in UNLV and higher education.