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October 1, 2014

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Low education levels holding Nevada’s economy back, official says

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Students, alumni and staff march through the UNLV campus during a rally in support of funding for education on March 5, 2010. Officials today at UNLV were told that lower education levels in Las Vegas will make an economic recovery more difficult.

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Robert Lang, co-director of Brookings Mountain West, says Las Vegas is unique in that it went from a quarter million in population to 2 million people in a span of 40 years.

Nevada’s higher education levels are holding the region back from diversifying its economy and the city has become a modern-day version of Pittsburgh or Detroit, which once relied on one sector for its growth to its detriment, the director of a UNLV-based think tank said today.

Robert Lang, the director of Brookings Mountain West, outlined the problems Nevada faces as he kicked off a day-long conference at UNLV on how to diversify the economy.

Lang said the state has touted itself for its favorable business climate but said that’s meaningless without having a skilled and educated workforce that makes companies want to come here. The region’s economic downturn and dysfunctional appearance resulting from that are turning off companies looking to relocate to Nevada, he said.

“We don’t want to be a case study for what went wrong with the country,” Lang said.

The conference features the state’s political and business leaders along with experts on diversification in other states.

Lang said Las Vegas has hard-working people but he spoke in harsh terms about the region not having a high enough percentage of people who have bachelor’s degrees.

Lang compared Las Vegas to Midwestern and Northeastern cites with manufacturing plants and steel mills where the middle class had high-paying jobs, only to see those plants disappear. The jobs the gaming industry will produce in the future are for exporting the industry around the globe and that’s going to require higher education levels, he said.

“If we don’t address this, Mississippi is going to start to compare us to the rest of the country,” Lang said. “This is the direction we are heading, but we don’t have to go there.”

Gaming and tourism will continue to be a main driver of the economy, he said.

“There is no escaping it that we are at risk because we have lived off one industry. We can’t use that engine of growth to expand the state’s economy or fix the budget shortfall before us,” Lang said.

Lang said tourism offers connections to the world that help the Las Vegas economy link with others. Few cities have airports that allow them to access places around the globe, he said.

“We have the capacity to be a world city,” Lang said. “What is holding us back at this moment is the human capital. That is a reality of the new economy emerging in the 21st century.”

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Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki says his coalition to bring new business and industry to Nevada will be a global effort.

Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said that while it’s up to the private sector to create jobs, government has a role to help facilitate diversification. He said it’s a non-partisan issue that will be dealt with in the current legislative session.

“One of the silver linings of these difficult times is people are working together in a special way,” Krolicki said. “This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a Nevada issue.”

A state task force studying diversification is focusing on clusters that can be created to lessen the state’s reliance on gaming and mining industries, he said.

Those clusters include technology; defense-sector expansion; film, television and digital productions; business-to-business marketing; international business development; medical tourism; and renewable energy.

Krolicki said a focus on renewable energy means serving as a research and manufacturing center for solar, geothermal and other renewable energy industries.

Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said the state can’t grow the economy without improving its education levels and said more must be spent on education in the state's budget.

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  1. With the new Governor pay attention to this article?
    Lowest at everything, including education and funding. What do you do charge more....
    Gibbons come back.....

  2. I earned a masters degree from Ohio State and my bachelors from UNLV. I would love to return and establish myself in Nevada, but the economic conditions have eliminated university positions and the conversations about reducing benefits further encourage me to stay put in California. I am lucky to be employed for a private research university with amazing benefits. But, the thought of returning to Vegas would be GREAT! Come on Nevada, invest some more money into education and the returns will be countless. We need more smart educated people in Nevada, maybe the quality of life would increase.

  3. I was able to hire two engineers last quarter to 6-figure salary positions. I was unable to find a single qualified candidate locally. I ended up hiring two people in San Jose. I don't prefer remote employees, but Vegas leaves me no choice.

  4. Education is what you make of It, and no amount of education will teach someone who refuses to do anything to do something. In the meantime, maybe those Nevadans who felt the need to leave to get an education can come back and make a difference instead of making excuses.

  5. Well, the only apparent solution has been offered by our new Gov. Sandoval, hereafter referred to as "BS."

    We raise tuition fees. (Whoops, I meant to say tuition rates, since BS said he would not raise taxes or fees. BS!)

    The super-wealthy of the state and the mining companies are really hurting right now, so I agree with BS -- the students can carry a little more of the burden. It's only fair. They can take it out of their beer budget.

    So I support Gov. BS, because we are only getting more BS as we go along here.

  6. "Nevada's higher education levels are holding the region back from diversifying its economy and the city has become a modern-day version of Pittsburgh or Detroit, which once relied on one sector for its growth to its detriment, the director of a UNLV-based think tank said today."

    Exactly what educational opportunities are missing in Nevada? There are opportunities. There are literally over one hundred degree programs at UNLV. Is high tuition really an issue in this state?

    We can't force people to go to college.

  7. Raising fees on students, which the hypocritical Sandogibbons swore he would not do, only encourages more young nevadans to leave for other states. He is sacrificing our state's future because he does not want to upset his buddies with Jones Cargas in the big business community.

    Where are the Republican Tea Baggers who swore they would protest him if he raised fees or taxes?

  8. #1, the Hispanic population, as a whole, is not big on education, and that really drags down the facks & figgurs relating to graduation rates, test scores, etc...

    #2, There has to be a WILL to educate the populous.
    It starts in the Smart States with EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, and continues through high school with an EXPECTATION that you WILL be going to college, and the understanding that there is TREMENDOUS VALUE in not just going, but succeeding, and getting, at minimum, a Bachelor's Degree.

    #3, You have to have PARENTS PARENTING. Airweare commented about it earlier... without that FOUNDATION, your kids WILL LIKELY FAIL.

    #3, As a state, you have to develop a MARKET for a college educated workforce, by enticing Big Business to relocate here.

    Understand, they AREN'T COMIN' until we wise up!!!

    We don't need to put an extra burden on our youth that are TRYING to get an education BY RAISING THEIR TUITION!
    Governor B.S., you DO UNDERSTAND that that's antithetical to our PROBLEM, do you not???