Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2014

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Where I Stand:

Business community wises up over UNLV

Aspiration begets perspiration.

UNLV’s acting president, Don Snyder, has been making the rounds after being appointed in January by the Board of Regents. Snyder, not one to let grass grow under his feet, has been taking his upbeat message about the future of UNLV to anyone who will give him the courtesy of listening.

Except for a small, intelligent and committed group of Las Vegans, courtesy, when it comes to hearing the promise and potential of our university, has been in short supply. No one was really interested in what UNLV could mean for the growth of Southern Nevada and, frankly, very few at UNLV figured out that what it needed in order to grow was a community that would embrace it.

That brings us to 2014. Six years after the Great Recession knocked our city and state for a loop to beat all loops, the issue of UNLV and what it could mean for Southern Nevada is front and center. And it comes to that status at a time when everyone — those who were here way back when and those who have just decided to make Las Vegas home — understands full well that as UNLV goes, so goes this community.

That is why one of Snyder’s most significant campaign stops was his visit last week with the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.

So, what was he talking to the business types about?

How making UNLV a top-tier academic institution will also make Southern Nevada a top-tier economic powerhouse. It’s a shame that it took this long and such a traumatic economic event to get people who care about our economy and higher education on the same page, but here we are.

Snyder’s other priorities are a stadium on the campus and a top-rated medical school that belongs to UNLV. The facts will prove that both of those efforts, together with Tier-1 academic status, are part and parcel to a growing, prospering and flourishing Southern Nevada.

Cue the chorus of naysayers.

It is telling that Snyder’s speech was in the heart of the lion’s den. By that I mean that, in past years, one of the least likely components of this community to step up to make sure UNLV grows to the top of its game was the Chamber of Commerce.

The “just say no” to anything that sounded like an investment of their own money toward the community was either front and center or, more to the point, hiding well behind the scenes in scuttling any effort to raise the funds necessary to invest in our future.

That was then. Today, even the once-upon-a-time skinflints at the chamber realize that their future, the future of their businesses and their community’s future is inextricably tied to our city and state’s ability to make the investments required to grow. The Chamber of Commerce is finally (thankfully) acting like a grown-up chamber of commerce and I, for one, am happy to acknowledge that rite of passage.

I may seem a bit harsh, and maybe it’s a bit simplistic to lay so much of the blame on the Chamber of Commerce for the backward attitudes that have permeated this state. But I don’t think so.

What I really am is thrilled that Snyder could be received so well by the very people who hold the future of our region in their hands. The business community has always had the opportunity to help good things happen. They now appear enlightened to the possibilities that education empowers. By the way, this is not just a higher education issue but, probably more importantly, a K-12 opportunity to excel.

It’s not surprising that there was an abundance of negative comments, both from the public and some skeptics in the Fourth Estate, about the UNLV vision proposed by Snyder. There is some good reason for them because we have been here before and one can rightly wonder just how many times we have to hear the same thing over and over again before we do something about out predicament.

But some people are so cynical, they oppose any hope and vision for UNLV to excel. Those are the people and the comments that must be ignored if we are to grow forward.

Snyder talked about the aspirations of our community and our university. You can throw in the aspirations of the individuals in Southern Nevada who call this home and who want their lives and the lives of their families to be better tomorrow than they are today.

Aspiration is good but it does not come cheap. It takes hard work to make our dreams come true. Many of those dreams were challenged greatly when the crash came in 2008 but here we are, six years later, and it is time to dream again and to grow toward the future. It is time that we aspire to great things and to no longer be satisfied with mediocrity.

I’m grateful that the Chamber of Commerce has joined UNLV and so many Nevada families in embracing this dream.

And that is where the perspiration comes in. Many Nevadans who roll up their sleeves and go to work every day, expecting the rest of us to jump in and do our part. Don Snyder is asking us to jump.

To which every well-intentioned Las Vegan should ask, “how high?”

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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