The Governor’s Office of Economic Development on Thursday took a giant stride toward forming an institution in Las Vegas that is expected to become a global authority in developing and managing the world’s most precious resource: fresh water.
The organization’s board of directors unanimously approved the terms of an agreement that would form the Nevada Center of Excellence, a public-private joint venture expected to be a leader in water development research, the commercialization of technology associated with water development, providing workforce training and driving economic development.
The action was considered by experts to be one of the most significant moves the board has made in its mission to diversify the state’s economy.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval, who conducted the teleconferenced meeting from Las Vegas. “It’s a pivot point for the state, and it’s going to take us somewhere Nevada has never been before.
“I want what’s best for Nevada, and this is the best that it gets. It touches every man, woman and child in this state, and it epitomizes what we’ve been trying to accomplish.”
The board’s action authorizes Nevada Economic Development Director Steve Hill to draft agreements that will unite the Nevada System of Higher Education on behalf of the Desert Research Institute, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to form the Center of Excellence.
The private partner in the center’s organization is IBM Appliances and Appliance Services, which will provide the technology to sort and analyze massive amounts of data required in water development and management research.
Under the agreement, the state government institutions will pay IBM $50,000 a month for five years to provide the analysis for research and training. State officials expect there to be a worldwide market for the information and services the center would provide, and Las Vegas’ tourism infrastructure would accommodate companies and organizations that would come here to learn.
Because IBM’s data systems are cloud-based, training and the exchange of information could occur at existing facilities. It’s expected that the Desert Research Institute and UNLV would be the primary locations.
The agreement approved by the board splits by percentage how much each agency would pay, with DETR paying 25 percent and Desert Research Institute and Economic Development each paying 37.5 percent. Leaders expect some of the expense eventually will be borne by the governor’s Knowledge Fund, a technology investment fund that would be replenished by the commercialization of technology developed through the center.
Several stakeholders in the Center for Excellence plan attended Thursday’s meeting and made it the best-attended meeting in the board's nine-month history.
Hill said the state approached IBM in August and explained that it needed the company’s ability to handle large amounts of data for the undertaking.
Stephen Wells, president of the Desert Research Institute, said stakeholders focused on water because its development and management is essential not just for Las Vegas and Southern Nevada but to the entire planet.
Wells said water expertise is already here and the center would be able to use “intellectual capital that already exists in Nevada.”
Thomas Darcy, the senior industry consultant for the IBM software group, said he was interested in the project because the center would be “solving problems that every state has” and that as a parent, he is devoted to children, education and building for the future.
Tom Skancke, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Regional Economic Development Council, called the center “a game-changer for Southern Nevada” and said it could attract companies engaged in water development to the state.
Hill said the agreement must still pass a review by the state’s Board of Examiners but that the center could be operational within about three months.