Brookings study serves as a guide — if we let it
19 December 2011
VEGAS INC Coverage
Pardon me if this sounds shallow, but my first reaction to the new Brookings Institution-SRI International “Economic Development Agenda for Nevada” was that someone probably should have let a newspaper editor work it over before releasing it to the public.
Editors function somewhat like thrifty artists, making phrases flow nicely but also helping the words convey as much information as they can in as short a space as possible. And though there is a flow and organization to the report, most editors I know would have carved down its 175 pages.
Nonetheless, I clicked on “print,” which consumed most of a ream of paper and added almost 2 pounds to the weekend reading I haul home. Old-fashioned and environmentally insensitive, yes, but some reading just works better in a hard copy.
As December puts a period on a slow year, much hope and expectation has been attached to the heavy and heavily publicized white paper from Brookings and SRI. Given its impressive detail, it might have been titled “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Economic Development in Nevada.” As a summary of both where we’ve been and where we still need to be, it delivers the goods.
Most of the themes are familiar, and many of the concepts — such as increasing our public-private partnerships, better exploiting our proximity to California, globally expanding on our gaming expertise — have been talked about in Nevada for some years now. In fact, most have been talked about at length.
Now, the time for talking is over. It has been replaced by our need to see some action. Something tangible. Something now. Because though we’re seeing evidence of a gradual tourism recovery, the fact is that too many local businesses are faced with immediate challenges. Too many business owners are out on the ledge.
Still, while we feel a sense of urgency, there is no immediate gratification to be found amid the solutions offered in the Brookings report or in any other analysis of economic development. This stuff just doesn’t happen overnight. No matter how impatient our business community is, the reality is that effective economic development programs require a good deal of time to be effective, particularly given some of our current obstacles.
We’ve known for some time now that diversification can only be possible by holding to a long-term plan, one that survives changes in political regimes and their agendas. Because when you set out to make sweeping changes in education, in our workforce, in public-private relationships and in the overall quality of life we must create to attract desirable new employers, you are talking about tomorrow — not today.
This is where things always seem to break down. A commitment to that vision and to raising the money to pay for it have historically proven difficult for us to embrace.
Fortunately, our current governor seems to get the message. His administration may not yet have much hands-on experience in this arena, and it certainly doesn’t have much money to spend, but it has more of an ability to form consensus and find revenue than anyone else in Nevada does right now.
There seems, too, to be a willingness to pursue new strategies. That’s good, because we’ve all learned hard lessons on our traditional approach. If we keep using low taxes as our primary incentive,for example, it’s likely that we will continue to attract a number of companies that will be content with underfunded schools. To lure the better employers — the ones who may need to recruit and retain higher-quality and better-paying talent — well, we are probably going to have to meet some higher expectations.
Looking back, it was barely a decade ago that here in Las Vegas, we talked about ourselves as the City of the Millennium — a place with a brighter future than the cities that many of our residents moved away from.
We can still be that place, a place of prosperity that shows Americans how things should be done. It’s well within the grasp of a state that is in many ways still so young and still has such incredible potential.
We may find our patience put to a test, but effective economic development is all about the long-term. We have to commit to the plan if we are going to get results tomorrow. We have to go all in.
The Brookings report serves as our to-do list. Costly and time-consuming though it may be, all of Nevada has to commit to the doing part. Anyone here having commitment issues might just need to get out of the way.
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