LAS VEGAS -- Nevada lawmakers mustered bipartisan support during the 2011 legislative session for a bill that is revamping the state's economic development efforts with an eye on diversifying Nevada's economy and creating more jobs.
Gov. Brian Sandoval in June signed into law Assembly Bill 449, which created an Advisory Council on Economic Development, a Board of Economic Development and an Office of Economic Development within the governor's office.
A major complaint from the bill's advocates, including co-sponsor Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, was that the state's economic development efforts were disjointed, a tumbled mess of fragmented city and county entities lacking adequate transparency and oversight. Oceguera criticized the lack of a unified economic development plan.
"This bill represents a large change, and change is difficult," Oceguera told the state Senate Select Committee on Economic Growth and Employment in June. "We need this legislation because the current economic development system is not working as it should and because we need a statewide long-term plan to diversify the economy and create jobs. We all know that Nevada continues to rely on only a few main industries."
AB 449 directed the Office of Economic Development to develop a state economic development plan and designate regional development authorities throughout Nevada.
In February Sandoval announced a plan to generate 50,000 new jobs by 2014 by upgrading the state's economic development efforts and diversifying the economy. The plan was cheered by Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C., which proposed an economic blueprint for Nevada to follow.
"The plan represents a key step in a serious effort to place a troubled economy on a better footing," Muro wrote following Sandoval's announcement.
Muro wrote that "what is most compelling here is the fact of a state that didn't think it needed a plan for fostering high-value growth not only advancing one, but focusing hard on the power of regional economies and industry clusters to deliver it. For decades, massive growth in Nevada's real estate and gaming industries stunted efforts (to) develop a serious economic development strategy and practice.
"As a result, Nevada entered the Great Recession with one of the weakest, most diffuse state and regional economic development systems in the nation. Yet now that Nevada has been hammered by the crash it is fascinating to watch it go about the work of seeking advice and constructing a data-driven, intentional, best-practice-oriented diversification strategy where little existed before."
But Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, criticized the "Moving Nevada Forward" plan. Unlike Brookings, which often includes a role for government in its recommendations on how to advance public policy, the Nevada institute favors limited government.
"In essence, Sandoval's plan would turn the state of Nevada itself into a corporatist enterprise where state commissars plan the development of seven major sectors of the state economy and make investment decisions for marketing, research and development.
"The governor may see the plan as ambitious. Actually, however, it is short-sighted and -- under any plain-sense reading of the Nevada Constitution -- illegal."
Under AB 449, the director of Nevada's Department of Business and Industry will have to obtain permission from the Office of Economic Development to issue certain industrial development revenue bonds.
The Board of Economic Development will include the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and higher education chancellor or their representatives, along with seven members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. The board will evaluate economic development programs and make recommendations on the state plan.
The advisory council also will include top elected officials from the executive and legislative branches.who will meet at least quarterly and help market Nevada's economic development.
AB449 also created the Catalyst Fund, revenue the state will use for grants and loans to regional development authorities, and the Knowledge Fund, which will support the development and commercialization of research and technology at UNLV, University of Nevada, Reno, and Desert Research Institute.
The Office of Economic Development has since created its own website. Included are testimonials from companies that do business in Nevada. This is what Robert Hirsch, vice president of wholesale nutritional supplement website Vitacost.com, had to say:
"Recent strategic planning has our company focused on expanding our presence on the west coast and specifically Nevada ... We have reviewed Utah, Arizona and California as options for our expansion and in the end have selected to remain in Nevada. A review of our operating costs has shown that we will have lower operating costs with a stronger workforce in Nevada than any other location that we reviewed."