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At Recession's Epicenter Nevada Seeks Reinvention

While Washington dithers on jobs and the national economy, states are taking economic development planning into their own hands.

Yesterday in Carson City, Nev., the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program presented a wide-ranging economic development agenda to that state’s leadership. The agenda advances 10 strategies and some 37 discreet recommendations and yet, we can summarize it in less than Twitter’s mandated 140 characters: "Unify," “regionalize,” "diversify," as echoed in the report’s title.

What do we mean by this and how does this push forward a general theory of state-level economic development?

Here's how we’ve been thinking about things in Nevada:

Unify means that states like Nevada need to establish basic elements of a modern economic development system that includes both leadership from the top and smart management of its regional partners. This theme calls on Nevada to:

  • Set out a compelling strategy for innovation and diversification that focuses and aligns state resources on identified target industries where the empirics show promise for growth
  • Structure effective partnerships with and among regional actors
  • Use information to drive performance

The “unify” agenda is about putting in place a 21st-century operating system for leadership, management, and cooperation.

Regionalize is a related agenda that suggests states would do well to aid and abet “bottom-up” industry sector initiatives in its regions. Nevada’s regional economies are the state economy. The more that states like Nevada can evoke and support smart local initiatives the greater will their impact on economic growth be. Along these lines states should:

  • support convenings of target industry and cluster actors in regions—and their planning
  • support well-conceived cluster initiatives in the region
  • support other type of bottom-up sector development, including regional innovation districts, business plans, and regional export plans

Diversify, finally, is about attending to the sectoral base. We think Nevada should broaden its industry base even as it seeks innovation within its established industries like gaming and tourism, and so we suggest the state should put in place a sound platform for higher-value growth through innovation, global engagement, and workforce enhancement. States can do this by:

  • investing in an effective innovation and commercialization infrastructure
  • developing an approach to engaging global markets for exporting and FDI particularly with rising nations, and
  • working to align its education and workforce training efforts to the state’s new economic strategy

As it happens, Nevada’s state leaders are already moving in the right direction towards diversification. Last June, Gov. Sandoval signed the Economic Development Bill (AB 449) which sets the stage for change. Among other things, the bill reorganizes the state’s economic development activities and places them on a higher-tier of importance in the governor’s office with the new Governor’s Office on Economic Development (GOED). AB 499 also provides new funding for economic development activities and creates a structure for future investments in knowledge and innovation.

In short, a state that may represent ground zero of the Great Recession is taking strong and thoughtful steps to restore job creation, catalyze innovation, and build new pillars of growth.

Would that Washington would work so constructively on the nation’s economic challenges.

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