Nevada’s economy was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s key industries – tourism, gaming, and entertainment – were affected most. Nevada’s economy is rebounding strong, but the pandemic highlighted how critical it is to diversify the state’s economy and create new employment opportunities.
Nevadans must have access to good-paying technology-driven jobs and opportunities.
By decentralizing digital jobs currently concentrated in places like Silicon Valley, we can revitalize Nevada’s economy and ensure that everyone can benefit from the digital economy. We need a development strategy that fosters technology development initiatives, including the next generation of manufacturing, and invests in workers.
Nevada is an excellent, logical growth location for the tech industry. In Northern Nevada, technology and manufacturing comprised more than 60 percent of all companies that relocated and expanded to the region in the past two years, according to the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN). In Southern Nevada, the most recent Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance “Workforce Blueprint” listed the “Top 20 In Demand” occupations for the region, with the top two being “Software Developers, Applications” and “Software Developers, Systems Software.” The tech industry as an opportunity for economic development for Nevada.
New jobs will require a pipeline of skilled workers ready to meet these employment demands. Developing this pipeline offers an opportunity to thousands of workers in the state who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, largely concentrated in service industries. Success will entail building out extensive infrastructure to support training programs that can equip workers with the skills they need to succeed.
The Google initiative is small, but important because it helps establish a roadmap for similar programs that can be developed in the future. We are exploring expanding it to rural communities like Elko, Nevada, where Great Basin College’s main campus is located. Nevada should scale these types of public-private partnerships with companies like Amazon, Panasonic, Tesla, and Switch that already have an economic presence in the state.
Nevada is especially well equipped to scale-up its workforce development in the industries of tomorrow. With three Land Grant higher education institutions – UNLV, UNR and Desert Research Institute – it has the unique capacity to direct state and federal support into providing state-of-the-art technical education to Nevadans in all three of the state’s regions at low cost. We also need a bold federal technology program that funds credentialing programs and boot camps offered through schools and universities to get students the jobs of the future.
These programs have the potential to be transformational for students, but they are not a magic bullet and not every Nevadan is a student. We need new and creative federal policies to further develop and maintain the industries of the future in Nevada. Congress must pass the America COMPETES Act to invest in technology, create millions of jobs, and ensure we remain the world’s leader in the 21st century. This would be the largest investment since the Kennedy years in science and technology and it focuses on key manufacturing areas like microchips and lithium processing and industries of the future such as artificial intelligence and renewable energy.
The bill will establish tech hubs across the country to accelerate research, grow businesses, attract investments, and energize local economies. They should first be established in promising locations like Henderson and Storey County and then expand over time. These hubs would be administered by the Commerce Department working with top scientists and business leaders and help establish technical facilities, STEM education, data infrastructure and career training centered around regional assets.
Nevada must also undertake additional economic development efforts simultaneously to ensure the economic recovery is well-rounded and stable. This includes streamlining the process for aid and oversight over small businesses, which make up ninety nine percent of all businesses in the state and expanding Nevada’s manufacturing exports. Northern and Southern Nevada are already hubs for urban transportation research and manufacturing and have the potential to become global leaders in this field. More broadly, it means increasing healthcare capacity to help Nevada better recover from the pandemic and prepare the state in the event of a future public health crisis.
Nevada has a lot already going for it and was ranked the number one state for economic momentum. Now, it’s time to make sure this is sustainable growth that will bring lasting economic prosperity to the Silver State. Fostering tech and next generation manufacturing opportunities and securing federal investment will help Nevada diversify its economy, create better opportunities for its residents, and bring new talent to the technology industry.
Brian Sandoval is the president of UNR. He served as Nevada’s 28th governor from 2011-2019. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) represents California’s 17th Congressional District, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. He is serving his third term.