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Desert Companion

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Welcome to the March Desert Companion. Our spring fashion and home design issue is sure to help you continue making a home in Southern Nevada - stylishly, economically and mindfully. Of course, home is about much more than custom architecture and designer furniture. Creating a home is about making your own space, even guiding your own destiny. We have an inspiring story of how residents of one aging neighborhood did just that (page 22), scoring a win for the history books, literally and figuratively.

Now, here's the needle-scratching-record part - weerweet! - where the editor hijacks the magazine's theme for a bit of thinky polemic. My own preoccupations with the notion of home in Southern Nevada take on a more philosophical cast in light of two recent events. One event is the kickoff of the 2011 Nevada Legislature. It began Feb. 7 amid the echoes of a new governor's state of the state speech that sometimes felt like a grim pre-op talk from a doctor (one unblessed with any sense of bedside manner) who says we're going to cut here, here and here and that's that. The other event is Preview 2011, which took place Feb. 11 at UNLV's Cox Pavilion. If you're unfamiliar with Preview, it's an annual handshaker put on by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce that hauls in a snack-pack of our best brainiacs to forecast the business climate in the coming year. Reading the daily newspapers' accounts, you'd think Preview 2011 was a campfire sing-along about cautious optimism and gradual economic recovery. It was that. But it was so much less.

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I have in mind the presentation by Robert Lang, director of the Brookings Mountain West think tank at UNLV. He delivered the most sober and thorough assessment of Southern Nevada's prospects. In his talk, Lang ticked off a checklist of must-haves for world-class metropolitan cores with vibrant and resilient economies. Las Vegas scored passably well, save for one glaring absence. Muscular global brand? Definitely. A thriving downtown? At a happy simmer. Plugged into the global economy? About to get better, with the completion of McCarran's new international terminal. Diversity? Not bad. Education? Cue the weerweet! again. According to Lang, our investment in higher education is less than half that of some states of similar population size - Mississippi, to name one. In his words, Nevada's investment in education is "dismal - and getting worse."

I'll spare us all a schoolmarmish scolding about the importance of education. That isn't Lang's point, nor is it mine. His point is that education is a powerful tool for economic development, not just some rarefied end in itself that somehow mystically fortifies the human soul (though it is that, too). His other point is that education-as-economic-engine isn't a crazy idea up for debate much anywhere else except, incredibly, Nevada. How else could a governor propose a 22 percent cut to higher education without so much as wincing?

The dailies offer a running tally on gaming revenue and home prices, as though they comprise some nail-biter, real-time EKG of the Las Vegas Valley's beating heart. That reading is important but incomplete. It lacks a similar real-time EKG of the state of education in Southern Nevada - everything from graduation rates to college admissions to teacher turnover to new research initiatives. Education isn't a troublesome hurdle standing in the way of a balanced budget. It's the key to a healthy, diverse economy - and a better home for all of us.

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