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A recent jobs report paints a positive picture for Nevada.
The state is benefitting from a low unemployment rate and the highest number of employers since 2008.
What’s different seven years later, though, is the type of jobs. More than half of Southern Nevada’s job growth last year came in high-paying industries requiring knowledge in science, technology, engineering or math. There was also growth in education and health care jobs.
Nevada’s unemployment rate is 6.8 percent, but factor in job seekers who have given up or can only find part-time work, and that figure jumps to 15.3 percent.
John Restrepo, an economist with RCG Economics, told KNPR’s State of Nevada that our state’s economy is still narrowly based with about 30 percent based in resort industry.
“There is no magic bullet here. It just takes time,” Restrepo said. “It’s going to have to come organically.”
He also said that the Great Recession fundamentally changed the way companies do business and more are relying on part-time workers and independent contractors.
While there has been a push over the last several years for more technology start-ups in Las Vegas, Restrepo believes it would be better for the city to focus on where it has a competitive edge.
“We’re not going to be Silicon Valley. We’re not going the biotech cluster of San Diego. We have to find our own way in this new technology world and look at what we have for advantages,” he said.
Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV, agrees. He said Las Vegas needs to leverage its advantages the way Orlando does and go after the industries it is already successful in like trades and professional services.
“I think we ought to be realistic and focus on what we’re good at like other regions that advance their interests do,” Lang said.
Scale up Medicine
But Lang believes job growth really depends on scaling up the medical industry, which is already growing.
“Even just fixing our deficit in medicine, is the biggest single act to diversify southern Nevada regional economy – period,” Lang said. “We never made the public investment in medicine.”
Every other city with more than 1 million people have a state-led public medical school, according to Lang.
He said medical diagnostics accounted for good job growth in the state, but he believes it could be stifled if the state doesn’t move forward with funding for a medical school.
The Nevada System of Higher Education asked the State Legislature for $27 million over the next two years to get a southern Nevada medical school up and running by 2017. Lang said because the state filled out paperwork for the American Medical Association’s accreditation arm that stated the school would be operational by 2017, if it’s not it could dramatically hurt the effort.
“If we don’t get that money, it could be that we lose the ability to do a state-led medical school in southern Nevada for a generation,” Lang said.
Restrepo said getting a medical school is key to improving the economy because despite the recession health care is growing.
North vs. South
When it comes to distribution of state funding, there has long been a struggle between Northern and Southern Nevada. Lang believes the state plan, which recommended focusing on green energy and new technology for the north and medical industry in the south, is being executed well in Northern Nevada.
“When you apply a nearly 3 million population tax base to the 437,000 people in Reno great things happen,” Lang said. “They could not have done a deal like Tesla without the tax capacity of the 2 million people large-scale metropolis in the south.”
Lang said that if the southern part of the state is left to rely almost entirely on the hospitality industry it will hurt the rest of the state. Southern Nevada makes up most of the population and most of the tax base, so when people pull back spending in Las Vegas resorts the whole state suffers.
Restrepo believes it’s not just about adding more jobs but also about adding better jobs.
He said economic diversification is about broadening our economic base, but economic development is about the quality of the broadening effort.
“That’s what’s going to take us into the future, improving the quality of tech skills and employment skills because workforce development is the cutting edge of economic development,” Restrepo said. “We should be focused on the quality of what we’re doing, not the volume so much.”
Lang said it is important to focus on the jobs the city is already good at, instead of trying to foster a high-tech industry.
“Let’s talk about what Las Vegas can do. Let’s talk about making Las Vegas better positioned for the future,” Lang said.
John Restrepo, economist, RCG Economics; Robert Lang, director, Brookings Mountain West at UNLV
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