Monday, November 29, 2010

What's Next for Nevada? And for Vegas? (Part 2)

Last week, I described the situation we're presently in. Our economy is slowly recovering, but questions remain as to what our economy will look like in the future. Will we forever be hobbled by a gaming industry that may never again reach the gangbuster heights of 2005?

Will we?

Or is another Nevada possible?

Remember what I said back in March?

I have to point out that we are lagging behind. We're especially lagging behind metro areas that have better PreK-16 education systems and more stable employment sources. Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah, both have GMP (gross metro product) growth rates exceeding the national average and unemployment below the national average. Same goes for Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. So why is this? All of these areas boast a highly educated workforce employed in stable sectors like high-tech and biotech, and none were as dependent on the housing bubble and artificial "construction for the sake of construction" as Southwest areas, like Las Vegas and Phoenix (which is also lagging behind in economic growth).

So again and again, we come back to this dilemma. As long as our education system is broken and as long as we continue to make ourselves overdependent on the casinos and casino-fueled development, Las Vegas will continue to suffer under this radical boom and bust cycle that lives and dies on discretionary consumer spending. Sorry, but this is not how a major metropolitan area with 2 million residents and a state with over 2.7 million residents can survive!

Oh, yes. It's one of those reality checks yet again!

We really need to get serious about investing in our infrastructure, including our schools. Why? Well, remember this embarrassing news from July, when Nevada was scored by CNBC as the fourth WORST business climate in the nation?

But wait, I thought we were a "shoo-in" to win this one. I mean, we do have the second lowest tax burden in the nation and the cheapest state government in the nation per capita (and, I might add, being far cheaper for the super-rich and big corporations than all the rest of us "unwashed masses"). So what caused this?

Oh yeah, that's right... WE HAVE NO REAL INFRASTRUCTURE! Our schools are constantly the butt of jokes. Our "transportation system" is always in a state of incomplete. Our "health care" system may actually be quite deadly. Basically, we're not the kind of place people feel comfortable living in and regularly doing business in.

And look at the places where people do feel comfortable living and working. Massachusetts and Minnesota have great schools. Virginia and Colorado have invested in the kind of infrastructure that has lured tech and biotech companies to their state. Even Texas, which scored #1 this year, invests far more in its state than Nevada!

The whole "no taxes" mantra has failed us. Yep, that's right. It's getting us nowhere.

While other states with more stable tax bases can invest in their schools and cultivate the kind of workforce that high-paying industries actually want, we're stuck navel gazing amid all the rubble and debris left over from the "(artificial) growth begets (speculation fueled) growth" era.

It's time we finally recognize that the casinos can't solely provide our bread and butter any more. There are many opportunities that lie ahead, especially with renewable energy and green collar jobs. However, we'll never realize our full potential until we have the kind of local, Nevada based workforce that can take advantage of all these green collar jobs.

And at the same time, we also need functional roads. And we need a decent health care system. And we need parks and trails and other community amenities that help to build communities and attract people (and businesses!) to come to Nevada.

This is clearly NOT the time to skimp back on this. And this is not the time to continue putting important decisions on the future direction of our state on the back burner while legislators put together yet another band-aid loaded "quick fix budget" that doesn't really solve any of our problems. We can't avoid the future any longer. It's coming, and we have to decide whether we want our state to have a real future.

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