Study looks at how to improve economic diversification in Nevada

No more muddling through.

That's the big message from an economic-development study to be unveiled Monday before Gov. Brian Sandoval and other state policymakers.

The 178-page report, from the Brookings Institution's Brookings Mountain West division and its Metropolitan Policy Program, features an exhaustive accounting of Nevada's past efforts at diversification, and how the state can do better.

One key finding: "We concluded there's been a bit of a drift in the past," said Mark Muro, coordinator of Brookings Mountain West and a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program. "There's been a lack of strong vision, not too much management of the state's partners and not much data used."

Now, state officials say they hope to use the Brookings blueprint to plot a more methodical and concrete diversification program.

Steve Hill, a Las Vegas businessman and executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, noted that the economy has 27 basic sectors, and at one time or another, state and local economic development agencies have pursued businesses in 20 of those industries.

"That's not a lot of focus or strategy," Hill said Friday at a Review-Journal editorial board meeting.

But Nevada's recovery from a deep recession calls for a more targeted effort. To that end, the Brookings report emphasizes just seven sectors: gaming and tourism; mining, metals and manufacturing; aerospace and defense; information technology; health care; logistics and distribution; and renewable energy. The study slices each field into sub-sectors having especially good potential for Nevada. State leaders said they'll tap experts in those industries to help pinpoint and reach out to companies that could fill gaps in under served portions of Nevada's economy.

"The level of focus being given at this point is a recognition of the fact that we need to pull this off," Hill said.

The Brookings report will take center stage Monday, when Sandoval, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Secretary of State Ross Miller and other state officials sit down to discuss the findings and start making a plan.

The study offers three major strategies, 10 broad approaches and 37 specific recommendations to help the state develop a unified economic development strategy. Its prescriptions come from five months' worth of analysis of the state's existing economic clusters, as well as feedback from seven focus groups in Reno and Las Vegas and more than 80 one-on-one phone interviews with public and private officials.

On top of a recession that hit Nevada's construction- and tourism-reliant economy especially hard, Nevada law also spurred the report. Assembly Bill 449, passed in the 2011 session, commanded state officials to produce an economic-development plan.

Change won't come overnight, observers agreed.

"Economic diversification can help shorten Nevada's recovery time, as we identify job opportunities to match with available work-force training and higher education," Hill said. "But we have to be realistic about where we are, and about the effort it will take on the part of our office, and on the part of people across the state."

Added Muro: "Clearly, it's going to take a while. This is a huge job, and the state needs to improve its economy. With 10 jobs here, 20 jobs there, 50 jobs here, it's not going to be a massive, immediate turnaround, but I think there are the outlines of a serious approach under way, and the state seems to have been willing to take the time to get the groundwork right."

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at or 702-380-4512.