Diversification key, business leaders say

If Southern Nevada is to avoid another deep recession like the one it’s crawling out of now, economic diversification is going to be key, a panel of business leaders agreed Tuesday.

Economic growth has long been focused on gaming and construction, two industries that showed the most vulnerability during the downturn, said Steve Hill, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

“What about defense and aerospace industries? How can we take advantage of Nellis Air Force Base? We need to talk about the health care industry,” he said.

A number of agencies are working on diversifying the economy, but their efforts don’t go deep enough, Hill said at Economic Outlook 2012, a presentation by the Center for Business and Economic Research.

“ND who?” Hill answered when asked about the Nevada Development Authority. “We need to broaden our efforts and I think NDA plays a big role in that.”

He said the Nevada Development Authority hasn’t had the resources to do everything in the agency’s job description. With health care, for example, they need someone who gets up every day and does things in the industry, Hill said.

“It’s not just knocking on doors. It’s being able to know the opportunities in Nevada and articulate to companies that can capitalize on it,” he said.

Officials from Nevada Authority Development were not available for comment Tuesday. Somer Hollingsworth, president and chief executive officer of the authority, did not attend the Economic Outlook.

Don Snyder, interim dean of hotel administration at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said it’s a lot easier to look at the glass as half-full than half-empty with regard to the authority.

“To me, it’s not about tearing down, but look at what works and build on it,” he said. “I think the NDA is a good platform. It’s important to look at what they’ve done. They’re clearly bringing businesses. Is it as many as we’d like? No, but we have a much tougher hand to play, like bringing culture here, and infrastructure.”

Hill said it will take a more unified effort going forward, and part of that will occur from what took place in the most recent Legislature, specifically provisions related to economic development. Funding is part of that, he said.

Among other things, Assembly Bill 449, passed by Nevada lawmakers in June, creates a “catalyst fund” with $10 million from the state’s unclaimed property. The money will be used to foster expansion of existing businesses and to attract targeted industries to Nevada.

“We will contract with the NDA and other development authorities so we’ll have a process in place for what needs to be done,” Hill said.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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