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Nevada’s image remains an issue for business

It’s all about perception when it comes to driving business to Nevada, which means the state must overcome highly publicized deficiencies in its education system and work-force skills, a panel of site selection experts said Friday.

“I think your biggest challenge is perception of this area,” said Jonathan Sangster, senior managing director of CBRE Consulting in Atlanta. “From a perception standpoint, some of those perceptions are spot-on from what I heard this morning.”

Las Vegas and Southern Nevada really haven’t shown up on his clients’ radar for key operations, Sangster told about 175 business professionals at a symposium at the Renaissance Las Vegas sponsored by the Southern Nevada chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.

Work force availability is something else Nevada needs to work on, he said.

“You’ve got to be able to demonstrate you have the skills sets to match the demands of businesses looking at you,” Sangster said.

In the early session, Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones and Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich spoke frankly about the state’s dismal graduation rate and lack of college preparedness.

“We have a big challenge here. We know we need an educated citizenry to move the economy forward and we rank dead last in every educational category,” Klaich said. “We know we’re scaring away business because of the educational level in our community.”

Nearly half of Clark County’s 20,000 12th-graders won’t graduate from high school this year without aggressive intervention, Jones said. The majority are just a few credits short of curriculum requirements, while roughly 4,000 seniors haven’t passed the proficiency exam for math and science, he said.

Attributes Nevada economic development leaders might want to play up include a business-friendly regulatory and environmental policies, availability of real estate, favorable tax climate and transportation accessibility, Sangster said.

What are the most important criteria in site selection?

“It depends,” said Dick Sheehy, director of advanced site planning for Portland, Ore.-based CH2M Hill. “We try to get down to the best site that meets our client’s goals. One thing manufacturers are always concerned about is the cost of electricity. Nevada, you’re on the higher end. That’s a reality.

“Something else we look at is tax climate. Nevada is No. 4 and you’re right next to one of the worst — California. I can’t remember the last time I had a company say, ‘Go find me a site in California.’ ”

Mike Skaggs, executive director of Nevada Commission on Economic Development, said the agency has identified nine cluster industries for economic diversification, including aerospace and national defense, health science and medicine, renewable energy, information technology and business services, and logistics and manufacturing.

“Every game-changing project in those nine areas will be facilitated by site selection,” he said.

Sangster said he didn’t shake his head at any of those nine areas, but he advised the commission to ensure that those alliances are aligned with strengths and assets.

“My gut tells me that nine target clusters are almost too many,” he said. “The key is understanding what your strengths and resources are. You must have the resources. Many of your competitive regions are being more specific. Kansas City (Mo.) has even gotten more specialized looking at animal science.”

Doug Geinzer, chief executive officer of Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition, spoke about the nursing shortage Las Vegas experienced for decades. While Nevada State College and private nursing schools graduated 1,000 nurses a year, vacancy exists a couple of steps up the ladder, not at the bottom rungs, Geinzer said.

“Hospitals wouldn’t hire them,” he said. “They’re looking for clinically prepared nurses and they were getting paper prepared nurses.”

A 12-week on-the-job training program is the most critical piece to filling that gap, and employers responded with transitional training supplemented by funding from the Workforce Initiative Act, Geinzer said.

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

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