Bill aims to boost economic development in Nevada

CARSON CITY — The state of Nevada would invest millions of dollars in private businesses and academic research, and streamline its economic development agencies under a bill being considered in the Legislature.

Assembly Bill 449 seeks to create a $10 million “Catalyst Fund” that would provide grants to new and expanding businesses and a “Knowledge Fund” to direct academic study money toward university research that could be commercialized.

The bill seeks to consolidate a hodgepodge of state, local and regional economic development agencies into three entities that would apply for funding through a new cabinet-level organization that reports directly to the governor.

The idea, proponents say, is to bring more focus to efforts by groups such as the Nevada Development Authority, the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and other entities by providing a controlled and accounted-for system of providing funds to juice economic development statewide.

The concept replicates programs in Utah and other states that business and government leaders say outpace Nevada in economic diversification efforts.

The bill itself has support from Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and Democratic and Republican leaders in the Legislature. Heidi Gansert, Sandoval’s chief of staff, said it reflects the goals the governor set forth in his State of the State speech when he said he planned to increase state spending on economic development to $15 million from 2011-13, an increase from $9 million during the previous two years.

“We believe this creates a way to determine a vision for Nevada,” said Gansert, who joined Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, to explain the plan to reporters.

“It is such a drastic departure from the way we have done business in the past,” Oceguera said.

Lawmakers say they can transition to the new system as early as November if the bill is approved in April, but they still don’t know how much money they intend to put in the Knowledge Fund, nor have they settled on a source for the cash.

The $10 million Catalyst Fund would get money from the state’s unclaimed property fund and could also accept grants, private donations and other government investment.

In order to get around constitutional provisions that prohibit loaning or granting cash to private businesses, the state intends to direct the money to local government economic agencies that would dole it out, with state strings attached.

Ultimately, the lawmakers and the governor would like to see economic development agencies statewide consolidated into three entities, one each for Northern, Southern and rural Nevada.

Rather than accomplish consolidation by edict, the idea behind AB449 is to create a system in which agencies that apply for and successfully execute grant projects that fit with state economic development priorities would likely get more money. Agencies that don’t would be destined for irrelevancy and likely see funding evaporate.

The new system would have a top-down structure with a director in the governor’s Cabinet. A board would include eight people from the private sector, three appointed by the governor, two by the Assembly speaker, two by the Senate majority leader and one by the minority leaders in both houses.

It would recommend a director, set overall economic development strategy and provide oversight to the economic development office.

In addition, a group of “ambassadors” that includes the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and legislative leaders would lead recruitment and outreach efforts.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ or 702-477-3861.

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