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EDITORIAL: State stepping up for autonomous cars

Given the way many Las Vegans drive, the idea of computer-controlled, self-driving cars has more than a little appeal.

And now, the state is taking steps to ensure Nevada will become a hub of innovation for the so-called autonomous vehicle industry. Although the idea of mass market self-driving cars — up until now the stuff of science fiction and campy shows such as “Knight Rider” — is relatively new, Nevada is moving to get to the head of the line.

How? Gov. Brian Sandoval announced earlier this month the creation of a position in his Office of Economic Development for an autonomous car expert, a person whose job it will be to meet with companies looking to develop the industry and convince them Nevada is the place to do it.

“Those of you in the room from Nevada know that I am very competitive and I always want Nevada to take a leadership role or for Nevada to be first,” Gov. Sandoval said, according to the Review-Journal’s Richard Velotta.

So far, the governor has a fairly good record on that front: Under his tenure, Nevada has secured projects run by Apple Computer, Switch, Tesla and most recently Faraday Future, all big players in the new information and energy economy.

Not only that, but Nevada has also secured a designation as a center for testing and development of unmanned aerial vehicles. If we’re to be a hub for pilotless flying machines, why not pilotless cars?

The advantages of Sandoval’s strategy are obvious: The more high-tech businesses that choose to locate in Nevada, the more jobs are created. (Many of these jobs will pay higher-than-average wages and draw the kind of innovators to the community who will stimulate its intellectual environment as well as the economy.)

But more than that, these efforts also present an opportunity in the field of education, a chance for the Nevada System of Higher Education to step up and create programs to train students — young and old — to work in designing, building, testing and maintaining driverless cars.

No vision for this industry can be complete without such a robust program providing a dependable pipeline of workers to new companies the state is trying to woo to Nevada. Not only will it make recruitment easier, but it will also provide new avenues for Nevadans who are looking for work, or perhaps looking to change careers. If the state is to devote resources toward tax credits or abatements to bring these companies here, it owes the citizens of Nevada, who will forego some of the tax benefits, a way to participate in the anticipated success of a transformed economy.

Gov. Sandoval’s competitive streak — and his vision for economic development — is but one reason Nevada has an advantage over other states when it comes to the new industry of driverless cars. The state’s higher education system needs to match that vision with a competitive job-training program of its own, tailored specifically to the needs of the companies that will set up shop here.

And just think of how much less stressful that morning commute through the Spaghetti Bowl will be!

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