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Full funding of UNLV med school an imperative

A few weeks ago, at Preview Las Vegas, we heard the good news that Nevada’s unemployment rate is down and our economy mostly has come back. Nonetheless, Southern Nevada is still woefully behind where it needs to be for long-term growth. Not only are we not keeping up with peer cities such as Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Orlando in terms of diverse and high-paying industry sectors, we are falling behind cities such as Omaha, Neb. — a metropolitan area less than half our size.

An economic development strategy is about maximizing our investments in areas where there is the most potential for new, higher-paying jobs. Perhaps the clearest opportunity for this is in health services, one of the fastest-growing and most labor-intensive sectors nationally. While we are far behind where we should be, we can quickly catch up.

The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce believes the single best investment our state can make toward economic development is funding a medical school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It will create thousands of direct, indirect and induced jobs, bring millions of dollars in revenue into the state coffers, rapidly diversify our economy and spur growth in new spin-off industries.

The groundwork has been laid, the pieces are in place. We just need to fully fund it at $27 million this legislative session to get the UNLV medical school launched by 2017.

The economic development case is compelling, which is why the Las Vegas Metro Chamber has been a champion of the med school for more than two years.

First, it will produce doctors and other medical professionals that our state desperately needs. There is a shortage of doctors in the state that is expected to become even more problematic as population grows. Nationally, including Washington, D.C., Nevada ranks 47th out of 51 for family practice doctors, 51st for orthopedic surgeons and 50th for registered nurses.

While the national average is 25.8 medical students for every 100,000 residents, Nevada has only 9.5 medical students for every 100,000 residents.

The Brookings Institution finds that Nevada ranks 100th out of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas in the share of jobs in health services. According to the Nevada State Economic Development Plan, we are missing over one-third of the predicted jobs in the sector. To those concerned with the cost of a UNLV medical school, a recent analysis for The Lincy Institute at UNLV by the consulting firm Tripp-Umbach shows that 10 years after it opens, the UNLV medical school will generate as much in tax dollars for Nevada as the state outlays for the school. By 2030, the med school will have a positive return on investment, adding $1.33 in new tax revenue for every dollar the state spends on it. The school will also add 12,000 jobs (8,000 in Southern Nevada, 4,000 in Northern Nevada) and lift the regional economy by $1.2 billion in output by 2030.

Southern Nevada will also see a burst in federal money for health research and clinical trials. Consider that the relatively small region of Omaha managed more than $100 million in National Institutes of Health grants last year. Imagine the possibilities for our much larger metropolis.

There is no other economic development project in our region that will create this density of good-paying, local jobs. And not just for doctors and nurses — lab technicians, phlebotomists, medical billing specialists and other types of professional jobs would be attainable for many of our high school graduates.

Finally, there is little risk in investing in a UNLV med school. Fifteen medical schools established since 2000 are all positive contributors to their regions’ economies.

Medicine is mostly a recession-proof industry, so the more we grow this sector, the more we protect ourselves from the ups and downs of the economy.

As the Legislature looks at how to best allocate limited state resources to generate the most business growth, we need to strategically invest in industries and infrastructure that create the greatest chance for job expansion and opportunity for industry diversification. The UNLV medical school is the economic development game-changer for our city and our state.

How much longer do we have to wait as other cities continue to accelerate past us?

Kristin McMillan is president and CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. Hugh Anderson is chairman of the Government Affairs Committee for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.

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