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Sat May 16, 2020, 08:33 PM

The economic development crowd is going about this all wrong


The leisure and hospitality industry accounts for one of every four jobs in Nevada. Or it did, anyway...

For all the hand-wringing over Nevada’s failure to diversify its economy because uh-oh now look where we are, well, here we are. Nevada’s economy hasn’t diversified in a statistically meaningful way, it isn’t going to anytime soon, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

Despite the earnest efforts of the state’s growing economic development industrial complex over the last few years, battery factories and data centers and all the other ventures Nevada has attracted by doling out publicly subsidized handouts — even the holy sacred football field amen — have created a workforce that is still dwarfed by the number of people directly and indirectly employed in what is — or was — the state’s primary industry.

And now, in Nevada’s greatest economic crisis ever, the economic development crowd is saying what we need is more financial enticements to lure new firms to come to Nevada.As one economic development official explained to business allies last week, “The strategy is to push and push hard for new job creation.”

With incentives.

In other words, more of the same.

First, economic development groups and their “partners” should marshal their formidable collective resources to reform systemic policies and practices that make life harder for working people than it needs to be. Unaffordable child care, poverty-level wages, erratic working conditions, skimpy or non-existent health, sick leave, vacation and retirement benefits, ruthless banking options, a dearth of public transit, a profit-driven court system, one of the nation’s most thread-bare safety nets — all those create broad workforce instability and erode the purchasing power of the consumer core of working Nevadans, which in turn hinders, to borrow a term, economic development.

Those barriers to prosperity and well-being also block performance in one area that every economic development organization in Nevada and the nation unanimously agrees is a tip top priority, education.

Second, if Nevada’s politically juiced-up and much-admired economic development movers and shakers want to do something that would make a difference but quick, they shouldn’t be dreamily promising to attract new jobs (however few) with tax cuts and giveaways. They should be identifying the most expeditious way possible for the state to reverse the tax cuts and giveaways that have already been bestowed to companies that never needed them in the first place, and then lobby like hell to replace those race-to-the-bottom “incentives” with responsible policy.

Amazon, Tesla, Google, Apple, Switch — and yes, even the football team — don’t need the goodies Nevada has given them. But the state does.

The chambers of commerce, higher education institutions, and politicians have all been staunch allies of the economic development set. And they all know prosperity isn’t shared in Nevada. They shouldn’t be whining for tax breaks and pining for deals, begging for grants, and smiling at ribbon-cuttings.

They should be pushing economic development policy that helps people who work in the jobs Nevada has (or had, but will someday have again), not cheering on economic development agencies as they muse about how wonderful it will be when every Nevada child learns to code or whatever.

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