(Andrew Doughman/Nevada News Bureau) – Business leaders from several large technology companies said today that Nevada lacks the skilled workforce necessary for them to locate in Nevada over the long-term.
When asked whether they favored low taxes or a solid educational system when choosing where to locate their business, a executive from General Electric said both are equally important.
The remarks contradict what Gov. Brian Sandoval, who was also at the meeting with business leaders, said earlier. Sandoval had said that the state’s education system rarely comes up in conversations with business executives.
“Most of the skills we’re looking for we’ve had to bring outside of the state,” said Kevin Doyle of Capgemini, a French-based, information-technology company with business interests in Nevada. “However, frankly, in order to start our business here we need to bring some folks so we know it’s not sustainable long term. Having technology skills is absolutely paramount.”
The businesses said what has been aired in the public sphere before: the lack of educational attainment hurts the state. Legislators said, however, that the meeting was helpful.
“Well, what it helps to do is reinforce that there is commitment on behalf of companies to come and locate to Nevada,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “They want a trained and educated workforce. They need people with the skills to perform certain functions.”
The elected officials gathered at the meeting stressed a renewed bipartisanship as a good sign that they’ll make progress with economic development this legislative session.
The Valentine’s Day meeting brought both political parties to the table.
Horsford and Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, convened the roundtable meeting with business representatives, legislative leadership from both parties and the governor and his staff.
“I challenge any state to bring in a lieutenant governor, a governor, a majority leader, a speaker, the chairmen of the various commissions, the heads of both parties here all in one place to talk about these issues,” Sandoval said. “I think it reinforces some of the things that we all understand, that we have a great business environment in this state.”
Republicans and Democrats seem to be flirting with bipartisanship, but they haven’t yet taken up electoral redistricting or the possibility of tax increases.
For now, however, the consensus among legislators of both parties is that the community colleges should be partnering with businesses. Businesses would ask that students learn certain skills and the colleges would then tailor certification courses to the needs of businesses.
Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education that oversees universities and community colleges, said that this is what community colleges already do.
“The community colleges are the most nimble of the institutions in the system,” he said. “They have programs that they regularly tailor to the needs of a particular business.”
He said the governor’s proposed budget cuts, which total about $162 million during the next biennium, could curtail the ability of the community colleges to create new programs for high-tech industries.
The question of funding for education came up again during a Senate committee hearing. Devin Whitney, a government representative from the membership organization Tech-America, had attended the meeting with the governor and legislative leadership, but stressed his points on the record at the hearing.
He praised Nevada’s low taxes, but said they weren’t enough to attract the businesses he represents.
“What is still lacking is the skilled workforce,” he said. “That requires the appropriate investment in the education system to make sure they are churning out graduates.”
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, asked Whitney to further describe how certification programs at community colleges would work.
Whitney replied that, in some cases, the programs are simple.
“You do the training, you take the course, you pass a test at the end and you are ready to work,” he said.
Whitney brought up information technology centers as an example. Companies may be drawn to Nevada’s low taxes, but they need educated people to staff such a center.
“If they can’t get the people to manage that center, then they’re going to have to import them from out of state even with the good regulatory and tax environment,” he said.
Senate and Assembly education committees will take up the issue of higher education this Wednesday. The Senate committee on economic development before which Whitney testified also has a day scheduled exclusively for debate about high-tech industry.