Good Ideas! Elsewhere!

What Nevada can learn from its neighbors

Nevada supposedly has a “can-do” spirit. But we don’t do. Any businessperson knows you have to spend money to make money. Nevada claims it has too little of the former with which to do the latter. The rest of the West would disagree.

Ever hear of the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative? Check it out at USTAR, formed in 2006—the year Nevadans elected Governor Jim Gibbons, who was no friend of state government—seeks to build Utah’s “knowledge economy” by investing in the University of Utah and Utah State. It’s based partly on similar programs in other states. USTAR increased funding to the universities to hire better and more important researchers—they brought in people from such Podunk schools as Harvard and MIT—and build better facilities for them.

But before you say that’s just more government and money spent on state employees, USTAR also works with businesspeople throughout Utah to help them use the universities’ resources and make the most of new technology. One of the USTAR programs works with more than 40 firms, and the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute has 60 companies helping to finance it and benefiting from it. USTAR helps startup companies and works with schoolchildren on science projects. It even has grant programs run through smaller schools such as Dixie State and Weber State.

Nevada’s response is to consider a new higher-education funding formula. The formula purports to help the southern schools, but money will be taken from them and given to the northern colleges. So our institutions continue to compete for whatever drips out of the state spigot instead of collaborating with one another—and with high-tech and other industries—to build the “21st Century Economy” that those of us in higher education are supposed to teach our students to inhabit without the services or skills they need.

California has iHub, the California Innovation Hub. Its website calls it “an effort to harness and enhance California’s innovative spirit … by stimulating partnerships, economic development and job creation around specific research clusters.” Sacramento emphasizes medical technology in a nine-county area that, for example, works with 74 medical and health care information-technology companies, pushing into the future by combining government with business, seeking federal grants and private money, and researching how to connect everybody to needed resources. If you take Interstate 15 south as far as you can, you reach the San Diego iHub, which is pushing research and development in pharmaceuticals and startups for medical-device companies.

As for Nevada, The Sacramento Bee recently reported that the state’s top psychiatric hospital has shipped out 1,500 patients by bus to other states. This followed nearly 30 percent budget cuts when Nevada already spent only about half as much per capita on mental health services as the national average. These cuts were similar in scope to the ones the Silver State made in higher education.

Ah, but we can at least lord it over Arizona, land of anti-immigrant legislation and other lunacy. No, we can’t. Check out The Arizona Commerce Authority—whose directors range from the state’s seemingly blinkered governor to the owner of the Phoenix Suns—recruits companies and promotes development. We have agencies like that, too. But this one has the Arizona Innovation Challenge, which provides $3 million a year in a competition for technology ventures.

Meanwhile, Nevada gave $9 million to an out-of-state ad agency to come up with a slogan: “Nevada. A World Within. A State Apart.” For that, we spent three times what Arizona spends on technology innovation. We could have spent it studying Latin to learn the meaning of caveat emptor.

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Seven Days

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By Bob Whitby

Thursday, May 2 Your kids may not agree, but we think that what the world needs now is science, sweet science. That’s why we’re so excited about the Las Vegas Science & Technology Festival, through May 4. It features speakers, activities and presentations for everyone—not just school kids—and it’s free. This year’s festival focuses on applied health and natural sciences.