Sisolak Envisions a New, Different Nevada

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (l.) wants to wean the state off its dependence on gaming-related tourism. The job market must be retooled, he says, and new tech and clean energy are the way forward.

The Covid-19 crisis has been a wake-up call for Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak.

In his annual State of the State address, Sisolak outlined plans aimed at diversifying Nevada’s economy away from a near-total dependence on gaming-related tourism.

Appearing for the prerecorded speech wearing a mask, the first-term Democrat proposed large-scale investment in job training, infrastructure and renewable energy, saying, “It’s not enough to just aim for a full reopening of our current economy. We must look forward to the kind of economy that will let our state prosper in the future.”

Sisolak shut the state’s casinos for 78 days last year, from mid-March to early June, to contain the spread of the pandemic, which has infected more than one out of every 12 Nevadans and at one point left almost as many workers jobless. Unemployment soared to 30.1 percent in April, the highest reported in any state in history, and while jobs have returned slowly since, the unemployment rate as of the end of November still stood at more than 10 percent.

Resort-scale gaming, the state’s principal industry, saw casino revenues fall by 34.5 percent through the first 11 months of the year. The Las Vegas Strip, the state’s largest market, was down more than 42 percent as visitation plunged more than 54 percent.

The state, which relies heavily on gaming taxes, is facing one of the worst budget crises in the nation.

In his address, Sisolak described the virus as “challenging,” “excruciating” and “unprecedented” and said the measures he has in mind to move beyond it will generate an estimated 165,000 jobs over the next decade and help the state lessen its dependence on tourism.

A proposal he calls Nevada Job Force would allow companies to fund, design and run job training programs. He said also he wants to establish a resource center connecting Nevadans with remote work around the world. He also plans to ask the state’s System of Higher Education to help community colleges evolve into independent bodies focused on job readiness and union apprenticeship programs. He said this would differ from trade schools but would provide similar training with a focus on skills that will modernize the state’s workforce.

He promised to work with the legislature on policies geared toward establishing the state as a center for the transmission, storage and distribution of clean energy through initiatives to promote the development of electric vehicle infrastructure, component manufacturing and the mining of lithium, a key component in rechargeable batteries, including those that power electric cars.

He also proposed the creation of “Innovation Zones” for start-up business engaged in research and new technologies. He said the zones would provide a “jump-start” to businesses that meet certain benchmarks but would not involve taxpayer funding or tax abatements.

In the interim, he said his priority is ensuring the widespread distribution of Covid vaccines.

“The quicker we can do that,” he said, “the quicker we can get people back to work, the quicker we can get business back𑁋people coming to town and getting things done.”