Business leaders in Nevada have positive outlook for year ahead | nnbw.com

Business leaders in Nevada have positive outlook for year ahead

A new study by Nevada banking companies adds weight to previous discussions about the need to upgrade the workforce and STEM education in the schools, as well as what makes Nevada a great place to do business.

First Independent Bank and Bank of Nevada, both divisions of Western Alliance Bank, last week released the Nevada Business Leader Survey. The banks commissioned WestGroup Research to conduct the survey, which took place in January.

Bob Francl, executive vice president, regional president of Reno-based First Independent Bank, explained to the NNBW in a phone interview why the banks commissioned the survey.

"We're a business bank," he said. "It's important to us what's important to our businesses; to gauge what business leaders are confident about and the business climate."

In the statewide survey of 200 business leaders, 51 percent cited the quality and availability of the workforce as the number one challenge for Nevada businesses. Half of the respondents (50 percent) cited concerns about the education system, followed by health care costs (37 percent), business taxes (24 percent) and business regulations (22 percent).

Fifty-five percent of Nevada business leaders said increasing the pool of STEM graduates would be among the actions that could have the most positive impact on Nevada.

The study results fall in line with the conversation in northern Nevada about the need for a better-trained workforce. The influx of high-profile businesses such as Tesla, Panasonic, and Switch has brought new jobs to the market, especially in technology-based industries and advanced manufacturing.

"I don't think there were surprises in the study, both the benefits (of doing business in the state) and the challenges," Francl said. "What's notable is the percentages. More than 50 percent of business leaders said workforce and schools were challenging. A high percentage of respondents identified those issues as most notable."

Even when questioned about actions that government could take to enhance the business climate, education was a top issue.

Fifty-nine percent felt local governments should prioritize improving K-12 education and 41 percent felt more should be done for community college training and workforce development.

Though challenges exist, particularly in workforce training, the business leaders surveyed have a generally positive view of the economy, with plans to invest in their own businesses during the next year.

The vast majority of Nevada business leaders surveyed, 87 percent, are confident about the future with 49 percent feeling "somewhat confident" that their revenue will increase in the next 12 months, followed by 39 percent who are "very confident."

A majority plans to hire additional employees (56 percent), provide additional training (52 percent), increase their marketing and promotions (52 percent), expand information technology (39 percent), expand product development (19 percent), improve data analytics (17 percent), and implement automation (13 percent).

In the national picture, the majority of business leaders (62 percent) believe the recent presidential election will have a positive impact on their business sector. That was followed by 19 percent citing no effect, and 18 percent citing a negative impact.

The business leaders also wanted to see local government take action to streamline the business permit process (33 percent), approve more affordable housing developments (27 percent), and increase efforts to ease traffic and road congestion (26 percent).

Actions state government should take to improve the business climate included more pro-business tax policies (57 percent), an increase in K-12 funding (38 percent), further streamline regulatory and permit approvals (33 percent), increase higher education funding (30 percent), create more affordable housing (17 percent), invest in broadband infrastructure (15 percent), targeted industry incentives (12 percent), enhance access to capital (10 percent), and enhance research and development capacity (9 percent).

To keep the economy growing, challenges need to be overcome.

"I think that we are definitely heading in the right direction and taking appropriate steps," Francl said.

First Independent Bank, itself, is working on programs to facilitate an increase in STEM education at both the STEM Academy and the Washoe County Schools in general.

"We want to do our part at First Independent Bank to focus on education," he said.

Bank officials have already met with the school district and are seeking business leaders to "come along side" the schools to help both with curriculum and funding.

"Northern Nevada especially has been fortunate to add great companies to our economy leading to job growth," Francl said. "Now we need to train the workforce to meet job growth. We all can help move this bar forward."