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Emphases on education to prepare workforce

Sally Roberts
sroberts@NNBW.com

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval discussed the “Tesla Effect” and the “New Nevada” during the Governor’s Conference on Business. The sold-out event was held Aug. 25 at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno.

“There’s energy and excitement in the room that really inspires me,” he told the lunch audience, which had just heard remarks from Diarmuid O’Connell, vice president of business development at Tesla.

“Tesla is really pushing us,” he said, “pushing us to innovate and do what we need to do to prepare for the future.”

Tesla’s electric battery gigafactory, currently under construction in the Reno Tahoe Industrial Center east of Sparks, will have the largest footprint of any building on earth, Sandoval said. Its presence in northern Nevada is not only the talk of the town, but the world.

Sandoval recently returned from Europe to discuss business opportunities.

“The T-word came up in every conversation,” he said. “They knew about us. We’re on the map.”

In the U.S., business owners in a broad range of companies are wondering why Tesla came to Nevada, and are now considering it for future moves and expansions. Many have already made the move to the Silver State.

As technology companies flood into the state, Nevada’s future is dependent on creating a world-class education system, Sandoval said.

During the 2015 Legislative Session, the state took leaps in that direction.

This year, every school in Washoe County and 90 percent of schools in Clark County have all-day kindergarten, he said.

Funding for gifted and talented programs increased from $350,000 last year to $10 million this year.

The Legislature also expanded investments in career and technical education.

“I don’t want to just catch up with other states, I want to beat them,” the governor told the business gathering.

The increases to school funding come with an increase in taxes, particularly on business. The Nevada Revenue Plan includes $1.4 billion new and extended taxes over the biennium, including a new commerce tax.

The goal is to improve schools in the state at all levels, Sandoval said, to build the college system into the best workforce development in the United States and to educate students for the new economy built on high-tech companies such as Tesla.

“These are your future employees,” he said, “the people you are going to be interviewing in the future.”

As the state works to improve education for the new economy, it also strives to secure Nevada’s future in technology, along with the jobs that come with those industries.

Nevada was the first state in the nation to license autonomous vehicles and UNLV hosted the first autonomous vehicle forum, Sandoval said.

Sandoval was the first governor to ride an autonomous vehicle, a Google vehicle in Las Vegas. He also rode in a Daimler autonomous truck and an autonomous vehicle in hectic Berlin traffic, which he described as a “toe-curling experience.”

The person who built that German autonomous vehicle is now part of the faculty at UNR, he added.

Ensuring Nevada is friendly to the electric vehicle industry that includes Tesla, efforts are underway by the state, NV Energy and Tesla to increase the availability of charging stations, including a chain of stations along U.S. Highway 95 from Reno to Las Vegas.

Electric vehicle owners “will be able to drive that road with complete confidence,” he said.

Other areas of technical innovation in the state that Sandoval noted include Nevada’s place as a testing ground for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), including a contract with NASA; and the Switch data-center expansion to TRIC and its planned “superloop” fiber optic network that will connect Reno, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“This is the new Nevada,” he said.

“I’m excited about what’s going to come to Nevada. I’m excited to work with the education system. I’m excited to travel the world and be part of what people are talking about in a positive way.”