LAS VEGAS - Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said he has helped set Nevada on the path toward recovery by directing his administration to focus on economic development, citing small growth in the state's mighty hospitality industry as a sign that Nevada's worst-in-the-nation economy is improving.
"Nevada is on the move again," Sandoval told business leaders at the Nevada Development Authority's annual luncheon in Las Vegas Thursday. "We are seeing signs, some large, some small, of economic improvement."
Sandoval said he has met with businesses, including retailers Urban Outfitters Inc. and Toys R Us, to encourage job creation in Nevada. He cited 34 businesses that have relocated or expanded in southern Nevada during the past year.
He said Nevada must overcome its duel challenges of an underwater housing market and vast unemployment. Sandoval said his staff has also meet regularly with the state's banking leaders to encourage greater lending and assistance for homeowners facing foreclosure. He urged business leaders to hire and retrain workers shut out by the evolving job market, especially returning veterans, construction workers and the longtime unemployed.
Nevada has led the nation in foreclosures and unemployment for months, its hospitality-dependent economy crippled by penny-pinching tourists and the collapse of local housing markets. Since Sandoval took office in January, the unemployment rate has hovered above 13 percent, the highest in the nation and far above the national rate of 9.1 percent. During that time, workers continued to drop out of the workforce, either moving to other states or giving up on finding a job, with the total labor force in Nevada shedding nearly 28,000 people over the last year.
But Sandoval said recent gains in the tourism market suggest a recovery is on the way. He cited his administration's creation of a cabinet agency focused on economic gains and vowed again to work with school officials to improve Nevada's low graduation rates. Sandoval said Nevada's schools must embrace digital education to graduate more students.
A state commissioned report released Monday cited a low-skilled workforce, an underperforming K-12 system and underinvestment in higher education as some of the obstacles the state must overcome to diversify its economy and create jobs.
Nevada's economic future lies with clean energy, Sandoval said, repeating a frequent talking point. He also slammed "burdensome regulations" that have hindered the state's small, but influential mining industry.
Sandoval ended his speech on a bipartisan note, evoking President John F. Kennedy by name in a call to Nevadans to pitch in.
"How will you help to ensure that the new beginnings we have chartered in Carson City take hold in every corner of this great state?" Sandoval said.
Business leaders gathered for the event applauded Sandoval's optimism.
"There is no question that what Sandoval and his administration are doing are creating the infrastructure to turn Nevada around," said Javier Trujillo, chairman of the Latin Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas.