RENO - Gov. Kenny Guinn told business leaders Thursday the poor reputation of Nevada's education system is undermining his efforts to attract new companies to the state.
''There is a lot of work for Nevada to do before I can truly stand before a major company, Fortune 500 executives, small businesses and say, 'Relocate - relocate your business to Nevada,''' Guinn said.
''I don't believe we are the cutting edge to be the example for those companies that are coming here,'' the first-term Republican said.
In a frank assessment of the state's most glaring weaknesses, Guinn challenged about 500 business owners, executives and entrepreneurs at the Governor's Fourth Annual Economic Development Conference to embrace his call to invest in technology and produce a better educated workforce.
''You are not going to get high-tech companies from the Silicon Valley to come here if we don't have an educated workforce,'' he said.
Despite record growth, Guinn warned the state will face $1 billion annual deficits within eight years if it fails to ''create new wealth'' by attracting new business to Nevada.
He also said he needs more authority from the Legislature to move state workers into priority areas and spend money on technology upgrades without specific legislative approval between sessions every two years.
Guinn said he needed more power earlier this year to shift resources to computer glitches at the Department of Motor Vehicles and doesn't even have the authority to buy a color printer for his computer in the governor's office.
But the thrust of his speech at the Reno Hilton was aimed at Nevada's past failures, from the nation's worst high school drop out rate to its worst U.S. teenage-pregnancy rate and one of the smallest percentages of students who go on to college.
''There is something terribly wrong when this state has the best cash flow it has ever had, increasing tremendously, the fastest growing state in America, and we are last in so many areas,'' Guinn said.
Only 37 percent of Nevada children end up going to college, compared with the national average of 65 percent, he said.
''Next door, Arizona is something like 80 percent and Utah is something like 80 percent. We are not going to be competitive in that world,'' he said.
Guinn said after the speech he did not intend to call for any tax increases or new spending on the efforts, rather he would continue to try to reprogram existing resources.
The governor, in office now for about 18 months, said steps were already under way to address the shortcomings and predicted a review of the past two to three years will show marked improvement in Nevada's educational system.
Most important has been the Millennium Scholarships Guinn established to be financed by the state's share of the federal tobacco settlement, he said.
Under the program, every Nevada resident who graduates from high school with a grade point average of 3.0 or better is eligible for up to $2,500 a year to attend the state's two universities, or $1,500 annually at any of the state's four community colleges.
The result will be 6,900 new freshmen at the state's post-secondary schools this year, Guinn said.
Critics complain Nevada may end up with ''too many kids in college,'' he said. ''That's a problem I'd like to get up and face every day of my life.''