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Business leaders discuss job creation

BRIAN DUGGAN
bduggan@nevadaappeal.com

Ideas ranging from opening a beef slaughterhouse to attracting more investment in renewable energy came from a forum on job creation at Western Nevada College this week.

With unemployment on the rise in 43 states – including Nevada, which climbed to

13.1 percent – and the District of Columbia in December, the White House organized job forums across the nation this month.

The United State Department of Agriculture Rural Development staged one of those forums Thursday in Carson City inside a lecture hall at WNC. About 80 people attended.

Brian Palmer, the vice president of GE Energy in Minden, which produces a variety of machine and sensor technology, said Nevada needs to become a production-oriented economy and decrease its dependency on service-sector jobs.

But to increase the amount of exports from Nevada, the state needs to invest in education and training for workers, he said.

“Let’s get ahead of what the job requirements are at the technician level, at the engineer level and make sure there’s a pipeline of very well-educated talent,” Palmer said, whose company employs about 1,100 people and did about $600 million in business in 2009.

“The way you get that is through education,” Palmer said. “As much as we need to focus on the short-term, chronic need of jobs, jobs, jobs, you have to be able to work with the other hand on how do you build the five-, 10-, 15-year future.”

And despite proposed cuts in education, Palmer said, the state should invest in universities and community colleges – make the University of Nevada, Reno known for renewable energy instead of mining, for example – “to make Nevada a technology destination.”

That pipeline to produce better educated employees is in the works, said Carol Lange, the dean of instruction at WNC.

The two-year college, which offers one four-year technology degree, is partnering with Carson City area manufacturers to begin a curriculum for current employees, “and also to entice high school students and displaced workers to come into this fold and say here’s a tangible kind of thing that I can do that can lead to employment.”

At a meeting last week, area manufacturers suggested awarding employees or prospective employees a certificate of achievement if they attended WNC for technical training. The program could be up and running as early as fall 2010, Lange said.

Stan Wilmoth, the president of Reno-based Heritage Bank, said to create jobs the state needs to invest more in education, but “the very first thing we do as a state when we have a shortfall is talk about cutting education,” Wilmoth said. “Really? Is that what we want to do?”

Wendell King, a Carson City accountant, said firms will not expand until there is more certainty from federal lawmakers on issues such as the health care and carbon regulations.

“The two things I hear all the time are, ‘My sales are down and my net income is down, but my taxes and fees are up. I’m getting squeezed,'” King said. “But I’m afraid of the taxes and fees that I don’t know about.”

Among some audience suggestions was opening a slaughterhouse in Nevada – about 99 percent of all cattle raised in Nevada are sent to other states for processing, according to the state agriculture department.

Renewable energy investments also played a dominant role in the discussion.

Li Han Chan, the director of operations for the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization, said Nevada could serve as a energy producing market for California – with geothermal in the north, solar in the south and wind across the state.

“There is demand and we can supply that demand,” Chan said.

But it will require private, state and federal investment, she said.

“I think a renewable energy cluster in Nevada will make a difference and will move the needle in the state,” she said. “Why? Because it’s able to support knowledge-based jobs in the longer term.”