Returns high on higher education funding |

Returns high on higher education funding

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff writer

RENO – If you want a Saks, you need a symphony.

Financing and focus on higher education and culture promotes an area’s quality of life which affects its economic power, developers and educational leaders said Wednesday at the regional economic forum Directions 2006 in Reno.

For example, the high-end retailer Saks Fifth Avenue only invests in an area where the culture is in keeping with its demographics.

David Silverstein, principal of Bayer Properties, which is developing the massive Summit Sierra shopping center in South Reno, said discussions to bring Saks into one of his developments in Birmingham, Ala. collapsed after the company’s real estate agent asked how large of a symphony the city had. The symphony had recently gone bankrupt.

“The point is right on target, with events like the symphony people have to buy nice clothing,” he said during a panel discussion on maintaining economic vitality. “When companies are looking to come into a city, an important ingredient is looking at the cultural well-being. The arts is a part of the economic driving force.”

Silverstein said afterward that it took five years to get the symphony back up. And then Saks came to Birmingham. Saks may not come to Reno, but a Nordstrom may work. Summit Sierra opens March 15.

James Rogers, Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor, said Nevada has a world-class economy and a third-class culture.

“One of the reasons we have a third-class culture is that we have not invested in our higher education system,” he said to about 1,000 professionals and area leaders.

Rogers said one example of this is the University of Nevada, Reno medical school, which, he said, is 35 years behind comparable Western schools. He said each of the UNR med classes have only 52 students. Other schools have 100. Students work out in the hallways. Closets were converted into research labs. He said it would take $400 million-$500 million privately raised to bring the school up to the same quality as medical institutions in Utah, New Mexico or Arizona.

“We have a Ph.D. in small thinking and that has to stop,” Rogers said. “If you don’t compete, major schools come and take your faculty. If they don’t take your faculty they take your students.”

Rogers said this is a danger to the local economy because top students see that the university doesn’t compete, so they go out of state.

“When they (students) go out of state they don’t come back,” he said. “This state is awash with private money. We have those people that can make $350 million contributions, we just haven’t sold them on a vision of where we want to go. We cannot attract new business if we don’t have a world-class higher education system.”

— Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.