It’s the first thing companies ask when looking to locate or expand to Nevada. Before they ask about taxes or incentives, they ask about workforce.
“We’re trying to attract companies based on the industries and target sectors we’re focused on,” explained Bob Potts, deputy director, Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). “As we work with these companies, always at the top of their list is workforce, human resources. [They ask], ‘What do you have in the way of workforce specific to my industry and my company?”
Workforce development is just one part of economic development, but it’s a crucial part. Economic development itself is a complicated system with a lot of moving parts. When a state puts those parts together the right way, it becomes a great place to do business – that’s Nevada.
GOED—the Governor’s Office of Economic Development—is Nevada’s principal economic development agency and leads the larger economic development ecosystem to try and attract inbound investment into Nevada, according to Michael Brown, executive director. The three ancillary missions of GOED are international affairs, supporting small business and supporting workforce development.
“GOED is really laser focused on workforce development that is directly connected to economic development and diversification efforts,” said Stacey Bostwick, director, workforce development, GOED. “The overarching purpose of our workforce efforts are to ensure that we have programs and infrastructure in place, so we have a soft landing for growing business clusters, and the opportunity to gain more high-skill, high-wage opportunities and industries for Nevadans.”
Where GOED fits into the big picture is as a conduit working directly with the private sector, particularly employers with specific workforce needs.
“What I’ve learned, coming from the private sector into state government, is that it’s very siloed,” said Brown. “We have to break down the silos and work well with other agencies, particularly in the area of workforce.” This involves working with K-12 and postsecondary education, other economic development and workforce agencies. There are also partnerships with federal counterparts.
Directing economic development efforts into a cohesive whole is partly the function of Regional Development Authorities (RDAs).
“We try to keep everybody going in the same direction without specifically micromanaging because every region is different,” said Potts. RDAs are boots on the ground. They communicate with prospective employers and represent their region but, generally, they don’t have the funding to create the workforce development programs employers need. So, each RDA works in partnership with GOED under the GOED umbrella.
The Governor’s Office of Workforce Innovation (GOWINN) is a sister agency to GOED whose mission is to drive a skilled, diverse workforce by bringing together entities focused on workforce development from education to industry partners. GOWINN works to create more pathways from education to employment, more Nevadans with postsecondary degrees and more training and credentialing programs to create a skilled workforce.
What brings all the diverse entities together is wraparound services. “That’s our folks that bring in those key services that allow Nevadans to have the right support services to take advantage of workforce opportunities,” said Isla Young, executive director, GOWINN.
GOWINN focuses on high growth, high demand areas. With hospitality and mining already in place, the focus is on supporting not only existing industries but those emerging industries, such as information technology (IT), healthcare, advanced manufacturing and logistics.
GOWINN works with programs that enhance workforce development. They manage the Governor’s Workforce Development Boards (GWDB), and recently re-launched industry sector councils – employer-driven councils covering healthcare, IT, logistics and manufacturing. The councils pull together industry employers who help GOED, GOWINN and the GWDB understand their needs in order to shape effective workforce development programs.
Part of shaping those efforts includes working with the education component of workforce development. GOWINN partners with Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), Nevada Department of Education (NDE), the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) and other state agencies. The agency also manages, tracks and updates lists of high value, postsecondary credentials.
One of the tools used by state agencies to ensure data is being interpreted correctly is the Nevada P-20 to Workforce Research Data System (NPWR) which provides Nevadans with access to the knowledge needed to understand the trends shaping the state’s education and workforce outcomes.
Some industries—such as hospitality— contracted during the pandemic. In others, workers lost jobs in the economic downturn following the pandemic, or because accelerated automation put in place during COVID made their jobs redundant. For those Nevadans, there’s a need to upskill, reskill or find a new industry to work in.
GOWINN receives funding from the state to help workers do just that. During the 15 months Young has been executive director of GOWINN, she’s led her team to aggressively go after federal grants; they’ve brought in more than $20 million.
One such grant is the $13.8 million SANDI grant. SANDI stands for “Supporting and Advancing Nevada’s Dislocated Individuals” and is specifically designed to support unemployed and underemployed workers. It’s been described as an example of extreme collaboration between all state agencies.
“What we’ve done is created, in partnership with NSHE and all the community colleges, over 90 short-term credentialing programs available at every community college [which] comes with over $3 million in tuition dollars available to Nevadans,” said Young.
Growing a Shrinking Workforce
At a time when industries are firing back up as COVID transitions from pandemic to endemic, workforce shortages are hitting across industries.
Younger generations are reappraising what they want from a career, or if they want a job at all. Entrepreneurship is on the rise. Workers are demanding flexibility from employers, or the ability to work remotely. At the same time, large numbers of baby boomers exited the workforce during the pandemic. Nevada’s long-time employer, hospitality, contracted radically; some 30,000 workers won’t be returning.
“How do we transfer their skills and abilities in such a way that they’re valued and compensated for that value?” asked Bostwick. “That’s a really important part of the southern Nevada challenge in terms of economic development and workforce development, so we don’t end up with a revolving door or entry level jobs.”
The pandemic changed the economy, and workforce development is evolving. Both are putting new demands on workforce, which is putting new demands on how to deliver government services, according to Brown.
In May Governor Sisolak announced the creation of a subcabinet dedicated to addressing workforce issues, bringing together GOED, NDE, NSHE, DETR, GOWINN and the Department of Veterans Services.
“We want to make sure that we have the capacity to deliver Nevada workers and, if necessary, provide Nevada workers with the programs they need to be trained for Nevada jobs,” said Brown.
Running at the Speed of Business
Economic development agencies have to stay on top of workforce development because industry needs change as technology evolves. Existing employees need reskilling and upskilling, and workers displaced because of automation and technological advances need retraining.
Complicating the issue is the need to operate at the speed of commerce. “It’s a complicated area with a lot of moving parts, and you cannot bring everything to a halt and sort it all out. You literally have to be building the plane as you’re flying it,” said Brown. “There’s no ‘zero moment’ where you just stop and put everything in place. You have to be very dynamic. Our private sector employers have business cycles and business demands they have to meet, so we have to stay in pace with the private sector.”
Small business capital from state and federal funds meet in SSBCI, the State Small Business Credit Initiative. The federal government contracts with every state to allocate funds as states understand and can respond better to local conditions. In turn, the states provide loans and equity capital to small businesses and startups.
“SSBCI 1.0 ran from 2011 to 2017 but Nevada has operated Nevada’s SSBCI program beyond sunset,” said Karsten Heise, senior director, strategic programs and innovations, GOED. “Now it’s being reauthorized. The purpose of the program is to improve capital access for small businesses.”
For the purposes of federal definition, that’s less than 500 employees, which covers most of Nevada companies. The focus is on capital access, but also on equitable distribution of capital. “There’s a large component of what the federal government calls socially and economically disadvantaged individual run businesses, or SEDI, and that will be a strong focus of the program,” said Heise.
The result of the capital access is meant to be job creation, the growth of small businesses and the formation of new businesses. Among other ways, that formation is done through access to venture capital, especially in technology centered industries.
The original round of funding was a federal pool of $1.5 billion; Nevada received $13.8 million. This time the pool is $10 billion; even with cuts to that amount expected, Nevada should receive between $70 and $90 million. States can deploy funds through loan guarantees, collateral support, capital access, loan participation and venture capital programs. Nevada will run collateral support, loan participation and venture capital programs guided by a GOED-developed ‘four-themes-based’ approach.
The Nevada Knowledge Fund was enacted by the 2011 Legislative session and commenced funding by the 2013 session. Funding has ranged from $10 million in 2013 to $5 million in 2021. There are three eligible recipients for this program: University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and the Desert Research Institute (DRI).
“The purpose is to spur commercialization in the state, taking newly developed intellectual property (IP) at research universities and identifying which technologies are close to market and can be commercialized,” said Heise. “[Those technologies can then be] licensed to a company, preferably a Nevada startup or new business, or the universities can participate in the formation of a startup which we would call a ‘spinoff company.’ The universities and the Knowledge Fund would then continue to participate in [the businesses’] success potentially through an equity stake, or some form of revenue share. The purpose is to create technologies that are viable and marketable and to create companies, or help existing companies, expand and scale with new technologies, hiring a highly skilled workforce. University-developed technologies and expertise are further utilized by strengthening Nevada businesses through research and development support or providing a safe space on campus for early-stage startups. The end result is the same: businesses expand and hire highly skilled Nevadans.”
GOED partners with both NDE and NSHE, providing guidance for education and workforce development partners in the industry sectors it’s targeting, whether that’s technology or healthcare, manufacturing or logistics.
“These are different areas we’re focused on, as far as capacity, workforce and where we have gaps,” explained Potts. “What kinds of curriculum or certification are they going to need? What kind of work-based learning experience are they going to need?”
Through NDE, Nevada high schools offer career pathways that can graduate students with industry approved certificates or community college-level degrees.
“They do a lot of work in the technical education space and pay very close attention to our strategies,” said Bostwick. “We know there’s a really big emphasis on career exploration [in high school] and we need industry to partner with the K-12 space to continue to cultivate those opportunities.”
One tool NDE uses is Nepris, a cloud-based platform that brings real-world career exposure to students through live, virtual connections with industry professionals. A statewide partnership with Nepris fulfills GOWINN’s initiative to use apprenticeships to support the education-to-workforce pipeline to industries with high workforce needs.
Postsecondary education, especially community colleges, has long been a partner for economic development.
“Workforce programs are inherent in what a two-year college does, especially a comprehensive two-year college like TMCC. We offer 80 programs or more, sometimes we add programs within programs,” said Karin Hilgersom, president, Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC). “TMCC programs are one of the engines of an economy because we help close gaps that may occur between people who are upskilling in the workforce. That’s a big part of what we do, upskilling individuals and, at the same time, always being aware of industry needs so we can respond in a way that creates a very strong pool of workers.”
The partnership works both ways. When colleges have funding issues or need industry responsiveness to make certain their training programs are on track, they turn to economic development authorities.
The benefit for Nevada employers in working with a community college is twofold. “One, they’re looking for workers with a certain skill level and, probably, a certain certification, so they can come to us for the certification provided, or we can design a program around their needs,” explained Frank Woodbeck, executive director, grants and sponsored projects, College of Southern Nevada (CSN).
Because basic entry-level skills don’t vary much from one manufacturer to the next, CSN can work hand-in-hand with new employers to deliver a trained workforce in 15 or 16 weeks.
“Or as they hire folks, we can qualify them and train them with entry-level skills,” Woodbeck said. “It’s our business to work with employers and be nimble enough to pivot as needed where training is concerned.”
Advanced manufacturing is one of Nevada’s target industry sectors. One example of this industry is machine tool builder Haas Automation, Inc., located in Henderson. In 2021, CSN added an advanced manufacturing rapid response program to its Henderson campus, making it possible for at least 200 Nevadans, annually, to get training in this growing industry. A grant of close to $2 million from WINN funds enabled the program.
“We’re now in the process of collaborating with the City of Henderson to build an advanced manufacturing Center of Excellence that trains technicians in the area of advanced manufacturing, which would include all the robotics, machining, electronics and other areas technicians are going to be needing to continue to sustain and grow the manufacturing sector,” said Dr. Federico Zaragoza, president, CSN.
CSN is familiar with matching programs to high-need workforce areas. Their nursing program provides about one-third of the nurses in southern Nevada. Their diesel technology certificate graduates students into jobs with Nevada Gold. CSN also expanded software development programs and created a cybersecurity center of excellence on its Las Vegas campus.
The point is to graduate students into high-wage, high-demand jobs in growing industries. Partnerships with community colleges designate GOED as the state-level umbrella agency. GOED’s agencies are the funding sources and community colleges are the boots-on-the-ground organizations providing training.
In rural Nevada, Western Nevada College (WNC) found a unique way to take training on the road–literally. WNC serves six rural counties: Douglas, Lyon, Storey, Churchill, Mineral and Carson. They are very different communities, each with its own workforce development initiatives. With companies like TESLA and Panasonic in the region, WNC needs to offer programs like robotics and automation, light industrial technology in order to train local workers.
“I have three campuses and a number of community sites, but we cannot replicate programs in every community,” explained J. Kyle Dalpe, interim president, WNC. There’s no financial way to build three manufacturing or welding labs.
So WNC used a WINN grant, along with foundation and private sector funds, for an $800,000 project–buying and hollowing out a box trailer and creating a mobile industrial technology lab that can be hauled by pickup to rural locations in northern Nevada.
WNC also uses SANDI grants to offer one-semester completion programs with industry certification, designed to fill workforce gaps and get people to work.
“If we provide an industry standard certification like manufacturing technician, which is a national certification, the student that has that credential can move from one employer to another and the employer will know exactly what they’re getting,” said Dalpe. “SANDI supports that and offers help with registration fees. Incumbent workers are the ones that are in there, that need to be upskilled.”
SANDI has multifaceted components that can address a variety of needs, such as funding accelerated workforce training programs. TMCC has 38 accelerated programs with help from SANDI.
The architecture and rationale of the SANDI Project was devised by GOED long before the pandemic, to address the impact of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. According to Heise, it also assists workers who are subjected to automation.
One component of the grant comprises one of the biggest technological advances: virtual reality (VR).
At the core of SANDI is a technology platform meant to serve individual Nevadans navigating through career choices. This platform will be utilizing and expanding the existing Nevada Career Explorer, an online tool that gives individuals the ability to explore 900 career options, perform self-assessments, access interest profiles, explore fields of study and career pathways, and investigate local colleges.
The virtual reality component, complete with goggles, allows virtual job shadowing. Public libraries across Nevada, partnered with SANDI, provide the technology and the VR goggles.
“Anybody can walk through the front door of a public library and use a virtual reality headset to see into the work environment of one of Nevada’s priority industries,” said, Tammy Westergard, senior workforce development leader, GOED. They can access career coaching and create an individual career map that can lead to industry training programs.
The three-minute virtual field trip offers immersion in a simulation of the career they’re considering. Among careers that can be explored are dialysis technician, advanced manufacturing and HVAC tech.
“As a professional librarian on staff in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the work I’m involved with requires coordinating virtual reality elements to catapult distance learning for thousands of dislocated individuals who can sample the reality of trying to understand the labor market, make decisions within it and go through some kind of upskilling or reskilling program,” said Westergard. There are currently five simulations that are part of the training programs that lead to industry recognized certifications. There’s also a nonvirtual reality component.
“We’ve brought into the state apprenticeships in healthcare and IT,” said Young. “We’re utilizing the gold standard apprenticeship model created by unions in our state for many years, and applying that model to non-construction apprenticeship programs. [We have] then partnered with rural communities through Nevadaworks to bring in $2.5 million in grants.” Those grants are specifically meant to develop the talent pipeline in healthcare workers for rural communities.
Alongside postsecondary education, DETR is a critical partner in workforce and economic development. Most public workforce funds go to the agency to provide workforce services or pass them into regions to create public workforce services.
DETR is also a critical partner for strategies, to make certain policies are in place with regard to where public workforce investments are going, and that they match the direction of state and economic development. DETR can provide support for businesses, whether with recruitment and training or support services.
DETR’s Silver State Works, funded by Nevada’s unemployment insurance tax, is a recruitment, retention and training incentive for employers, who can save up to $2,000 per employee. It’s a great place for employers to recruit in a tight labor market.
The Nevada Advantage
Nevada has well-populated metro areas at both ends of the state. It also has the small state advantage–everyone still knows everyone in Nevada, politicians are approachable, state offices are responsive.
And there’s still a frontier spirit, added Brown, where people are willing to experiment. With miles of open roads, it’s a testing space for autonomous cars.
“The National Governor’s Association did a story on Nevada and said Nevada is transforming, whether it knows it or not,” said Brown. “The state is keeping mining, hospitality and gaming, and embracing new industries, and training the workforce those industries need.”
He added, “We now have a robust technology sector, a new and emerging lithium sector, and venture capitalists moving here creating a venture capital community. We will always have a world-class hospitality center, a strong mining sector, but we are expanding the other parts of the economy to help rebalance our state.”
GOED programs exist to create a healthy, balanced, diversified economy, to retrain and retain workers and to recruit and retain Nevada companies. Companies require a workforce. Workforce means Nevadans. Nevada individuals are not forgotten in the economic imperatives of economic and workforce development.
“Our goal is not just to have training programs. Our goal is training programs that will provide meaningful, high-paying jobs for Nevadans. We can change people’s lives and create opportunities that will impact not just that person, but their family, their children and allow them to have quality of life,” said Young. “What a privilege the work is.”