Economic Center Helps Nevada Cities Cope with Change

Dr. Tom Harris, Director of the Center for Economic DevelopmentAlthough Nevada is no longer the fastest growing state in the country, the effect of growth on the state's counties and towns remains a concern for local lawmakers and politicians.

Mix in the complexities of Nevada's tax structure and the state mandates placed on local government, and the challenges facing local leaders in Nevada becomes very clear.

That's where Prof. Tom Harris of CABNR's Center for Economic Development can help.

Harris said his Center for Economic Development (UCED) was launched in 1992 in response to the growing need in Nevada for science-based data and research that helps local government sort through the costs and benefits of growth and economic development.

Harris said UCED's primary job is to nurture economic development throughout the state with focused research to help local decision-makers.

For instance, a small town approached about a major housing development may find the prospect of new tax revenues and job opportunities very appealing. But if the town has to expand its water or sewer system significantly to handle the new development, the growth may actually cost more than the benefits it brings in.

"Our message is to always include a fiscal analysis when looking at these kinds of projects," Harris said recently.

In addition to providing communities with studies and workshops, UCED also works to help educate local officials about the complexity of Nevada's tax on communities by the state. UCED can sometimes provide communities with free research and other times the studies may be more detailed and the center has to charge for them.

"There are a lot of factors to consider before you approve economic development projects," Harris said. "If fiscal balances for the county and the state are healthy, then it's usually a win-win. But sometimes there are revenue delays, and the money doesn't always come in when a community needs it. Community leaders have to be aware of that.

Another role of the UCED is to help communities smooth out boom-and-bust cycles associated with rapid economic growth that is unsustained. This can happen to communities associated with the mining industry, for instance, and it requires that communities analyze whether the boom will last long enough to pay for the infrastructure developments growth requires.

Demand for information is always increasing, Harris notes, because locally elected officials are only in office so long and economic conditions are always changing. Harris and his fellow researchers, including faculty with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, have in recent years looked at such issues as business retention in Mesquite, Nevada, and the socioeconomic impacts of the Amargosa Farm Road Solar Energy Project. Harris has also examined larger issues, including the potential for agritourism in Nevada, the impacts of gasoline consumption, and commuting patterns.