Technology has been one of the main engines of Nevada’s economic growth for several years now, with high-profile technology giants expanding into the Silver State and homegrown technology startups gaining traction.
We recently caught up with Nevada State Senator Ben Kieckhefer to discuss the Nevada Legislature’s newly formed technology caucus and how the group of Nevada lawmakers will influence technology policy and economic development in the state. We asked the senator what the bipartisan, bicameral group’s priorities are, and how they will approach both the benefits and challenges that rapid, technology-fueled economic growth brings to Nevada.
What are the Tech Caucus’ priorities this legislative session?
The caucus is an informal group of legislators who are really interested in seeing technology come to the forefront of our economy and we are interested in advancing policies that support companies that want to do business in our state in that space. We are simultaneously interested in government adoption of these technologies and making government more efficient through the use of technology. So we have broad goals and the structure of the caucus will evolve as we go forward.
With the wide array of technology companies that have already set up shop in Northern Nevada — Tesla, Switch, Microsoft, Apple, etc. — how much more tech growth is realistic for Northern Nevada?
What we need to be looking at are not those big companies but the companies that are the next ones to become that big. We need to be thinking about the innovators, the companies that are pushing the envelope in the development of new technologies, new ideas, new solutions to existing problems. Those are the companies that we really want to be looking at — the emerging thought leaders. We don’t need to spend our resources from an economic development standpoint buying companies to come into the state. We want to ensure we have the ecosystem to support those new companies we haven’t even heard of yet.
While Northern Nevada has been successful attracting back-end office operations and manufacturing units of large technology companies, is the next economic development step attracting headquarters or full company divisions to the area?
Absolutely. We want these companies to be bringing their top executives, their engineers, their thought leaders into this state. This is a tremendous state to be in, doing business and raising your family. I think as more companies locate here for those other services, their executive teams are going to realize that this is a natural place to have their corporate executives as well as a place that they are going to want to be. I think it is natural growth that we are going to see, and we want to support it because those high wage jobs and executive-level workers are a broad benefit to the state.
Legislatively, what are the simplest things that Nevada lawmakers can do to increase technology investment and technology-fueled economic development in the region?
One of the things we can do is encourage government adoption. Through states and municipalities we have an incredible customer base for these technology companies to deploy and test their products in a way that we can solve real-world problems. So if we, the government, are support of the companies that are trying to solve these problems, then I think they are much more likely to want to have a home here where they feel they are wanted and have a government that wants to support them.
Technology has been a double-edged sword in California’s Bay Area. It has led to incredible economic growth, but has also saddled the region with severe housing issues and economic pressures on the middle class. What can Northern Nevada learn from California’s successes and failures?
I think primarily we need to learn that balance is important. We can’t take our eye off of the working class and middle class members of our communities who can benefit from a growing economy but are not always readily able to capture that benefit. We need to continue to focus on skill acquisition for low-skill workers so that they can increase their productivity and actively participate in these emerging economies. I think, first and foremost, we can’t forget who we are and where we’ve come from while we grow and evolve.