(TNS) — Months after Nevada hit record unemployment due to economic crisis brought on by the pandemic's impact on tourism, a lawmaker has introduced a bill she hopes will bring economic diversification to the state.
Senate Bill 110, introduced by Sen. Pat Spearman, D- North Las Vegas, would create the Emerging Technologies Task Force, a group that would focus on attracting new tech businesses to Nevada.
"George Will, the Washington Post columnist, says the future has a way of arriving unannounced, and certainly in the pandemic, the future arrived unannounced and accelerated all the trends that we saw in the last legislative session," said Michael Brown, the director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
Emerging technologies, as defined by the proposal, include: blockchain technology, robotics and artificial intelligence. The task force would develop strategies to attract emerging technology businesses, make recommendations for streamlining barriers toward opening those businesses and identify opportunities to develop "leading practices and standards" for emerging technology businesses. It would also develop recommended steps to develop a workforce with knowledge of emerging technologies and would be tasked with prioritizing employment for people unemployed due to a disaster, such as the ongoing pandemic.
The task force would find ways to incorporate blockchain technology into "all levels" of government, a provision which didn't sit right with Sen. Dina Neal, D- North Las Vegas, due to similarity to Gov. Steve Sisolak's Innovation Zone proposal in which blockchain companies would essentially be able to start their own governments.
Under the Innovation Zone proposal, which has yet to be formally introduced in the Legislature, technology companies that own at least 50,000 acres of land and promise to invest $1 billion can create a board of supervisors over the property, overriding local county governance. Blockchains LLC, a cryptocurrency company, currently owns 67,000 acres in Storey County and hopes to develop a city that runs entirely on blockchain technology.
"When we put this language in, I had no idea about the Innovation Zone (proposal)," said Spearman, who added that amending the bill would be possible.
The task force would have a board of six people, with the director of the Department of Business and Industry one of the required members. The director would also be able to appoint as many additional members as they deem necessary.
Spearman said this provision, and the size of the task force, is due to the ever-changing nature of the tech industry. The definition is wide and encompasses many different areas of expertise.
"The task force, as it was originally envisioned, was a bit smaller but we wanted to take into consideration all of the things that are happening right now in respect to innovation," Spearman said.
Members would serve for three-year unpaid terms, and the task force would release an annual report to the Legislature and governor on its findings and recommendations.
Terry Reynolds, the director of the state Department of Business and Industry, said the department has discussed an amendment that would add members from the economic development offices from both UNR and UNLV.
Mary Beth Sewald, the president and CEO of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, testified in support of the bill, calling it a good step toward diversifying Nevada's tourism-reliant economy which left the state in poor shape to weather the economic downturn caused by mass business closures last year.
"We at the Vegas chamber support these types of businesses because we realize the economic value they will have to our community, especially as they pertain to economic diversification and job creation," Sewald said.
Spearman said that many hospitality jobs are gone for good and stressed the state has to start looking forward now.
"Many of those jobs are not going to come back because of automation and disruptive technologies taking over. One of the reasons that this is so important and to include higher education and teachers ... is because we have to make sure we have a vehicle to prepare those who were laid off (whose) jobs aren't coming back," Spearman said.
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