Gov. Brian Sandoval received a warm reception from hundreds of businesspeople attending the first-ever Governor’s Conference on Small Business even though he told them there was plenty of work ahead before the state could consider itself recovered from the Great Recession.
More than 700 people filled a ballroom at the Orleans Friday and gave Sandoval a pair of standing ovations and another roar of applause when he announced that leaders of the Clark County School District and the Clark County Education Association had just signed a Race to the Top grant application following an agreement he helped broker.
Financing education and health care reforms without raising taxes are the biggest challenges on the horizon, Sandoval said, but state agencies are working to eliminate uncertainties that make recovery from the recession different from any economic downturn Nevadans have ever faced.
“The global marketplace has new rules and this recession was different in so many ways so it makes sense that the recovery would be different as well,” Sandoval said.
He said more than half the state’s businesses list the rising cost of health care as their biggest concern, but that uncertainty “triggers anxiety among consumers, investors and business owners alike.”
“Businesses can’t meet the costs themselves and they are uncertain about what government reaction will mean to the bottom line,” Sandoval said. “It’s not surprising that even for risk-takers that uncertainty continues to be a drag on business confidence.”
To take some uncertainty to business out of the equation, Sandoval reiterated the pledge he made when he first ran for office: to keep taxes low. He said retaining taxes scheduled to sunset — the strategy that was used to balance the budget in 2011 — would be necessary to fund education in the state.
He also noted that he helped eliminate the modified business tax that affected 70 percent of the businesses in the state.
He cited metaphors he has used in the past — planting kernels of popcorn and setting ships to sail — to explain the state’s strategy of expanding economic development, growing the workforce and working toward education and health care reforms.
“We survived the period of triage to balance the state budget, we launched all those ships and we put those kernels of corn in the hopper,” Sandoval said. “Now, it’s going to take some time.”
But at least one of his projects appears to be ahead of schedule. At the beginning of his term, Sandoval pledged to add 50,000 new jobs in the state by 2014. In two years, he said, “we’re more than halfway there.”
In a bid to keep the state business-friendly, he said state department heads have reviewed every state regulation, eliminating more than 700 of them and modifying 1,000 more. Nevada, he said, is now the fastest recovering state in the nation.
“This hasn’t been easy but it has been necessary, and we are starting to see signs of success. I think this conference is one of those signs that Nevada is moving up and, as I said in my state of the state (address), that Nevada will be Nevada again,” Sandoval said. “We’re all starting to feel this momentum.”
The half-day conference was attended by members of the Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City, Latin, Asian and Urban chambers of commerce — and unprecedented gathering all of those business organizations.
Three panel discussions on financing business, regulatory reforms and a roundup on the state’s economy were conducted.
The event also was a send-off to Department of Business and Industry Director Terry Johnson, who helped organize the event. Johnson was appointed to the state Gaming Control Board last month.
He’s being succeeded later this month by Bruce Breslow, the former head of the Department of Motor Vehicles.