Medical school recommended to diversify economy

Developing a medical school at UNLV would be the single most productive means of diversifying Southern Nevada’s economy and improving the quality of life here, a panelist addressing an economic outlook presentation said today.

Mary Riddel, chair of the Economics Department at UNLV’s Lee Business School, said a medical school would provide the biggest bang for the buck for the local economy because companies looking to relocate or expand here consider the state of health care in a community when they make their decisions.

“When you look at the benefits vs. the costs, I think it’s pretty clear,” Riddel said. “What do we get with a medical school? We get economic resiliency.”

Riddel said Nevada ranks 46th in the nation in the number of doctors per capita, indicating a need for more medical professionals. She said studies show that 70 percent of students remain in the location of their medical residency.

The panel was part of UNLV’s 2014 Economic Outlook at the M Resort. About 200 Southern Nevada business leaders attended the presentation.

Riddel said that when she has spoken at the Economic Outlook in the past, she has never boosted a UNLV program as a potential solution to a local problem. But developing a medical school represents “the lowest-hanging fruit” of solutions that could be enacted in a relatively short period of time.

Riddel’s comments came after panelist Glenn Christenson of Vestland Investments and chairman of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, said the slow process of diversifying the economy is the long-term solution to protecting Southern Nevada from the devastating effects of a recession.

He said the LVGEA is partnering with economic development offices from Southern Nevada’s municipalities and with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development on a multi-pronged strategy to attract business, including technology companies and those involved in drone testing.

Earlier in the presentation, UNLV’s top economist said Southern Nevada should experience a gradual acceleration of growth in 2014, but financial restraints nationally and internationally and a continued lack of diversification will continue drag on the region’s economy.

Stephen Brown, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research, told the crowd that the housing market should continue to strengthen, but tourism and gaming numbers that were lackluster in 2013 will see only marginal improvements next year.

“I thought that 2013 would be the year that we’d have record tourism visitation,” Brown said. “But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”

While Nevada still leads the nation in negative home equity — it’s continuing to improve, but so is every other state — housing prices are going up, and Nevada’s housing opportunity index is tracking ahead of other cities in Southern California and Arizona.

Other leading indicators are trending above the national average, and Brown’s Nevada business confidence index has been on a steady uphill climb since 2008.

Brown is forecasting continued gains in the number of housing units permitted, with slim gains in population, personal income, employment, visitor volume and gross gaming revenue.