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Supporting Economic Diversity in Nevada Through Engineering

Supporting Economic Diversity in Nevada Through Engineering

In 2010, Nevada was still reeling from the effects of the 2007 economic recession that plagued the United States. With unemployment rates at an alarming 14.5%, then-governor Brian Sandoval recognized the need for a proactive approach to improving the economy for the people of Nevada. Additionally, Sandoval recognized that Nevada’s reliance on the gaming industry for tax revenue made the state’s economic position uncertain. In 2008-2009, gaming accounted for 27.5% of state revenue in the form of taxes and fees. As an industry that is subject to extreme shifts that can be triggered by many variables (think: 9/11, general recessions, domestic terrorism, global pandemic), that’s certainly an unstable basket in which to store one’s eggs.

Engineering would play a key role in Sandoval’s efforts to reinforce the economic stability in Nevada. It makes sense; the field of engineering is only limited by the imaginations of those within the field. Engineers have always built the world in which we live; technology has expanded those worlds. The combination makes for unending economic growth opportunities.


Sandoval’s economic diversity program included rolling out a big welcome mat for some of the giants in the technology space, including Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple. According to Sandoval, “Our economic development objectives are to catalyze innovation, execute our plan for tech-based growth and to prepare for [growth] sector acceleration plans.”

“Our economic development objectives are to catalyze innovation, execute our plan for tech-based growth and to prepare for [growth] sector acceleration plans.”


This diversification was even MORE diversified within the technology space; many different technology sectors answered Sandoval’s invitation to join Nevada’s economy.  Some of the specialties included:


Nevada became the first state to legalize and regulate autonomous (i.e. self-driving) cars. From Teslas to trucks, Nevada helped pave the way for innovation. They’ve even created a specific license plate to denote autonomous vehicles.


Nevada’s large amount of open lands make it perfect for drone testing and development. If you visit Reno-Tahoe International Airport or the Reno Stead Airport, you might see military officials or companies like Amazon perfecting their drone use. 


Technology giant Tesla and their $1.6 billion-dollar economic stimulus of moving a giga factory (lithium ion batteries) to Nevada is just one example of the technical manufacturing boosts spurred by Sandoval’s efforts.


Where there’s technology, there’s engineering, and where there’s engineering in Nevada, there is regulation. In fact, engineering has been instrumental in Nevada’s ability to diversify its economy. One of the keys to facilitating this diversity has been finding a way to work within the laws and regulations that exist to protect the public, while supporting the economic development initiatives that state government promotes.


Nevada is in the minority of states that require engineers to be licensed in order to practice. This regulation is in place to ensure that those who advertise themselves as engineers have the proper education and experience necessary to protect public health, welfare and safety.


Some regulations surrounding engineering have been in effect for decades. The challenge is that most regulations were built around the most common and long-standing engineering specialties, such as civil and mechanical. Today’s engineering is shifting into innovative fields like robotics, computers and nanotechnology, which have yet to be regulated. The evolution of technology is outpacing regulators’ ability to develop a regulatory process for some specialties, and the exponential growth in this area will make it difficult to keep up.


At its core, the role of NVBPELS has always been to protect the public. While that certainly means ensuring that licensed, professional engineers have the breadth and depth of knowledge necessary to safely practice their specialty, it also means supporting the initiatives of elected officials. NVBPELS found ways to enable the specialties that are not currently bound by licensure requirements in the state to practice safely within the parameters of existing laws.


One unforeseen benefit of opening the state to new engineering specialties is the transfer of skills. When these newer engineering fields set up shop and hire local engineers to work with them, the engineers are able to expand their knowledge so the state not only gets the economic benefit in the short term, but creates long-term opportunities for new industries.


We’ve already seen the benefits of the technology boom in Nevada. Innovation certainly shows no sign of slowing down. The future is promising for those willing to embrace change. So what does that mean for engineering licensure?


As a board, over the next few years, it will be imperative to truly look at our processes and evolve them to match the field of engineering. This may mean changing licensure to allow professional engineers to pursue the proper credentials, while allowing for the inevitable continuation of rapidly-evolving innovation and shifts in the specialties.


NVBPELS Executive Director, Patty Mamola, recommends that engineering students who are interested in some of the newer engineering specialties, such as robotics, plan to obtain licensure as a part of their career track. Her best advice is to choose a field that offers licensure that is most closely related to their area of interest (such as mechanical or electric). Obtaining a license opens doors to global engineering opportunities, and it’s much easier to obtain a license within a few years of graduation than it is to obtain it later.

Whatever the future holds for the engineers who will build it, the foundation of knowledge facilitated in the licensure process will make the building of that world better, easier and safer for everyone.