By Shadrach Michaels

The Ely Times

The Silver State is getting a new moniker; Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s focused efforts to make Nevada the “Innovation State”.  Touring rural counties since introducing several bills into the Senate on June 27th, to combat the global climate crisis and spur economic development in rural areas across Nevada, Cortez Masto is traveling along the “Electric Highway” and across Nevada listening and speaking with residents of Lincoln, Eureka, Churchill, and White Pine Counties to get her message out, “When I say Nevada is the Innovation State, it’s investing in new technology, innovations, investing in the workforce, making sure we continue to lead the country in areas that utilizes those new technologies, whether drones, electric buses and vehicles, or the tech that’s necessary for solar, wind, geothermal and green energy, and green transportation.” 

Innovation is a behemoth of an issue, ranging from ensuring Nevadans receive affordable healthcare and housing, to protecting our environment, wildlife, and improving our state’s educational standings in national rankings.  Knowing that, Cortez Masto, within the last few weeks, visited UNLV School of Medicine, to hear from constituents on healthcare issues; traveled to Panaca, to tour their new electric charging station; spent time at the Caliente Youth Center observing their work with at-risk youth; and made a trip to Ely and White Pine County, visiting with General Manager, Amanda Hilton, to take a tour of the Robinson Mine, then checked in with the District Attorney and County Commissioners, all to discuss the broad range of topics that are incorporated in making Ely, rural counties like White Pine, and the Battle Born State as a whole, the national leaders for innovation.

Leaders in industry, KGHM Robinson Mine and their GM, Amanda Hilton, hosted the President of Poland and his Consulate last month, in a much celebrated affirmation of international diplomacy and cooperation.  This past week they played host again, welcoming their first visit from the Senator.  Following the tour, Cortez Masto provided some insight on the importance of mining in Nevada, “I sit on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and I’ve visited several mines throughout the state. I want to make sure that their important voices that need to be heard, are. This is an incredible business. We’re a mining state and not everybody understands that.  I was born and raised here, grew up with mining, went to UNR, and I so appreciate, not only what we have done as a state in our mining history, but the economic impact it has had in particularly for our rural communities, in jobs, in the workforce, good paying jobs with good benefits, and how it improves the economy, and with the incredible partnerships between the Robinson Mine and the communities as well.”  

You cannot have innovative technology without copper, thus the Robinson Mine is a perfect example of the innovation initiatives Senator Cortez Masto is working to pass in the Senate, incorporating economic, educational, and environmental policies into actions.  The tour of the mine gave Hilton an opportunity to speak with the Senator about the very nature of ensuring rural communities have access to everything that is promised in a sustainable future centered on innovation, “We were thrilled to open our doors to the Senator. We were able to take her to one of the overlooks and look into the Ruth-West Pit. We were also able to see the Keystone dump to highlight the legacy and environmental issues that we have already been able to remedy.”  After the tour of the mine, Cortez Masto commended Hilton and Robinson Mine on their impressive environmental record, “What is of particular note, as part of their work ethic, is the reclamation of the land as well; they just received an award from The Dept. of Minerals, Dept. of Wildlife, Division of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service for their protection and reclamation of the land along with the mining activity that they’re doing.”  

There was a lot to learn on the mine tour, and learning is very much on the mind of Cortez Masto, who understands education is fundamental to innovation.  To be the “Innovation State” requires bolstering and revamping education in the state to prepare the workforce of the future. While on her swing through Ely and White Pine County, the Senator identified how she is working in Washington, D.C. to counter our state’s lowest ranking in national educational standings, if Nevada is to drive improved innovative output from K- 12 and beyond, “It’s about Investing.  Investing in the students, investing in the curriculum of the future that looks into new technologies and takes advantage of opportunities for a workforce to engage and learn that technology.  Whether it’s a four year institution or that certificated degree that is necessary to learn the jobs of the future, it’s about getting the STEM and STEAM skills, quite frankly, to our K-12, but also about investing in retraining for others who may have the opportunity to learn those skills.”  Robinson Mine is right in line with those ideals.

Hilton provided a detailed breakdown of how Robinson Mine assists White Pine with opportunities across every educational level, “We do a lot with education, supporting students from preschool through high school with monetary donations, donating to vocational programs, having tuition reimbursement programs, sponsoring students in the Electrical Instrumentation and Diesel Mechanic programs at Great Basin College; we award thousands of dollars in college scholarships, and bring students from WPHS vocational programs on tours at Robinson to discuss career opportunities. We have a strong presence in Career Days at all of the schools, and have extensive training programs on site which allows us to hire inexperienced equipment operators and to give them the opportunity to become the best of the best.”  

Improving education across the spectrum of curricula, from kindergarten to college or from vocational to advanced skills training, increases the quality of jobs, the quality of pay, and the quality of the community for the workforce. “Every single one of the bills I have, I’ve tried to incorporate some type of workforce investment piece into it; to invest in that workforce, to make sure they/we are working with our community colleges and developing the curriculum and are in corporation with our private sector, that’s necessary for the skills that are needed for those companies.  And I will continue to do that in various legislation I have; identifying where we can find important pieces of workforce development.”  

White Pine County is among many counties in the state and across the country presently struggling to assist its present and future workforce in the leap toward an innovative future. “I have learned even here at Robinson Mining that there’s a workforce gap, a skills gap, and that’s a challenge. So, what we should be doing is working with our community colleges and our trade schools to develop the curriculum or apprenticeships that are necessary and engage at a younger age.  A lot of these students, K-12 must have the option in a shop class or welding or somewhere else, so they can open their eyes and identify, ‘This is an opportunity for me; I don’t have to go to a four year institution to get an education, I can go down this path, and work in this field, and get a degree or certificate, and get a good paying job.’ That’s to me, where we should be focusing in this state.”  Innovating our educational systems here in White Pine will give our current and future populations the strongest legs to stand on in the quickly diversifying global-market economies and guarantee they become competitive and have every opportunity, moving forward.

Additional areas the Senator is focusing on the productivity and transmogrification of the state is to bolster our rural workforces by enticing new members of various industries to make rural communities in Nevada their home.  “The challenge is making sure we get more professionals out here. What I’ve seen over the years is a lack of doctors, a lack of specialty care, and if there is an ability to bring an incentive to that, that has been my goal.  One of the things we know already exists is the ability to waive medical education debt for medical students, if they come into a rural community.  I think that should be expanded to other specialty areas. Hopefully, that would support getting more people into our rural communities that are willing to practice.”  Growing our workforce however, presents a hurdle in the pursuit of creating an ideal and robust place to live, that of affordable housing.

Across Nevada, affordable housing shortages continue to be problematic, some would say the state is experiencing an affordable-housing crisis.  In White Pine County and in Ely the housing shortage is on the minds of everyone, from builders and contractors to elected officials.  Mayor Nathan Robertson, who has served on the Housing Action Committee for the last year, stated that,  “We have a serious need for housing here, across every economic range, whether it’s low-income, middle class or even on the higher end.  Without adequate housing options we will continue to struggle recruiting for the jobs we already have available, as well as recruiting any future business coming in and achieving the economic growth that follows.” In response to this direct and immediate concern, Senator Cortez Masto has listened to Nevadans in round-table discussions all across Northern Nevada, and is diligently working at the federal level, in attempts to bring forward legislation that incentivises more affordable housing. 

Using her position on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to co-sponsor the Low-Income Tax Credit and ensure that the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds are available to those most in need, Cortez Masto has challenged key members of the administration to do more for hard working Nevadans, “Workforce housing is the biggest challenge in our state. It’s here in this community.  All rural areas, it’s workforce housing.  I was just at the youth camp in Caliente, they have a workforce housing need there, as well… That money comes into communities, and I have to fight for that, because I have seen this administration zero it out every single time.  Making sure the Home Program and all of the HUD certified programs that are there to help our affordable housing needs, which are all funds I have to fight for, through committees I sit on or by challenging the appropriators and the Secretary of Housing or other secretaries to disperse it, is a whole other challenge. That has been and will continue to be my goal. We’ve been successful, in that stakeholders in the cooperative areas in Reno and Las Vegas have created Senior Housing, and created more opportunities for homelessness adults, juveniles, and veterans, but more needs to be done.”

For many here in White Pine County, need of affordable housing is simultaneously tied into affordable quality healthcare.  Senator Cortez Masto understands this is a key issue for far too many across the state.  She connects improving healthcare, along with educational and economic growth, comes with improving transportation, “We have rural hospitals that have closed. Under this administration, the idea that they need to continue to sabotage and repeal the Affordable Health Care Act is only going to close more hospitals. My fight has been to keep these hospitals open; making sure the funding is coming to rural communities, not just for hospitals, but for clinics, and ensuring that folks living here have access to affordable healthcare across the state”  For healthcare and every other issue, it comes down to access to services. “ We’ve lost Greyhound; we don’t have access to Amtrak on a regular basis; there are many people who are stranded in our most remote communities if they don’t have cars and they have healthcare needs, whether treatment is in Salt Lake or Reno, so my fight is to ensure that there is the Zephyr Line that comes on the Amtrak, which Amtrak has been looking to discontinue.  My fight on the Commerce Committee was to ensure they continue that line and their stops here in Nevada. Is that enough? No. We’ve got to continue figuring out how to bring more transportation.”  For the most rural of Nevada, life is all about access to services. 

Improving transportation collectively and universally addresses access to quality services, whether they are for healthcare, educational or economic needs.  Bridging the gap is access to broadband in our rural communities, since this can be an alternative to physical transportation, “Broadband opens up tele-medicine, remote education and e-learning over the internet; so, my bills have been focused and my fight has been focused on getting funding for, one, rural broadband, and two, ensuring it gets into rural communities. I created the Rural Broadband and Economic Development Commission, focused on our rural communities, identifying, not only economic challenges and how we can support growing economies in rural communities, but the rural broadband piece of it as well. That’s something that I not only passed legislation on, but will continue to ensure gets here in our rural communities.”

In the Senator’s legislative agenda there is a focus on cleaner, greener, transportation options that connect rural Nevada with the rest of the state and country in new ways, while reducing carbon emissions and improving the air we breathe. “Thus, my concern and my goal of expanding greener transportation and opportunities, that not only bring down the cost to make it not cost prohibitive to be in these communities as a passenger or transportation company, but if we can go down the path of electric vehicles and busses, which we now have the opportunity to expand throughout the state with these new charging stations in some of these rural communities, and bringing greener transportation, we will hopefully open up more passenger transportation to our rural communities and connect more of us.” 

Through her efforts in the Senate, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is building an infrastructure here in Nevada to improve the experience of every Nevadan, rural or urban, and provide everyone across the state the same opportunity for better education, better healthcare, better housing, and better transportation. It is refreshing to see a politician doing more than just touting innovative ideas, but actually delivering innovative results.