By David McGrath Schwartz
Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Carson City — In what might signal a kinder, gentler approach to attracting business to Nevada, the state’s economic development agency plans to take down a billboard in Los Angeles that pokes fun at California Gov. Jerry Brown.
The billboard, which went up in mid-January near Los Angeles International Airport, reads: “Congratulations Governor Brown! It’s déjá vu all over again.” The address for an authority website, move2vegas.biz, is included.
The message is a reference to Brown’s prior tenure as CEO of the Golden State in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time when he came to be known as “Governor Moonbeam.”
“The nickname accompanied Gov. Brown as he declared his fascination with outer space, proposed that California launch its own space satellite and made headlines dating the rock star Linda Ronstadt,” The New York Times reported last year.
The billboard, which continued the Nevada Development Authority’s mocking tone toward the state’s biggest neighbor, will come down in the next few weeks, according to an authority lobbyist.
“The Nevada Development Authority recognizes it needs to change and modify how it promotes Nevada,” lobbyist Russell Rowe said. “We’re looking for a more positive message that attracts quality jobs and headquarters.”
The Nevada Development Authority is a private nonprofit agency that receives funding from the state and through members, including some of Nevada’s largest businesses and Southern Nevada local government leaders.
Nevada’s approach to economic development is coming under scrutiny during the 2011 Legislature as lawmakers grapple with a massive budget deficit and look to short-term fixes and long-term remedies to what many see as an economy in dire need of diversification.
This has led to some criticism of the authority’s focus on marketing the state as a low/no-tax haven for business. Democrats and some business leaders are calling for a broader, more nuanced appeal to get businesses to move to Nevada, which leads the nation in unemployment.
The billboard will be replaced by a message that focuses on Nevada offering a good climate for business, said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas.
Horsford has criticized the authority’s recent ads, which have featured talking orangutans imitating former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the slogan “kiss your assets goodbye.”
“I am glad the NDA (will remove) the billboard,” Horsford said in a statement. “We need to promote Nevada by building ourselves up, not knocking others down. We should attract businesses here by focusing on the positive qualities of our state.”
In an interview last week, Nevada Development Authority President and CEO Somer Hollingsworth said the agency’s eye-catching campaigns were necessary because it’s underfunded. The authority receives about $1 million a year from the state; he said the state should spend at least $1 million a month to attract businesses.
“We didn’t go out and do this with any form of malice,” Hollingsworth said of the orangutan ads. “It was the only way we knew. We had to do it with monkeys — we had to use monkeys, for God’s sake!”
The agency’s strategy was to use controversial ads to gain a wider audience through media.
Hollingsworth also noted that the authority isn’t the only entity selling Nevada based on its low taxes. “I certainly can’t sell our education system, can I? I have to have something,” he told the Sun last week.
Horsford, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera and Gov. Brian Sandoval have agreed to rework the state’s strategy on economic development, which is spread among 19 entities. But the three officials have not agreed on an overarching message.
Horsford has advocated making a broader appeal to businesses, and said the state can’t cut education if it wants to attract quality businesses.
Oceguera agrees with Horsford.
Sandoval, with his fiscally conservative budget, has said raising taxes would send the wrong message to businesses considering a move to Nevada.