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The Grant Sawyer State Office Building as seen on Thursday, March 23, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The next head of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development is likely to be Business and Industry Department Director Michael Brown, after a search subcommittee enthusiastically endorsed the former Barrick Mining president to lead the economic development agency over its current interim director, Kris Sanchez.

During a meeting of the search subcommittee on Friday, board members almost unanimously praised Brown, hired by Gov. Steve Sisolak in January 2019, and recommended that he be hired to be the next full-time leader of the agency, which is best known for offering a variety of tax incentives and abatements to new or expanding businesses in the state. 

Jan Jones Blackhurst, a Caesars Entertainment executive and chair of the subcommittee, said that amid a lack of qualified applicants she had turned to other state government officials and ultimately decided on Brown, whom she said displayed a “strong interest” in the position. 

“Of those candidates, some were not as strong as we would have hoped for,” she said. “And one of the things that I did was call the governor and ask him if I could look at his existing cabinet and see if there might be a candidate who could bring the kind of talent we think the governor is looking for to lead this agency, and in that process, I reached out to Michael Brown.”

In a brief interview, Brown said that he had initially not sought the job, but if appointed would work to from an "extremely strong partnership" between GOED and the Department of Business and Industry.

" I signed up to play on a team, and when a coach wants you to play a different position… I’ll do what the coach says," he said.

Appointing Brown as the next head of the agency will take several additional procedural steps; Jones Blackhurst said that because he had not submitted a formal application, the search committee would keep the application period open until next Friday, when the subcommittee will meet again and send recommendations to the full GOED board, which in turn is charged with providing three candidates to the governor, who then appoints a new director.

Some of the subcommittee members, including GTG Capital Partners Managing Partner Robert Goldberg, chafed at having to include in the committee’s recommendation candidates other than Brown — an awkward situation for Sanchez, the board’s interim director who had also applied to become the agency’s full-time executive director. 

“Given the governor’s desire to get somebody in place as soon as possible, we probably did not have the optimal process,” he said. “I’m enheartened by the recent candidate, Michael Brown, because I have to tell you I think that I did not find one qualified candidate. I think every single one of the applicants had a disqualifying issue, some many, in my estimation, so if we were forced to pick, I would strongly not recommend anyone else that applied other than Michael.”

During the search committee's meeting last month, board members argued with the governor’s office on the use of agency funds to conduct a search for a new executive director. Sisolak’s chief of staff, Michelle White, told the search committee at the time that spending an estimated $100,000 for a search was “off the table for now.”

The move to pick a new GOED director comes amid a tumultuous time for the agency, after it paused new and pending tax incentive applications over the summer before picking a new full-time executive director. The agency has granted nearly $400 million in tax abatements and  “Catalyst Fund” grants over the last four fiscal years, but Gov. Steve Sisolak has expressed interest in changing the course and scope of incentives offered by the state.

At a full board meeting on Thursday, Sisolak said he hoped to have a meeting within the next two weeks to confirm the search committee’s recommendation for a new executive director, and said he was still committed to approaching economic development in a way that doesn’t affect education funding.

“I’m committed to developing an economic development plan that reflects realities of Nevada in 2019 rather than that of the great recession,” he said during the Thursday board meeting. “As I said during our June meeting, we will have an incredible opportunity to make Nevada a place with a robust economy, without sacrificing education or other crucial quality of life components.”

Updated at 1:41 p.m. to include a quote from Michael Brown.

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