Gov. Sandoval Discusses States as ‘Laboratories’ to Drive the Engines of Innovation

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks Wednesday during the National Governors Association Transportation Innovation Summit in Las Vegas.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks Wednesday during the National Governors Association Transportation Innovation Summit in Las Vegas. NGA / Route Fifty Livestream


Connecting state and local government leaders

As an early embracer of autonomous vehicle testing, Nevada’s governor shares what his state has learned being “being at the ground floor” to foster new transportation technologies.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval welcomed representatives from more than 25 states to Las Vegas this week for the National Governors Association’s Transportation Innovation Summit, held during CES2018, the giant annual consumer electronics showcase where advancements in autonomous vehicles and other technology have been on full display.

“We’re the states—we do think we’re the laboratories of democracy,” the Republican governor said during remarks on Wednesday morning. For governors, Sandoval said, states are also laboratories for technology, especially where they intersect with transportation and energy.

That policy discussion that took center stage during the NGA summit.

“As governors, we have a duty and responsibility to embrace the changes that are happening in our country and states,” the governor said, later noting that “[i]t’s up to the governors to take the wheel.”

At the summit, Sandoval discussed his ongoing “Ahead of the Curve: Innovation Governors” initiative, the focus of his term chairing of the NGA’s executive committee. The initiative is paying closer attention to “the energy and transportation sectors as the two leading areas of innovation, and it will examine impacts on other sectors such as health, education and public safety,” according to the NGA.

Sandoval said that during his term leading the NGA he wants “to open up the eyes of all the governors,” and show that “it’s OK to embrace new things. You can’t be satisfied with the status quo” when technology is dramatically reshaping economies, communities and society ahead of a “fourth industrial revolution.”  

Sandoval, who said he was the first U.S. governor to ride in an autonomous vehicle, pointed out that his state was the first to authorize autonomous vehicle testing in 2011. Since then, Nevada has been regarded as a state with a hospitable environment for the private sector to set up operations and test out new ideas and technology. The first fully-autonomous freightliner truck was tested in Nevada in 2015. Tesla’s massive lithium ion battery “gigafactory” is currently under construction near Reno. Nevada is home to one of six federally designated drone vehicle testing locations. And in Las Vegas, there’s currently an autonomous bus shuttle moving along a 0.6-mile loop downtown.

With Nevada “being at the ground floor of all this innovation,” the governor said, “I wanted all the states to have what I had and have” and encouraged everyone at the summit to to adapt ideas and adopt best practices from their peers in other states.

Among the critical elements in Nevada’s success, Sandoval said, have been the partnerships the state government has made with universities and private sector entities to improve workforce development and the environment for economic development.

AVs were a major topic of conversation during the Transportation Innovation Summit opening sessions, which featured Route Fifty Senior Director of Programs Mitch Herckis interviewing Sandoval and the governor sitting as a panelist during a follow-up discussion moderated by Bloomberg Government reporter Shaun Courtney.

Sandoval reminded the audience that wider adoption of autonomous vehicles is not too far away and governors and other state leaders need to prepare as AV technology improves and testing expands on public roads in the coming years.

The follow-up panel with the governor featured representatives for app-based ride-booking services Uber and Lyft, autonomous vehicle developer Waymo, Inc. and Proterra, a Burlingame, California-based electric bus vehicle manufacturer.

Tekedra Mawakana, global head of policy and government affairs for Waymo, said that because so much has been changing with technology, transportation and mobility, innovators and regulators are traversing a lot of new territory, especially when it comes to ensuring safety.

“There isn’t a playbook for what we’re doing,” she said, noting in concluding remarks that private-sector tech developers need to work collaboratively with government agencies and officials to allow for continued, iterative progress.

“We have to figure out together where those guiderails are,” she said.


(The summit concludes Friday with NGA’s State of the States Address, delivered by Gov. Sandoval and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock as part of the CES Government conference. The State of the States Address will be streamed live on Facebook at 11:30 a.m. PST/2:30 p.m. EST.)

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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