Since the recession global engagement--especially in the form of exports and foreign direct investment (FDI)--has been a needed antidote to sluggish domestic growth in numerous U.S. regions. The reason is clear: More than ever, as our work keeps stressing, nations and regions prosper by linking up with often faster-growing global markets. Interacting with other nations can offer all at once markets for exporting American-made products, capital for new and established companies, participation in global supply chains, and people with skills.

One U.S. state that has begun to eye such benefits is Nevada, which may not be the first state one thinks of when one thinks of global engagement. Yet, as noted in our recent report, “Unify, Regionalize, Diversify: An Economic Development Agenda for Nevada,” one of Nevada’s most promising routes beyond its current economic difficulties may be its increasingly strong connections with global markets.

An estimated 5.1 million foreign travelers visited Southern Nevada in 2009, spending an estimated $5.1 billion on goods and services. Not only is Nevada a global hub of entertainment, gaming, and conventions, but it also stands poised to take global engagement to the next level. Nevada firms exported $9.5 billion worth of goods and services, generating 8.4 percent of the state’s GDP, in 2009. In that same year, the state attracted over 200 foreign-owned firms operating in the state that employ about 3.3 percent of the state’s workers. Although these levels still trail the national average, Nevada is focused on its global linkages and is catching up.

Indeed, the state has recently begun to actively develop stronger ties with fast-growing nations. In September 2009, Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Chinese Investment Promotion Agency to promote investment in renewable energy, mining, and tourism. Since then, two major Chinese power companies have announced that they plan to invest in renewable energy, manufacturing, and R&D in Nevada. The state also maintains a top-class web-portal for global business development, coaches firms on how to export, and organizes trade missions. Nevada is also actively engaged with other countries by having trade representatives in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Germany, Brazil, and Italy through its highly-acclaimed International Trade Representative Program.

And now these efforts are beginning to build on themselves. During 2011, Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport had the largest increase in new international routes of any airport in the United States. Six new routes were added in 2011 that include four to Canada, one to Mexico and one to the United Kingdom. Looking ahead to 2012, the airport plans to open six new international gates. Access to more international routes will mean more pathways to global markets for Nevada and its Southern region. The increase in global air connections will open the door for new opportunities for trade, capital flows, and business transactions involving Southern Nevada and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, the Mexican State of Jalisco, and the British metropolitan region of Greater Manchester. In particular, McCarran airport’s expansion will benefit the logistics and operations industry. Southern Nevada’s larger air transport network could potentially attract more warehousing and distribution companies that ship e-commerce and retail goods to these international destinations. Additionally, new international routes could be a magnet for expanding both ground and rail freight transportation since McCarran can serve as a hub to the Western U.S. for goods coming from abroad.

The bottom line: Nevada’s growing international connectivity illustrates how U.S. regions can engage globally to grow locally.