Gold started Eureka County and to this day plays an integral part in its economy. With the fall in gold prices of the last few years and with two of the largest gold mines in the country, Barrick Gold Strike Mine and Newmont Gold Company, located there, Eureka County has felt the pinch. Barrick and Newmont, situated in the northern end of the county, employ several thousand people. Homestake Mining Company, in the south, employs around 100.
“Gold prices have hurt us tremendously because there are no movements, and very little exploration,” says Ron Carrion, executive director of the Eureka County Economic Development Council. Since gold prices fell, the mines aren’t doing any expansions and residents aren’t spending money.
On a more positive note, the towns of Eureka in the south and Crescent Valley and Beowawe in the north are located along U.S. 50 and 1-80 respectively, making them attractive to companies in terms of shipping. A few of the state’s larger mines conduct activities right outside the towns.
In terms of attracting other industries, Carrion says county officials are looking for environmentally clean businesses. “We’d like to keep that really apparent, for it to be one of the main criteria,” he says. “We’re looking for the smaller types of industries that we could handle infrastructurally, as far as fire protection, police protection. We would have difficulty handling a single company coming in with 1,500 employees. That would take some planning. Our preference, however, is for slow growth that we can control.”
One of the other industries already prominent in Eureka County is agriculture, specifically the hay that is grown and shipped both to domestic and foreign locations. One new local business operates a hay press that compacts hay bales and loads them in containers for overseas shipment to destinations such as Japan, which purchases a great deal of Eureka’s hay. Ranching on the other hand has been declining for the past few years, a result of stringent rules being applied by various government agencies. “We as a community have suffered tremendously from some of those rulings,” says Carrion.
And as is so often the case for mining communities, it’s feast or famine. While Eureka County may be looking for slow and controlled growth, even during Nevada’s rapid expansion the county is not experiencing what it needs. “Very slow growth” is what residents are seeing, says Carrion, and they’d like to see “a little faster slow growth. It’s a fine line between when nothing’s happening and when too much is happening.”
What may attract residents and industries alike to the area is the tax structure, quality of life, air quality, schools and Eureka’s newly installed infrastructures including roads, water systems and the courthouse, all incentives to growth.
“The relative distances of the region are becoming shorter and shorter,” says Carrion. “In the past people said, ‘It sure is a long way out there,’ and now it’s not so far for such a good deal. In fact we’re beginning to receive inquiries from e-commerce companies interested in the area.”
It’s also a great spot for recreation, with unmatched scenery and numerous walking trails. Another draw for tourism is downtown Eureka itself. In 1994 the Eureka Opera House was one of 17 buildings in the U.S. to receive a National Trust honor award. Located centrally on Eureka’s main street, the opera house doubles as both a tourist attraction and a tourist center, complete with brochures and its role as part of the town’s self-guided walking tour.
Wally Cuchine was hired in 1993 to finish restoration of the opera house as a convention facility. But as the job progressed, Cuchine talked the county into upgrading the stage into a full performance facility and giving him funds to conduct presentations. “That’s when we became a convention center and cultural arts center,” says Cuchine. There are now meeting rooms on the ground floor that house a revolving art exhibit, as well as display cases where one can view the first silent movie projector and first talkies projector used at the opera house.
As a convention center the opera house can seat up to 250 people for a dinner or 325 for a performance in a theater setting. As an opera house, the 1 880s-era structure has been restored and offers tours through the grand hail and exhibits in the meeting room. Artists who perform on the stage sign the wail behind it. Past performers have included Nevada Art Council’s Turnblewords artists, from poets Kirk Robertson, Gary Short and Shawn Griffin to novelist Kelli Nicolato.
“Eureka is a great place to live,” says Cuchine. “It’s clean and it’s not terribly populated. A traffic jam in this town means that on the four lanes that run through town, two people have stopped their vehicles in the road for an impromptu visit.” It’s a small community, with 500 living in Eureka itself and another 300 in Diamond Valley. Eureka County is home to fewer than 2,000 people.
With a tiny population base living so far off the beaten track and dependent on two fluctuating boom-or-bust industries, it remains to be seen whether Eureka County will be able to achieve its goal of slow, controlled growth.