When EDAWN — the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada — was established in 1983, Reno and Washoe County were largely dependent on travel and tourism for the basis of the economy. EDAWN was established in part to help forward warehousing and look toward diversification. The authority works primarily in Washoe County but, says president and CEO Chuck Alvey, it overlaps into Storey and Lyon counties and will talk about anything located within an hour from the airport. EDAWN offers assistance to economic authorities in neighboring counties, all while working to draw high quality companies into the area and diversify the economic base.
Today, while Washoe County still relies on travel and tourism, areas such as warehousing and business-to-business trade have picked up, manufacturing is a growing segment and transportation, communications and public utilities make up another increasingly important sector. EDAWN markets the Reno area to the world, using word-of-mouth referrals from companies already located here, targeting industries and attending trade shows, contacting area companies for leads on vendors they need for their businesses, and by actual marketing in trade publications and business journals.
But what type of company is EDAWN most interested in? “High wage,” says Alvey. “Everybody talks about high-tech. Got to get high-tech companies in here. There’s all this high-tech business out there. They look at Silicon Valley and say, ‘We want some of those companies.’ The simple fact is many companies out there are high-tech right now. But if we got a call center with 100 high-end brokerage or insurance consultants, and each person on the phone in this call center was making $35,000 to $60,000 a year, that’s worth having.”
Some high-tech firms are looking to Washoe County to locate divisions within their organizations, rather than relocating the whole company. LASVEI Cisco Systems is an immense high-tech company adding as many as 3,000 new jobs a year. Cisco has three campus facilities with approximately 20 buildings per campus, and the company located its treasury department in Reno. “They have 14 people working on South McCarran and Plumas, and they’re doing all the investment banking for the company,” says Alvey. “Is that high-tech?” Not necessarily, but it’s investment banking, it’s good money, and it’s what EDAWN wants for the area.
Other recent moves have brought Barnes & Noble’s Web commerce distribution center to Reno. That may not mean high wages, but it’s a name-brand company that will draw attention to the area, and the ancillary draw may bring in other aspects of Barnes & Noble, as well as other companies to supply them. RF Technology, a small company that makes RE amplifiers, Overhead Door, a manufacturer, and Alcon Laboratories’ distribution center all located in the area recently.
All in all, Washoe County is experiencing a healthy growth rate of 3 percent. “It’s not the percent of growth, it’s the quality of what’s in that percentage:’ Alvey says. “We’re happy with 2 to 3 percent. The trick is to have a high percentage of well-paying jobs in that 2 to 3 percent.”
Reno’s numbers are no better or worse than anywhere else for available employees in today’s tight labor market, says Alvey, but it depends on what companies are looking for. “If you’re looking for a stable work force, a healthy work force, a talented work force, we do well. If you’re looking for a specific type of worker, that could be a problem. We don’t have a lot of engineers. We don’t have a lot of accountants. We don’t have a lot of computer programmers.” Companies looking to be cutting edge in such areas may continue to look toward Silicon Valley. “Everyone says Silicon Valley is so expensive, so why don’t companies come here instead? But the synergy is [in Silicon Valley], and if you need that synergy that’s where you need to be. There are areas we don’t do well in.”
That leads some to speculate that not enough is being done to promote the area. “We’re doing the things we do well and matching up with people who like us. But people have this all-or-nothing kind of answer — if we can’t do things so everybody likes us, then we’re not doing it right,” says Alvey. “We’re not going to do that.”
When attracting companies to the area, the location itself is part of the draw. Quality of life, friendliness of the people and businesses, the ability to go from alpine lake to desert in the same day — no other location can duplicate what Reno and Washoe County have. Reno’s arts scene — from Uptown Downtown ArTown to the museums, opera, ballet, philharmonic and university arts — is considered strong. Reno isn’t perceived as offering arts and culture, says Alvey, but once people arrive, they’re pleased. “Nobody comes here for the arts,” he says. “It’s more like, ‘I want to come here, how are your arts?’ And once they get here and ask that question, they’re pretty pleased with what we have.”
Even the size of the city is a thaw for some companies whose principals are tired of gridlock, long commutes and the big city crunch. And while Porsche of North America moved on because Reno wasn’t big enough, the Biggest Little City in the World and its surrounding county continue to draw companies.