Economic Development has been a buzz-word in Nevada for the past several years. Since the recession hit, moving-in and retaining companies has become imperative to the health of Nevada. Recently, executives representing various economic development agencies throughout the state met to discuss these issues.
Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues relevant to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.
How has economic development changed in Nevada?
Bob Cooper: I would congratulate the Governor for taking the leadership role, because economic development is the top priority of almost any politician at the federal, state or local level. We’re all trying to have a better economy, which creates a better quality of life. There was the passage of AB 449 which created change at the state level. [The Bill] created a cabinet level of the Office of Economic Development at the Governor’s level and also created a new board for advising. At the local and regional level they created various regional organizations. Previously Nevada Development Authority (NDA), was our regional organization, however now that’s transformed significantly to a new name, Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (LVGEA). The positive note to that is it has become more of a comprehensive program that we have in place locally. Historically, we were more focused on business recruitment, whereas today it’s more a comprehensive look at economic development that looks at start-ups, technology, international trade, redevelopment and local business assistance. It’s more inclusive of representation and [has] more opportunity for activity within the business community. The economy itself is going to help dictate the success of some of those [agencies]. As we come out of the recession, a lot of the seeds that were planted are growing because of that activity.
Bill Arent: We have more focus and engaged leadership. Having that access directly to the Governor, as Bob [Cooper] touched on, is really important. Through all the city economic development agencies, the LVGEA and the state, we all coordinate prospects and business prospects now. The Governor actually gets a weekly report that hits his desk of all the top prospects throughout the state, whether it’s Southern Nevada or Northern Nevada. We’re all working together to land those prospects in our communities. Some are good fits in urban areas and some are a better fit for rural areas. We’re now coordinating more than ever.
Terri Sheridan: The Governor will pick up the phone using that list, depending on how they’ve been prioritized from the LVGEA or from the regional office to the city offices, he’ll pick up the phone and call those companies and answer any questions they may have. The Governor is available, he’s there and he’s doing his fair share in assisting us to bring in those companies.
Are Nevada’s Economic Development Agencies more cohesive than in the past?
Debra March: An important strategic element in this whole process has been a shared vision or a plan that has put everyone and their resources behind a significant plan, as opposed to each agency working in different directions and for diverse purposes. We’re all really sharing what we recognize as our strengths and weaknesses as a state, as a region, and what businesses would find us attractive. We’re all working together not only to create opportunity, but also to look at ways we can remove barriers to businesses being successful here. Whether it’s an entitlement process, or any other number of things, we’re looking at what we do and how we can do business better. We’re also looking at how we can improve education, the quality of our communities, transit and so many other issues that really create the environment that causes a business to want to relocate.
Rob Hooper: When you look at the construct of where GOED took the planning, it was to move from a lot of one-off agencies more to a regional agency format. We’re going to continue to go down that road in the future, even more so. Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA) already represented multiple counties and we already had a region put together, so for us, we just kept doing what we were already doing. For Northern Nevada, the big problem of the past was how do you get the two big agencies to work together? Those were NNDA and our big brother Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN); that was a big problem. When the EDAWN board brought Mike Kazmierski in, it took him and I about five-minutes to work out a collaboration agreement, one more day to put it down in writing and the next week, we signed it at the capital building with Steve Hill. We have a tremendous collaboration going on right now between our four-and-a-half counties and his one-and-a-half.
Abbi Whitaker: For Highway 95, we were spun out of AB 449. We were a regionalization of Mineral/Pershing and the city of Fallon coming together. There’s 300 miles between those cities and they’re the only cities along that way. In Fallon, we’ve been able to create programs like a live-local shopping campaign that we can then turn around and give to Lovelock or Hawthorne. They could not afford or have the resources to do that otherwise. We’ve also been able to do a campaign that reaches out to some armory companies. We kind of pull together and use our resources to reach out to those guys and call, email, or direct mail. We would have never been able to do that individually. As far as Rural Nevada, AB 449 has been something that’s really beneficial for us and really pulled us together. The set process is stronger and the economy is stronger. The ability to communicate with the other roles to see what our weak points are and what our strong points are has really been able to help us all be stronger as one, rather than exist individually.
What’s the role of higher education in helping economic development flourish?
Rob Nielson: Long term, if you look across the country, you can not have strong economic development in a community without a strong research university and that sometimes gets lost in the discussion. Recruiting businesses from other states is wonderful, but if you want true diversification, we need to have research that’s funded and starts companies and spinouts that become clusters and become industries that are diverse from the current companies that we have in the state and the regions. The other big area of research is that those research faculties bring in high caliber students [with] PhDs, doctorate degrees or grad students, and become their own company oriented clusters. When we try to bring companies in, we now have a base of very high educated, workforce skills that these companies are looking for. Those are the two areas where higher education really matters through economic diversification.
How much of your resources are used on business retention?
Haslem: For our organization, we spend 95 percent of our time on business expansion and retention. We do it in long term engagements, so in any given year, we might work with 250 companies, but 60 of those we’ve been in their facility for a period of a few month’s tackling certain problems with them. Since 95 percent of the population is outside of our country, there’s huge market potential for exporting. Many companies just need to get a little bit of help to see what the steps are and what resources are available. That’s a big part of business retention and expansion here.
Do you get a lot of referrals for new businesses?
Cooper: Absolutely, and we have to have that. From a salesmen’s perspective, there’s nothing better than a referral, especially from a CEO in a particular industry who likes being in your area and who goes to their own industry tradeshow and brags about Southern Nevada or Nevada. That’s number one on the list, to have that kind of industry to industry referral. The real estate referral is kind of a common occurrence, because what we try to do is add value to the real estate broker. We don’t try and replace what they do, but we try to add value through incentives. They become some of our best referrals.
John Wilcox: Being a Southern California based bank, we have multiple companies that are looking at Nevada. There are three in particular that we have already put in contact with the right folks. There’s always the same response, that they had no clue what was available in Nevada. We have one that’s very close to relocating to Nevada. They’re very impressed when they come here, because they don’t think of Nevada as a viable market until they get here to take the tour.
What are Nevada’s competitive advantages compared to other states?
Whitaker: In Northern Nevada, it’s 15-minutes to get anywhere and you can ski 15-minutes in either direction. We also have a kayak park downtown and you can usually get every city official or city council person in one room, at the same time. I went to one of Rob’s [Hooper] breakfasts last week, and all of the state officials were right there. You could talk with them or you could Tweet with them, and they Tweeted back to you, which I thought was pretty remarkable.
Hooper: The lifestyle is an issue and it does help to a degree. There has to be real business reasons that a company wants to come here and we spend a lot of time doing that type of analysis. We provide in Nevada, for the three metropolitan regions of which we exist in, a really interesting alternative for expansions within those metropolitan regions. We can provide a lower cost of doing business, but still be real close to your original customer base. We also offer an increase in shareholder interest through smart expansion. Looking at companies coming from the East that want to market to the Western United States, we’re right in the middle of the Western United States, therefore trucking and logistics type of operations do really well here.
March: Our entrepreneurial spirit is our biggest asset. We also have a wonderful outdoor environment here and we have a great population of people who are really committed to this community. There are certainly things that we can improve on, but those are some of our strongest points.