From McDermitt and Montello in the north to Laughlin in the south, Nevada’s rural cities struggle to foster economic development but desperately need it. Each locale differs, in terms of primary economic sectors, natural assets and location for instance. However, common themes have been for some, and continue to be for others, dilapidated downtowns, struggling businesses and depressed tourism activity. A universal challenge is remoteness, being some distance from an urban center. In addition, many communities lack the money to pursue projects beyond what’s necessary.
Some cities, such as Elko and Wells, are further down the economic development road than others. Some aren’t certain how best to proceed. That’s where Nevada’s Rural Community and Economic Development division comes in. Directed by Peter Wallish, it partners with the state’s eight Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED)-funded regional development authorities to help rural cities with job creation, business retention, community development, infrastructure creation and improvement, quality of life and more.
“Each community is extremely different, but that’s where we step in with our experts,” Wallish said. “We fine tune and tailor our programs to assist or address those issues.”
More specifically, the agency helps community leaders, county and city administrators identify obstacles or issues and obtain funding to resolve them.
Broadband is Coming
Rural Nevada is moving into the 21st century in terms of communications. Valley Communications Association (VCA) is currently installing high-speed broadband service for the owner-members of its parent corporation, Valley Electric Association Inc. (VEA), all of which are rural businesses and residences, said VEA’s CEO Tom Husted.
VEA is a utility cooperative headquartered in Pahrump that began in 1965 and today has about 17,500 members. It provides electricity to more than 45,000 people within a vast 6,800-square-mile service area between Fish Lake Valley and Sandy Valley, primarily along the border with California.
VCA first is rolling out high-speed wireless (25 megabits) to create the necessary infrastructure and then replacing it with fiberoptic, which is 10 times faster than the pre-VCA service, Husted said. Speeds offered to businesses are 10 gigabits (but can be tailored to their needs) and to homes, 1 Gb.
“High-speed communications is a necessity,” Husted said. “It’s considered critical infrastructure. In order for rural areas to exist and then thrive, this infrastructure has to be in place.”
VCA started wireless installations in Pahrump and aims to have it equipped with fiberoptic by year-end. Beatty, which is slated to get broadband this summer, will be the first all-fiberoptic community in Nevada. Wireless installation is finished in Fish Lake Valley/Dyer and underway in Amargosa Valley. Before proceeding in Sandy Valley, VCA needs requisite permits from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The VEA cooperative aims to provide such broadband service to all of rural Nevada, not just its member-owners, ideally through partnerships with other companies but by itself if necessary. For that, currently it’s in discussions with businesses including Switch, CC Communications and Lincoln Communications Inc.
Providing broadband should prove beneficial economically in several ways. Already it’s created jobs. VEA has hired 100 additional employees recently, and more than 100 contractors are helping with the installations.
With the new Internet capability and provider, Nye County schools and government entities are saving $8,500 a month, or $102,000 annually, and getting more robust service, Husted said. This equates to less of a burden on taxpayers, too. The more self-supporting the rural cities can be, the smaller the financial onus on urban taxpayers.
With faster Internet, the rural regions can attract businesses they otherwise wouldn’t be able to due to technological limitations, Wallish said.
What’s Going On
Here’s what’s taking place in the way of economic development efforts and results in a few rural communities:
This eastern municipality, where mining, government (the state prison, BLM and U.S. Forest Service) and tourism fuel the economy, has the challenge of not being well known in terms of what it has to offer, along with a lack of new affordable housing, said Mayor Melody Van Camp who also owns Sew Krazy, a sewing, embroidery, mending and repair shop.
“We would like to attract better-paying jobs, some kind of an industry,” she said.
Newer members of Elko-based Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority (NNRDA), the city of Ely and White Pine County are having a study done to assess the region’s resources, and “aggressive” efforts are underway to attract businesses to the industrial park there, Van Camp said.
She launched a Strategic Tourism Committee, whose members discusses ideas, concerns, problems and solutions, fodder that the mayor then reports to the White Pine County Tourism and Recreation Board, which boasts all new members as of January.
One committee finding is that Ely lacks adequate signage to let visitors know they’re entering town, so the city is applying for grants to remedy that. Also, it’s getting markers that indicate the corridor is a cultural district.
The city also lacks any maps for those who recreate in the backcountry, so creation of a guide for mountain bikers, hikers and ATV riders is in the works. Also, starting in spring 2018, the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) will redo Ely’s two thoroughfares (East Aultman Street and Great Basin Boulevard) and add a bike path to both.
New this year will be monthly exhibits and events at the revitalized White Pine Public Museum, night sky viewing with star guide Tony Berendson of Tahoe Star Tours and a hot air balloon festival. A Love’s Truck Stop will open in town in late spring.
“We [Ely] want to be a destination,” she added. “We don’t want to be the stopover for gas and food. We’re trying to get people to stay.”
In this northeastern city, where mining and tourism dominate the economy, another 200 hotel rooms are slated to come online this year on the heels of a 107-room Holiday Inn Express opening last month and 200 rooms debuting in 2016, said Mayor Chris J. Johnson who also owns Charles Chester Plumbing & Heating. These additions are eliminating the years-long challenge of insufficient accommodations Elko has faced.
“With those motel rooms, Elko just gets in a better position to be a destination,” Johnson added.
With additional residential housing available, but still more needed, the pendulum has swung the other direction, Johnson said. With people moving out of motels/hotels and into homes, the city is finding its lodging occupancy rates down and needs to work on filling its rooms.
Elko, its airport and NNRDA are working toward getting twice-daily, seven-day-a-week flights established between the city and Reno. Bill BDR-610, which calls for airline enticement monies, is ready to be introduced to the Senate for committee review. The number of people now traveling between the two cities supports adding the flights, Johnson said.
A new cowboy arts and gear museum is slated to open this summer in Nevada Energy’s donated former building. Nevada’s Division of Tourism awarded a grant to the National Historic California Emigrant Trails Interpretive Center Foundation to help promote its Trails Days event that will take place in June.
As for generating business, Elko held its second Mining Reverse Expo last month, an event at which mining-related companies make presentations to the many local mining firms. The purpose is to foster sales and entice companies to establish a permanent presence in the area.
One of Elko’s recent projects to make more land available for growth is completing the extension of a water main out to exit 298, which opens up to 1,800 acres for industrial, commercial and/or residential development.
The Redevelopment Agency’s Storefront Improvement program is underway, for which up to $50,000 is available. Qualifying businesses that want to remodel or replace their storefront could receive matching funds to do so.
Depending on the success of that initiative, a second similar matching incentive program, this one for demolition, is under consideration. Up to $75,000 could be available for that.
As for the rest of 2017, Johnson anticipates business and economic development to be good but “flat,” he said.
“Elko is going to be cautious,” he added. “We’re down as far as sales tax over the last quarter, but we’re still above what the city of Elko has budgeted. So it’s not a crisis.”
In this west central Nevada locale, the large business sectors are government, primarily the U.S. Army Depot (a munitions facility) in Hawthorne, and gaming/tourism.
The main challenges to economic development are the lack of infrastructure and the federal government’s ownership of 96 to 97 percent of the land, said District Attorney Sean Rowe. As such, Hawthorne, the area’s major city, has little private property for development. Schurz, the next largest community, is on the Walker River Reservation.
However, last year, 7,000 acres on depot property were established as the Hawthorne Technology and Industry Park for business development use. The Mineral County Economic Development Authority has been working to engage companies to look at the park for storage and manufacturing, but it’s slow going, Rowe said.
With a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant, Mineral County has begun the process of removing blight in the region. About 10 properties in Hawthorne and Mina that have been identified for cleanup are being converted from county trust properties to county properties so they can be remediated. Once their aesthetics are improved, they then could be sold for economic or housing development purposes, Wallish said.
“It is a great example of a pilot program that we would like to see other communities use,” he added.
The county is also working diligently with NDOT, its congressional delegates and the federal government to ensure that Interstate 11, when constructed, runs through Hawthorne. Currently, NDOT is holding hearings for input as it works toward establishing the highway’s route.
“We see it being necessary for Mineral County’s growth in the future to have that corridor pass through [here], specifically through Hawthorne. If we’re going to be able to redevelop any of the bases for warehouse, manufacturing or transportation of any sort, we have to have the development of infrastructure through Mineral County,” Rowe said.
As for tourism, a company, whose name hasn’t been announced yet, plans to break ground this month on a new casino in Hawthorne. Additionally, the community is hoping to see benefits from a new brochure and map of the region’s ghost towns, and recreational and other attractions which the Mineral County Convention and Tourism Authority distributed.
Among available grants for economic development are ones offered through GOED and the state’s Division of Tourism.
GOED administers the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding program that distributes monies, through an application process, to cities or government entities—26 are eligible in Nevada—to assist them with economic development, Wallish said. GOED receives and grants about $2.2 to $2.3 million annually. Typically, two funding rounds are held per year, and grants generally go to applicants with “larger asks,” or proposed projects that likely would have great economic impact, he added. GOED’s Community and Economic Development division helps entities develop and focus their applications for success.
“These [CDBG grants] are extremely important to the rurals,” Wallish said. “It’s funding like this that allows these communities to move forward with developments that most likely wouldn’t happen if funding wasn’t available.”
The state’s Division of Tourism also offers grants, two kinds—rural marketing and projects relating to tourism.
The rural marketing grants are matching, meaning the recipient must come up with a similar amount in money or in kind, and are distributed in December and June on a fiscal year basis, said Claudia Vecchio, director, Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. For the current year, the agency has $1.4 million to distribute.
Monies go toward tourism marketing, whether it be advertising, public relations activities, Web site development or maintenance, brochure production/distribution, presence at travel and trade shows or research.
Eligible organizations include non-profits, chambers of commerce, historical societies, arts councils, convention and visitors authorities and territories. Nevada’s six territories are volunteer organizations that promote a particular region as a destination, such as the Indian Territory or Pony Express Territory.
“These grants in some places are their marketing dollars, so then that becomes imperative for their livelihood,” Vecchio said. “In other places, it helps to start up special events,” such as Yerington’s Night in the Country three-day music festival.
Similarly, the Ely Shoshone Tribe, a first-time applicant, received $2,500 in December to promote its Pow Wow cultural event slated for July.
The $1.6 million in tourism marketing grants awarded in fiscal year 2016 resulted in an estimated economic impact on local communities of $138.5 million, state travel data showed.
For its Projects Relating to Tourism grants, the division allocates $200,000 every other year, the next awarding in March/April 2018. These matching grants can be used for beautification and other smaller infrastructure improvement projects such as signage and landscaping upgrades. They’re available to the same entities that qualify for the marketing grants and also to cities.
“I think this is one of the most important programs the Nevada Commission on Tourism conducts each year because it goes to the lifeblood which tourism is for many of these small communities,” Vecchio said. “It’s critically important for their success.”
On the Horizon
Wallish remains bullish on economic development in Nevada’s backcountry for the near future despite the challenges with which the communities will continue to wrangle. Every one remains engaged, he said, albeit to varying degrees.
“It will be strong and steady,” he added. “With the regional approaches that you’re seeing develop and also the enthusiasm for economic development by the communities in developing economic development plans or identifying assets or ways to diversify the regional economies and their economy, you’ll see some great results over the next couple of years,” Wallish said.
At Anthem, we’re dedicated to improving the health of our fellow Nevadans
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield has been a member of the Nevada community since 1969. Even though Anthem is one of the state’s largest insurers, we’re still as local as you can get. We understand your priorities — because we share them. We live and work in Nevada, and Anthem is dedicated to transforming the state’s health care with trusted and caring solutions. It’s our honor to support organizations that are there for Nevadans, now and for generations to come.
Access to Doctors and Hospitals
Our members have more than 6,500 doctors and specialists to choose from – and that’s a big deal. The doctor-patient relationship is central to good health, so we’ve developed programs that allow doctors to spend more time managing their patients’ overall care. We were first in the nation to improve primary-care reimbursement by paying doctors for advanced care coordination such as preparing care plans for those with complex health problems. The result is better care, better health and lower costs.
Anthem is committed to simplifying health care so our consumers can focus on health. With our website and mobile app, our members can find a doctor, check a claim, compare costs and even get a virtual ID card in seconds. Members can have virtual doctor visits, 24/7 on their computer or mobile device through LiveHealth Online. Benefit administrators can use our Client Reporting Tool and EmployerAccess website to allow them easy, efficient management of data entry, bill pay, claims and eligibility management.
Anthem Choice PPO
Anthem Choice PPO offers three different ways to get health care, all within the same plan. It works like this – when employees need care, they can choose a doctor from the Pathway PPO network, the traditional PPO network or they can use an out-of-network doctor. And, they can switch between these at any time — not just at open enrollment. Each choice has a different cost associated with it so your employees have the freedom to choose based on their needs each time they get care. Anthem Choice PPO is available for both Large Group and Small Group employers.
Home Means Nevada
Our employees are the backbone of Anthem’s Nevada plan, and we won’t let you down. Our team of local experts will guide you through all your plan options, offer one-call account servicing and even develop wellness solutions for your employee population. Whatever your needs, it’s our pleasure to be your partner in good health. Talk to your broker about Anthem or click here for a free quote.
Learn how to sponsor featured content by clicking here.