In 2012, The Silver State released “Moving Nevada Forward: A Plan for Excellence in Economic Development,” a three-year roadmap for continuing to advance from post-recession doldrums and a 12 percent unemployment rate toward “a vibrant, innovative statewide economy,” Gov. Brian Sandoval wrote in the document.
Since the plan was released, Nevada’s leadership and business community have been hyper-focused on diversification. So, the real question is, what has the state achieved since then and where in Nevada when it comes to economic development now?
Economic Development Goals
The state has made progress on the five primary goals outlined in “Moving Nevada Forward,” said Steve Hill, executive director, Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED).
The first goal was to establish a cohesive economic development operating system. This has been done, Hill said. GOED organized the state’s nine Regional Development Authorities (RDAs) and unified the economic development efforts of all of the contributors, including its office, the RDAs, local governments’ economic development departments and businesses. The nine RDAs, covering different regions in the state, are Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), Great Basin Regional Development Authority, Highway 95, Humboldt Development Authority, Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (LVGEA), Lincoln County Regional Development Authority, Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority, Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA) and Nye County Regional Economic Development Authority.
After the unification of those nine RDAs, the next step was to advance targeted sectors and opportunities in each region. The select industries to advance were manufacturing, customer service and back-office operations, healthcare services, e-commerce fulfillment operations and headquarters, warehousing, distribution and air cargo and national defense research.
“We’ve seen great employment growth that’s covered all of the sectors,” Hill said. Expanding global engagement was the third goal included in the “Moving Nevada Forward” plan. Nevada has been engaging other countries in conversations and collaborations related to economic development. For instance, with state-funded
Expanding global engagement was the third goal included in the “Moving Nevada Forward” plan. Nevada has been engaging other countries in conversations and collaborations related to economic development. For instance, with state-funded waterstart, a cluster of global leaders in the implementation of water innovation, GOED has evaluated more than 250 water technologies, many from international businesses, and recruited 11 tech companies to Nevada.
Catalyzing innovation in core and emerging industries has also been a primary goal. Through its $10 million Knowledge Fund for spurring homegrown research, innovation, and commercialization, the state has financed about 10 projects. They include the creation of the Institute of Quantitative Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) to boost research on data analytics, bioinformatics, and biostatistics.
The last goal was to increase opportunity through education and workforce development. Efforts there have included setting up the Workforce Investment for the New Nevada (WINN) fund program, designed to bridge the educational community with industry and assist in recruitment, assessment, and training for high-wage, high-skill jobs. One WINN investment was $500,000 for equipment to help train high school and College of Southern Nevada (CSN) students in manufacturing technology.
A shift has taken place from academic and training institutions generally training a future workforce to now training dedicated workforces for specific companies, Hill said.
With that in mind, GOED, in 2016, awarded a STEM Workforce Challenge Grant to Truckee Meadows Community College to develop a new training program for data center engineering technicians in anticipation of Switch’s employee needs in Northern Nevada. The agency also gave funds to Western Nevada College to develop a Siemens certified training center.
GOED is also establishing and administering two new initiatives resulting from the recent legislative session: a loan program for small businesses and businesses owned by minorities, women and the disadvantaged (AB126) and the Nevada Main Street Program (AB 417), to help revitalize and spur economic development in the Silver State’s downtowns.
The Way Forward
One important aspect of economic development is finding the right path forward. For example, the aim of the Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA) is growing the economy of the Sierra region in a balanced and sustainable way, said Rob Hooper, executive director. The agency is focused on employers and jobs, incoming and existing businesses, the workforce and supporting the building of infrastructure to facilitate growth in those areas. “We’re the concierges who help bring all that together,” he added.
Current NNDA efforts include attracting a skilled workforce internally and externally. For example, a new program called Realizing Opportunities for the American Dream to Succeed (ROADS) retrains local people for higher-paying, high-skilled jobs.
In Southern Nevada, Las Vegas’ leadership has been focused on developing three key components for economic development: the Medical District, information technology (IT) and aerospace in downtown (including unmanned autonomous vehicles and systems) and a business park in the northwest, said Bill Arent, director, economic and urban development department.
Current economic development efforts are also happening in the Innovation District, Las Vegas’ downtown sector, which has been focused on tech companies. A team remains committed to getting companies worldwide to showcase in Las Vegas their technology related to unmanned autonomous systems, smart cities, and related apps. For example, 1,000 smart city sensors are being installed in Las Vegas, which, when integrated with the transit system, would provide real-time data such as traffic light durations, traffic flows, pedestrian info and more.
Also downtown, Las Vegas is working with the hospitality industry to effect changes and expand the gaming/hotel corridor. Two developments underway are upgrading the Fremont Street Experience infrastructure and maximizing traction in the growth of e-sports.
With the UNLV School of Medicine’s first class just having started, Las Vegas is working to finish the infrastructure to support interest in the Medical District and to help companies that want to move into the area and partner with the university. There are currently 80-plus prospective firms looking at the area. And, in the fiscal year 2016-2017, 12 companies announced an expansion within the city with an additional two moving there.
Meanwhile, Henderson has been working to develop a plan for the city. This last summer, the city council approved the new economic development strategic plan. The plan is part of the in-progress, citywide planning document, “Henderson Strong, Comprehensive Plan,” said Barbra Coffee, director of economic development and tourism.
The outlined target industries are advanced manufacturing/logistics, healthcare and life sciences, headquarters and global finance, tech and tourism/hospitality/retail.
Henderson’s economic development department assisted in the creation of more than 1,220 jobs in fiscal 2016-2017, Coffee added.
North Las Vegas has also been working on comprehensive growth. A primary goal of the city’s economic development division is to create development opportunities for large-scale industrial projects in specific locales. Those areas include the Apex Industrial Park, Speedway Industrial Park, the 150 acres for planned medical and research and in-fill areas like the Craig Road Corridor, according to Gina Gavan, director of economic development.
The target sectors for the region include warehouse and distribution, integrated and assembly manufacturing, medical, clean energy, advanced technologies and artificial intelligence (AI).
“We’ve seen an enormous amount of progress,” Gavan said.
The Right Fit
When it comes to recruiting companies to Nevada, agencies are putting careful thought into who to target and how to bring them to the state.
For example, NNDA is targeting two types of companies, both with high growth potential: advanced manufacturers (ones utilizing robotics and mechatronics) and tech innovators (firms with 50 to 100 employees), Hooper said.
A few of NNDA’s many recent successes include attracting Cosmetic Enterprises Ltd. (cosmetic and skin care product manufacturer), Webstaurant (an online commercial restaurant supplies and equipment retailer) to Dayton and Starbucks’ expansion of its coffee roasting plant in Minden. Five or six bigger companies have moved into the region in fiscal 2016-2017. All of the existing industrial space in the region has been filled, so companies looking to move there have long lead times, Hooper said. NNDA’s pipeline spans seven years and involves 772 businesses.
“Our track record is very diverse and it’s really good,” he added. “We’ve moved this region along.”
Henderson is also seeing companies move in through targeted efforts. The city has more than 100 companies in its pipeline with which it maintains a relationship. Recent company recruits include Turano Baking Co., a manufacturer of artisan and specialty bread, whose facility is slated to open next year. Another is Sunshine Minting Inc., a supplier of precious metal and base metal minted products, which secured space in town and will be expanding into Henderson and relocating its corporate offices there.
In Las Vegas, the city landed an institutional partner in Blackstone, which, in July, announced its acquisition of International Market Centers Inc., the Las Vegas-based owner/operator of showroom space.
“To have investors of that scale and pedigree investing in our city is tremendously important,” said Arent.
As for the city department’s progress, Arent said, “We’re really now just starting to see the fruit of those efforts with some of the initial investments we’ve made in those areas. Based on the business counts we are seeing in the city, we think that growth trend is going to continue.”
In North Las Vegas, My Cinemas will break ground this fall on a roughly 70,000-square-foot luxury movie theater complex downtown that will add retail and commercial components in a later phase.
Other companies recently recruited to North Las Vegas include Dr. Pepper, Dignity Health (a micro-hospital in the Craig Road Corridor), JLG Industries (a lift equipment manufacturer) and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
The pipeline for additional activity is full, Gavan said, with 7 million square feet of land development planned for the next three years. The slated development of the Craig Road Corridor “is just huge,” Gavan said, with new retail, food and amenities coming in and some offices planned.
“The outlook [for North Las Vegas] is very positive,” she added.
With small businesses and entrepreneurship growth as a goal, Henderson offers support for business through its Water Street Rally, a networking event for entrepreneurs, and its monthly Entrepreneurs Assembly, a meeting where entrepreneurs may receive mentorship and support of their endeavors. This month, the city will hold a Business Pitch Competition at the CSN Henderson campus.
“Henderson is doing these things to support the kind of cutting-edge entrepreneurial activity we want to be known for and companies want to identify with,” Coffee said.
The city takes pride in being innovative, Coffee added. For example, with respect to the tech industry, it hosted its first IT Boot Camp last year to fill a computer skills gap in its workforce. It’s also proactive about advertising Henderson’s competitive advantages.
What Henderson could improve, Coffee said, is building on its robust clusters, such as food/beverage and advanced manufacturing.
In North Las Vegas, city improvements have been a focus for city leadership. Work is currently underway in master planning the 150 acres for the Veterans Administration Hospital, which is designated as a medical and research campus, Gavan said.
“This gives us an opportunity to focus on the gaps we have in healthcare regionally, provide additional assets to complement other efforts and service these new rooftops that we have coming in,” she said of the hospital.
In Northern Nevada, in addition to focusing on company recruitment and employee development, NNDA has other projects in the works to improve the region. The Nevada Certified Site Program is one such undertaking. Designed to encourage construction and remove scheduling risk from building a new facility, it streamlines the process for a company wanting to get a site certified.
Another project, with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields program, involves assessing and cleaning up previously used the land so that it may be safely reused. That’s taking place in Lyon, Churchill and Douglas counties and Carson City.
Changes in Nevada’s Growth
Although its general themes remain relevant, “Moving Nevada Forward” needs updating, Hill said.
“We’ve been trying to do that for too long,” he added. “We just have other things come along. We do need to do that. Over the course of five and a half years, since that plan came out, a lot has changed in Nevada. The circumstances are different. The economy is different.”
Generally, it’s much stronger. Companies are investing again. Residential and commercial development is active. The state’s unemployment rate is below 5 percent. In the City of Las Vegas, for example, the number of businesses (ones with employees and report to the state) grew 3.4 percent year over year between 2015 and 2016.
One major change since 2012 is the emergence of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — which the state has jumped on to develop further. For one, GOED funded the creation of the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) through its Knowledge Fund. Recently, at the City of Henderson’s new UAV range, companies showcased their various applications of the technology via flight demonstrations.
“That industry continues to grow,” Hill said.
Another newer area of concentration is AI and advanced data collection and analysis. GOED awarded $3 million through the Knowledge Fund in 2013 for the establishment of the Applied Innovation Center for Advanced Analytics at the Desert Research Institute.
“There is the enormous economic opportunity in that whole general field,” Hill said. “It’s an area that needs to be a part of Nevada’s economic plan and will be a focus of our office moving forward.”
No one could have forecasted the impact on economic development that companies like Tesla and Switch have had. Today, three years after it announced it chose the Silver State for its first gigafactory, Tesla employs more than 3,000 people and has more than 4,000 construction workers on site, Hill said.
“Tesla has made a really significant difference, the kind of thing that happens once in a generation maybe,” he added. “It has transformed the economy in Northern Nevada.”
Switch’s impact, too, has been “huge,” Hill said. It attracts lots of other companies to the state, even if only temporarily, thereby creating employment. It spotlights Nevada, which all of its customers see. It created a technology infrastructure that makes the state the most connected in the U.S. Further, Switch demonstrates a commitment to Nevada, for instance, has provided rural schools with the broadband Internet via its “Superloop”.
As for the near future regarding economic development in Nevada, “we’ve still got a lot of exciting things on our plate,” Hill said.
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