Nevada communities have begun growing at a breakneck pace. In addition to an influx of new workers, we’ve been seeing an increase in the companies — and diversity of companies — relocating to regions across the state.
Now that 2019 has begun, we can see growth households, population and employment has exceeded previous moderate estimates, and it appears there is more where that came from.
For example, from December 2014 through October 2018, western northern Nevada has seen a 6.1 percent growth in households, a 6.2 percent growth in population and a 13.4 percent growth in employment.
In Reno and Sparks, this growth has been obvious to stakeholders and regularly receives public attention and support. In rural Nevada, however, this growth presents new obstacles to areas that are less equipped to expand at such a whirlwind pace, and whose residents are not always as supportive. In order for the region’s growth to continue, we need to be aware of the challenges that come with it and confront them head-on.
Some of the fastest growing rural areas reside in the northern half of the state. For instance, in Lyon County, jobs are expected to grow even faster in the coming years, whereas population growth is expected to slow down. Currently, over 50 percent of residents work outside the county. Lyon County’s budget is stretched and misaligned with the growth that’s projected to continue. If this remains unchanged, the county will struggle to maintain and expand its infrastructure, including roads, schools, fire, law enforcement, sewer and water capacity. To make matters more challenging, a sizeable number of its residents do not support the rapid pace of growth, and some even actively oppose efforts that would support it.
Water availability is and will continue to be a limiting factor to growth. Recently, Fernley, located in Lyon County, submitted a deposit to the Bureau of Reclamation so that it could begin plans to access the surface water it is permitted via the Truckee Canal. Up until now, the city has been sourcing water only from groundwater wells, and it will take at least three to five years for them to develop a proper water treatment solution for the canal. This is a step in the right direction, but a slow one, and ultimately water availability will remain limited.
Additionally, the lack of mainstream services often drives potential residents away from rural counties. Instead of doing without, people are choosing to settle down in larger cities, so that they have easy access to urban amenities such as movie theaters, restaurants, medical services, big box stores and other retailers.
Further deterring new residents, rural counties’ housing and rental prices rose quickly between 2015 and 2018, and interest rates increased. This has led to a softening of home sales. An example is Lyon County, which is struggling to support housing Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) employees. By losing potential residents, they are losing out on a lot of the economic benefits to be had from TRIC companies, which are mostly going to larger Nevada cities.
Ultimately, rural counties will need to heavily redirect their efforts toward increasing affordable housing, water access, basic infrastructure and urban amenities if they want to continue to reap the benefits of local economic and population growth. Falling behind may deter incoming companies from relocating to Nevada, as well as spread dissatisfaction among new and longtime residents.
While there are challenges brought by rapid growth, there are substantial benefits to living in the rural counties of our state. Residing near TRIC and other areas of development paves way for quicker commute times. Rural counties often see a lower price per square foot in residential real estate and offer space not available in the more populated areas of Nevada.
Eric Maiss is President of Title Service and Escrow