Nevada’s rural areas often get outshone or out-reported by their larger urban counterparts, which is an oversight for at least two reasons. One, the state is primarily rural, defined by statute as cities and towns with a population under 150,000 people. Second, the rural regions warrant mention in their own right regarding business and economic development, as many are doing well despite their inherent limitations, such as smaller size, remoteness and more. That’s not to say these communities don’t have areas needing improvement; each has its own set on which it’s working.
Here are some snapshots of rural Nevada today.
City of Elko
Business and the economy in Elko, which is located in northeastern Nevada, are “strong” but not “red hot,” said Mayor Reece Keener who, with his wife Tammy, owns and operates two small businesses, Print ’N Copy Center and Alliance Document Technologies which sells and services Xerox machines.
“We’re on solid financial footing … with a very high Moody’s rating of AA-,” he added.
In November 2018, Elko’s sales tax revenue, which comprises about two-thirds of the city’s general fund, was 8 percent higher year-over-year, Keener said. Similarly, room tax receipts rose, 7.8 percent. Unemployment is low, and average household income is high.
The top local industry, mining, is faring well, Keener said, as regional gold explorers and developers continue creating jobs. The city, however, keeps working to diversify its economy. One effort is the Elko Regional Sports Complex expansion. Phase 1, slated for an autumn completion, will add three multipurpose ball fields, parking and concessions, allowing the city to host various ball tournaments.
Retail is also growing significantly. Companies are now moving into the long-vacant land off of Exit 298. After extending the water line to that area in 2017, the city is now doing the same with sanitary sewer, both of which are allowing for development.
There, Golden Gate Petroleum opened a truck stop, Komatsu is building a $47 million regional service facility and Coach USA, which transports workers to the regional mines, operates a fleet. Elsewhere, the city is getting, among others, a Kohl’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Harbor Freight Tools. New construction and retailers mean additional sales tax revenue for the city.
Regarding tourism, nightly stays are on the rise, and SkyWest, the airplane company that flies into the area, announced that in January, enplanements, were up 18 percent year over year. Elko has more than enough guestrooms at 2,700 and is working on an ordinance that would allow off-highway vehicles on the city streets to access trailheads.
The housing situation is better. There now is a supply of homes and apartments. Affordable housing, though, remains tight, Keener said, in that it’s difficult to find a new home for under $250,000. Builders and developers are addressing that need.
Keener projects a strong rest of 2019 for Elko given minimal headwinds and many positives.
“I’ve operated a business in Elko for the past 24 years, and I’m as optimistic about Elko’s future as I’ve ever been,” he said.
The picture of Nye County differs from Elko’s.
This rural region stretches from central to Southern Nevada and encompasses, from north to south, Gabbs, Tonopah, Beatty, Pahrump and more. The top industries are government, retail, accommodation and food services, professional, scientific and technical services and mining.
The population has been slowly regaining those lost residents and new businesses are moving in or expanding. For example, in Pahrump, Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club will add three miles of racetrack this year. Pahrump Valley Winery, which recently finished an expansion, will open a new winery called Artesian Cellars. The Front Sight Firearms Training Institute will double its number of shooting ranges to 50.
The county continues domestic and international marketing efforts and expanding its online presence, which seems to be bearing results. Pahrump visitor counts, for instance, increased about 3 percent from fiscal year 2017 to 2018, town data show, with 492,699 visitors creating a $86.3 million economic impact. Silverton Ranch Hotel and Casino’s new facility, construction on which will start in August, will shrink the hotel room shortage.
Nye County boasts affordable land and housing generally and a fertile environment for small business along with the qualities for which people choose to live in a rural location—a sense of community, open space, outdoor recreational opportunities and others.
In contrast, it ranked last out of all Nevada counties in 2018 for health outcomes, length of life and quality of life. The county must improve healthcare, particularly ready access to it, Sutton said, and the newly hired health officer will take that on.
Unemployment remains “disproportionately high,” said Sutton, 5.7 percent at the end of calendar year 2018, the highest in Nevada.
Sutton himself plans to tackle the county’s somewhat “scattered” problem-solving approach that uses “a lot of resources inappropriately or ineffectively,” he said. He intends to gather data over the next year in all areas for which they can be obtained, analyze them for trends and deficiencies, determine areas of future concentration, set policies accordingly and implement them throughout 2020.
With this and other projects in the works, Sutton remains “excited” for the remainder of 2019, he said.
While it varies in degree from locale to locale throughout Nevada’s rural areas, insufficient affordable housing supply versus demand—fueled by population and jobs growth, for instance—remains an ongoing problem. Bill Brewer described the existing supply as “relatively static.” He’s the executive director of the Carson City-headquartered Nevada Rural Housing Authority (NRHA), which provides home financing solutions, rental assistance and affordable housing programs for Nevada’s rural regions.
By Nevada statute, housing is considered affordable when the renter or buyer spends no more than 30 percent of their income on it and associated utilities.
The most stressed areas, he said, are those in the state’s northwest region—Sparks, Fernley and Dayton—where the vacancy rates are “unhealthy,” under 1 percent, as opposed to a typical 5 percent. Consequently, some people are resorting to living in recreational vehicles or staying with relatives or friends, and it’s happening all over rural Nevada.
“People are struggling,” Brewer said. “Families who were able to get along okay a couple of years ago are now finding themselves overburdened substantially with housing costs.”
In mid-February, no affordable housing was being built in rural Nevada, Brewer said, mainly because the funds necessary to do so, to reduce the debt burden on a property, are limited.
Primarily, affordable housing financing comes from the federal government’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, which the state disburses to counties based on population size. In 2018, Clark received $4.3 million, Washoe $892,000 and all others $674,000, the state’s “Qualified Allocation Plan” report detailed.
Currently, Nevada doesn’t provide any state funds for affordable housing programs, said Brewer. That could change, however, during this year’s legislative session. Governor Steve Sisolak noted in his state-of-the-state address he’d support the recommendation to develop a new program offering $10 million of state tax credits for affordable housing creation and preservation.
The NRHA is rehabilitating 80 apartments in Tonopah, built four decades ago under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s affordable housing program, along with a building across the street that will serve as one of the authority’s offices. A similar project will follow in Ely. If these buildings aren’t kept usable, said Brewer, rural Nevada will lose them as USDA-assisted affordable housing.
Also underway, the NRHA is organizing a coalition to include a cross-section of entities and individuals involved in Nevada’s housing industry. A major goal is to use the strength of its numbers to push for legislative changes, like broadening the affordable housing definition to include medium-income individuals and families for whom housing entry assistance programs don’t exist.
“Certainly housing is going to be a hot topic at the legislature this session,” Brewer said.
Nevada’s mining industry, “the foundation for rural communities,” is “holding steady,” said Dana Bennett, president, Nevada Mining Association, the Reno-based trade organization for companies involved in the state’s mining industry. “We’re feeling pretty optimistic.”
For much of rural Nevada, mining is a top industry. It provides high-paying careers, job sustainability and local tax revenues, which in turn lead to economic impact and development.
As for some of what’s happening, Nevada Copper Corp. plans to start production at its Pumpkin Hollow project in Lyon County by year-end. Lithium Nevada intends to start mining lithium carbonate at Thacker Pass in Humboldt County in 2022. Prophecy Development Co.’s vanadium project Gibellini, in Lander County, is in the permitting phase. Various gold projects are being actively explored while others are being advanced past that stage.
In recent mergers and acquisitions news, Coeur Mining purchased the Sterling mine in Nye County, and silver-focused Hecla Mining acquired Klondex Mines Ltd.’s gold assets in Nevada. Barrick Gold Corp. merged with Randgold Resources, thereby expanding into Africa. Newmont Mining Corp., which operates in Nevada, merged with Goldcorp Inc.
On its way to mining is autonomous technology. The University of Nevada, Reno’s (UNR) Computer Science & Engineering department is developing aerial robots to efficiently explore, search and map underground mines and tunnels.
“Those are game changing-type programs,” Bennett said.
Further growth of advanced manufacturing and renewable energy production is hugely positive for Nevada’s mining industry, said Bennett, as those sectors will need greater quantities of certain metals and minerals.
Looking to the rest of 2019, Bennett said, “I’m optimistic that the industry is going to keep chugging along.”
In Nevada’s Sierra region—Lyon, Storey and Douglas counties and Carson City—“business is great and growing,” mostly in manufacturing, mining, construction, logistics, agriculture and healthcare, said Rob Hooper, director, Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA), a Carson City-based, state-designated agency that looks for and effects growth opportunities in the one region. “The growth curve is now starting to move further and further into the deep rurals.”
This year should see many new companies move into or existing companies expand in the area, Hooper said. For instance, five such entities applied in January alone for state incentives. Of the hundreds of businesses in the pipeline, about 24 are highly active.
Among current projects, Hooper said, the agency is employing conservation economics, understanding the costs and benefits of sustaining natural ecosystems and then fitting those into economic development.
“We see this region becoming a prototype for the whole Western U.S.,” Hooper said.
With four identified Opportunity Zones in the Sierra region, most of Fernley and Silver Springs, all of Storey County and an area in Carson City, the NNDA is collaborating on development of a fund that will enable new company growth and entrepreneurship in those places.
In addition, the NNDA is rolling out a marketing campaign to promote awareness about the Sierra region and the business and development successes there. With the Nevada Department of Transportation, the NNDA is working to establish freight rail in the region, with Fernley as the hub, to foster business development in deep rural Nevada.
One of the authority’s many successful, ongoing programs, said Hooper, is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Grant program, through which brownfield sites are inventoried, characterized, assessed and planned for. Another is the Certified Sites program, which prepares sites for development and certifies them as ready. Both initiatives remove scheduling and predevelopment risks and take on the responsibility and cost of getting these needed tasks done.
Making economic development progress in rural Nevada requires tackling some significant challenges. An ongoing one is the need for a larger workforce with specific skills, such as in mechatronics, a new Western Nevada College program. Insufficient housing is a “big” problem, Hooper said, particularly the further out one goes in the region. Getting needed infrastructure in place is another.
Overall, though, Hooper remains bullish on the Sierra region development this year.
“We see continued growth, and we see innovation,” he said.