A lot of Nevada is rural. That doesn’t mean one rural community is the same as the next. Economic development in Nevada’s rural communities varies by community, location, established industries and what complementary businesses would fit with existing businesses.
Another consideration is the type of businesses that could locate in the area and improve the quality of life for existing residents, and those considering moving.
Nevada offers incentives for businesses locating in rural areas, depending on certain criteria, like the number of jobs that will be created. Incentives range from sales and use tax abatement, modified business tax abatements, personal and real property tax abatements, and specific abatements such as those for data centers or amusement parks.
Benefits beyond incentives include room to grow and easy access to the western states. There’s also the ability to be rural, but not that rural. Rural communities like Fernley offer land, industrial parks, access to workforce and are still only 30 minutes from an international airport and a metro area.
“When you look at some communities that are outside the major metropolitan areas, there is a different quality of life that comes with that. Some people would prefer to be in smaller areas and still be able to drive 40 minutes and be in a big city, but still be able to live in a small town and work in a small town,” said Shari Davis, director, Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), Rural Economic and Community Development.
Benefits like that can help encourage employees to move to rural Nevada with their companies. Provided there’s somewhere for them to move to.
“All kinds of things are going on in rural Nevada. That’s one of the challenges we have in talking about rural Nevada: it’s hard to put a label on it as a whole because every area is different,” said Bill Brewer, executive director, Nevada Rural Housing Authority (NRHA). “We do our best to serve those areas as we can, but it’s certainly a challenge for a small housing authority.”
Nevada’s housing market is hot. Urban or rural, inventory is low and demand is high. For rural areas, there are additional challenges for potential homeowners.
“Some areas are better able to meet their needs because they’re a little bit bigger or a little closer to a larger metro area,” said Brewer. Rural areas like Fernley that are close to urban areas have better access to construction trades, developers and builders; towns like Tonopah or Ely have more limited access. “It’s a much bigger challenge to get development going in those very rural communities,” he said.
Nevada rural communities have seen a surge of growth, from new residents to new businesses, exacerbating the housing shortage.
“The problem is, when you bring in 300 jobs into a small community, that really creates an economic load for the community,” said Brewer. “Certainly, those paychecks are great, it creates a lot of secondary employment, and that’s all super for the economy.”
But people need a place to live, and they need services, and small communities are suddenly hard pressed to create housing for several hundred or more employees.
What’s needed is a full range of housing. “We speak of housing as a spectrum around here,” said Brewer. “Housing that serves folks at very low-income levels. Housing that is for working class folks if they need to get into an apartment. We need starter homes so folks can begin to build wealth, get started down that path, and more substantial homes for folks making a good income. You really need that whole spectrum of housing in almost every community in Nevada.”
Building that isn’t easy. Brewer doesn’t think there’s any rural community currently working on every type of housing, and some are having trouble working on any. Winnemucca and Battle Mountain are so far out it’s difficult to get construction trades out there. Those communities closer to metro areas have a better chance of getting developers and construction people. Fernley is building multifamily units, Carson City and Douglas County are seeing construction of single-family homes, and for more rural areas, like Pioche and Carlin, NRHA itself is planning to develop multifamily units.
Challenges for Businesses
For businesses looking to expand or locate in rural Nevada, the challenges are as unique as the communities. For one, there’s the question of whether a rural area has enough workforce to support a company looking to come into it. If there aren’t enough employees, or enough that can be trained up to the skill level of a specific business, companies may look at enticing current employees to relocate.
“If they do bring in their employees, is there enough housing? Is there infrastructure in place? Can they even support additional people within these communities?” said Davis. “Each community is different, each has their own unique challenges, so it really just depends on the community itself.”
Existing industries face the same challenges. Mining has survived economic downturns to remain strong. Gold mining companies tend to do well in difficult economic times, and lag in healthier economic periods. The last two years, gold has been strong, and northern Nevada, especially around Elko, is one of the top four gold mining districts in the world. When gold prices are high, the Net Proceeds Tax on mining feeds into the state economy and into the counties where mines are located.
Even in communities where mining has been a fixture, as the industry expands, there are challenges. Rural communities with mining as an economic base need more housing options–or just plain more housing–and they need healthcare and childcare options.
“Housing is a particular challenge in rural Nevada,” said Greg Walker, executive managing director, Nevada Gold Mines (NGM). “What I see is people coming in who are more transient and set up in an RV, not set up as a permanent resident, partly because there’s nothing available in town. So, we need town planning and commitment to build properties and get houses built. It’s not only a challenge for people coming here, but also a challenge for us to train people and get people quality housing for their families to move here, particularly professionals where you’re looking at engineers, geologists, metallurgists.”
Industries can be proactive. NGM works with local community leaders and builders trying to make more efficient the process of getting properties built. “How do we come up with a plan to make more money available to get people to come and build these properties?” said Walker.
The more rural the community, the bigger the challenge. Elko, Winnemucca and Battle Mountain are rural enough it’s difficult to get trades like electricians and plumbers to take jobs there. “We’re looking at low-cost housing and also looking at simply getting more houses available,” said Walker. The cost of building materials themselves and transporting them to the rurals has increased the cost of building a house nearly 40 percent. “So, when we do get houses, it’s making them affordable.” And in a sort of reverse workforce availability problem, when the trades travel to the rural areas, contractors often end up going to work for the mining companies.
Healthcare is another rural issue. Communities may have general practitioners and hospital facilities, but often not enough of either, and no specialized care available.
“Nevada Gold Mines has our own clinic,” said Walker. “We’ve had one here for a number of years and for us, it’s a contract company called Premise Health. We do a lot of medical checks on employees to make sure everyone is healthy and fit to work. Healthcare is a particular challenge for acute conditions. We end up with a lot of people who need to be medevac’d out to Reno and Salt Lake.”
Most of the time, grants aren’t available to businesses looking to locate in rural Nevada. There are low interest loans, generally made through commerce banks and guaranteed by organizations like USDA. Grants are meant for nonprofits and municipalities.
But ARPA funds–American Rescue Plan Act of 2021–provided $350 billion in funding for state and local governments, and those funds are still available in many communities, said Davis. There’s also assistance for small businesses from agencies like Small Business Development Center that can help with low interest financing and developing business plans. “They do a lot of work with small business. There’s the Department of Business and Industry. USDA has [programs] for businesses. There are so many resources [businesses] don’t know about.”
Rural communities need services. “All around the world the needs are remarkably similar,” said Walker. “Healthcare, housing, education, those are main focus areas. Some of the particular needs we’ve seen and worked on with the community are things like childcare.” Without sufficient childcare, often one parent couldn’t work, or neighborhoods formed their own groups.
So NGM worked with the local Boys & Girls Club and put $3 million into a childcare facility and daycare extension in Elko and is looking to see what’s possible in Winnemucca and Battle Mountain.
The USDA Rural Development (RD) agency serves rural America through loans and grants, partnerships with local leaders, providing necessary resources for rural families and businesses, and ensuring rural America prospers.
RD works with facilities and infrastructure. “Under facilities we’re looking at financing different community infrastructure in terms of hospitals, fire stations, charter schools, courthouses; we even have street improvements, childcare centers, will finance fire trucks and ambulance for rural towns,” said Gus Wegren, community programs director, USDA Rural Development.
On the other side is infrastructure through the Water and Environmental Program that finances improvements, expansion, rehabilitation to water systems and wastewater systems.
Under community facilities, RD can do loans and grants to nonprofits, and work with all federally recognized tribes. On the business side, RD works with individual businesses, typically through commercial banks, providing loan guarantees to the banks so its customers can expand their businesses.
For residents there’s a single-family housing program which is a low interest, no down payment program to get people into homes. For those who can’t afford a mortgage payment or aren’t interested in being homeowners, there’s subsidized multifamily housing options.
“First and foremost, communities need to have an understanding of what they need,” said Wegren. “Then it’s our job to reach out and meet with the stakeholders and partners and folks who make decisions in small towns and offer the programs we have available.”
Come and See – Tourism in Rural Nevada
The Nevada Commission on Tourism markets Nevada to domestic travel, and to five international markets: Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany and Australia.
“The other primary way we contribute to tourism throughout the state is through our grant programs. Travel Nevada awards marketing grants to rural tourism partners twice each fiscal year,” said Brenda Scolari, director, Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.
There are two cycles of world marketing grants annually. In a healthy fiscal year, the agency offers $1.6 million in awards to augment regional marketing projects, like branding, and advertising by participating in industry events, such as trade shows and conferences held in rural areas that can help promote the destination. Awards can also fund new community events.
“We now offer a new infrastructure grant program, Destination Development program, that invests in long-term strategies to identify, build, and market new tourism assets in communities. The goal is to support a group of local stakeholders to either bring forward their own project concept or explore tourism opportunities with the help of the destination development team,” said Scolari.
The hope is to fund six projects in the next two years with $2 million in ARPA funds that were awarded to Travel Nevada from the U.S. Department of Commerce. “The overall goal is to help local tourism champions to find and promote what makes their destinations special,” said Scolari.
The Shape of Things that Are
Many of Nevada’s small towns weathered the economic storm of COVID better than the metro areas, partly because people wanted to escape cities during the pandemic.
“So [smaller communities] didn’t have the same issues with restaurants closing and hotels and all that kind of things because in some cases they were having record hotel room stays,” said Davis.
There’s a beauty to rural towns that attracted new residents and new businesses mid-pandemic. Smaller, simpler, safer. Which begs the question, is it possible to have economic development and keep the flavor of the town?
“I would argue it actually helps retain the flavor of these rural communities,” said Davis. “My favorite example of this would be Tonopah. Look at the Cline family, they came in and bought the Mizpah [hotel] and restored it.” Once renovations were underway, the whole downtown corridor picked up. According to the Main Street America organization, which revitalizes historic downtowns, downtown Tonopah buildings are at 100 percent occupancy.
“In this case, economic development has assisted in making downtown more vibrant. There are more people down there, and Tonopah has that lovely Old West flare with beautiful buildings and facades. It really encourages the local flavor,” said Davis.
Rural communities aren’t just about buildings and businesses. They’re about people. In Nevada, the rurals are flourishing.