Recovery needs everyone's help, and a plan

More job creation. An improving economy. A time when Greater Reno-Tahoe will thrive again.

We all want and need these things and we all have a role in achieving them through our efforts to improve economic diversification. However, there needs to be a plan and a cohesive vision that all involved parties agree upon, rather than a variety of approaches and efforts relating to economic development.

In 2006, the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada had the vision to invest in a research project to help the region identify a future economic development vision. The result of this analysis was the Target2010 plan. The community-based initiative involved approximately 50 northern Nevada business and policy leaders. The research took a hard look at the region's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The analysis looked specifically at five areas essential to long-term economic development, including: 1. business climate; 2. workforce development and education; 3. sites and infrastructure; 4. quality of life; and 5. economic development and marketing. While some of the findings have changed over the past four years, much of this analysis is still accurate and should continue to be used as a template for economic diversification.

Specifically, the economic development and marketing findings identified the need for a regional approach to economic development. Four years after outside analysis identified this weakness and potential threat, we have not effectively agreed or implemented the benefits and opportunities associated with a broader regional approach to economic development. Companies looking at our Greater Reno-Tahoe region do not necessarily differentiate between Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Storey County, Fernley, or Minden, for example.

Rather, prospects probably see a region fed by the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and also a vast transportation network that provides access to markets they desire. Our economic development efforts really should be regionalized, in order to be most effective; after all, a prospective company or site consultant from Boston does not know or even care about the name of the city or county they are investigating in Nevada. While we certainly have our own separate identities we are also clearly part of the same economic region. Taking a regional approach makes more sense for a prospective company that doesn't know or understand about the individual cities, counties or regions. At its core, economic development is company-focused.

Having said that, local regional economic agencies often lack the depth in resources to properly understand the competitive environment, and lack the necessary sales support to more effectively close deals. While I cannot speak to the interests of southern Nevada or Nevada's rural communities, I suspect they face the same challenges as we do in Greater Reno-Tahoe. We look to the Nevada Commission on Economic Development for much-needed support where resources do not exist at a local economic development authority level.

Here are our recommendations to support a regional approach to economic development:

* Focus on core out-of-market business attraction and our responses to inbound inquiries, and strive for better collaboration and more clearly defined roles with other entities who "do" economic development.

* Continue to improve our more formal business retention and expansion efforts through ties to other entities in the community that are concerned with existing business success. This is critical since data shows ( and elsewhere), that the greatest jobs growth here and throughout the United States is coming from existing companies, more so than attraction of out of market companies to expand or relocate to the area.

* Improve coordination among organizations that focus on business innovation/startups. A clear path and resources are being aligned thanks to a group of leaders involved in the Innovative Growth Initiative exploring innovative ways to help start ups/entrepreneurs.

In spite of limitations, EDAWN has been working hard to diversify the economy, and we've been successful. As national economist Bill Fruth the keynote speaker at our recent annual meeting noted, this region is surprisingly well diversified, especially due to growth in manufacturing. This is doubly good news because that sector was one of our region's six target industries that were determined in Target2010. That improvement is difficult to see clearly as it is greatly overshadowed by the national recession and losses in hospitality and gaming and construction as those bubbles burst.

We have made strides, even in this down economy, when companies are stressed economically and do not typically make decisions to relocate or expand.

For fiscal year 2009-2010, here are the numbers:

* Eleven companies were relocated or expanded and

* 513 new jobs were created.

* $78 million economic impact was generated (direct and indirect).

* $3.7 million was paid in new property taxes to Washoe County government to support vital services.

More importantly, what companies are in our pipeline that could create more jobs?

EDAWN, in conjunction with our regional partners who work to diversify our economy, is working 140 company projects at various stages. There are 25 projects we consider "high priority," those considered to have a 75 percent or greater chance of locating within the next 12 months, and which would have the greatest impact in terms of job creation. They represent 2,138 new jobs should they all locate or expand in the next 12 months.

Additionally, we are working 34 projects that are slightly longer-term. However, those 34 projects would create 3,472 jobs if they all come to fruition.

There is tremendous pressure on economic develop organizations to be more effective and to "hurry up about it" in the process. It's clear that some of our strategies will need to be examined and possibly reinvented. We need to make the immediate changes we can, like regionalizing the focus and better synergizing the good efforts that now exist by the many parties who "do" economic diversification. In the longer term, stronger education and workforce development, and improved predictability of our business climate and tax structure must be aligned with economic development strategies.

Target2010 still provides very good insight and analysis for us to use regionally. Let's collaborate on optimizing what we have discovered through prior sound research and the regional planning that went into Target2010, and create an updated regional vision for an even more cohesive team to make the most of the resources we have.

Russ Romine is president and chief executive officer of Griffin Global Logistics, and is chair of the Board of Trustees for EDAWN.


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