Reno companies, joining gold rush, widen Elko operations

Business owners in Reno and Sparks are turning the old adage "Go West, young man" on its ear.

Scores of businesses whose sole focus the past decade was clientele in the Truckee Meadows are heading east to Elko County to capitalize on northeastern Nevada's super-powered economy, fueled by a years-long runup in gold prices, several large mine-site expansions and strong demand for new housing, retail and commercial development.

As mining companies in northeastern Nevada pour millions into expansion and exploration, they have created thousands of new jobs along with a huge customer base flush with ready cash for Reno-based companies staking new claims.

Brad Bolotin, owner of Encore Audio Visual Design in Reno and longtime owner of now-shuttered Wild West Electronics in Reno, today spends about 90 percent of his time in Elko managing an Encore store and a SleepSource mattress store in the Elko Junction Shopping Center.

Bolotin mined the area for opportunity in May of 2011 and found Elko lacked an independent audio-video retailer and a mattress-centric store. Elko residents typically faced long drives to Twin Falls, Idaho or Reno for such goods, unless they liked the offerings in the Walmart or Kmart electronics departments.

Bolotin opened Encore in August of 2011. In addition to consumer trade, Bolotin has found a good business selling audio-video equipment to regional mines for their training and conference rooms, as well as several of the area's hotel operators. The Elko-area Encore store accounts for about 70 percent of the company's revenue.

"Elko has been really good for us but the biggest downside is the amount of time I am spending here," Bolotin says. "It was never supposed to be like this, but business is good."

Bolotin, who rents an apartment in town, has gone through three assistant managers since opening Encore Audio Visual Design.

Three months ago he added a 2,000-square-foot mattress store, a throwback to his roots in the furniture industry. With Elko's low unemployment and small retail workforce, finding a good manager has been a challenge forcing Bolotin to spend long hours manning his Elko ventures.

"There isn't a lot of talented people, especially in retail; that is the downside of a fully employed community," Bolotin says.

A host of Reno-Sparks construction-related companies also are landing work in Elko and sending crews on the long drive to the northeastern portion of the state. Among them: ScareCrow Lathe and Plaster, Genoa Peak Electric, Keystone Masonry, Alexander Heating & Air, Dynamic Drywall and Oakcrest Landscaping and Irrigation.

Mike Phelps, project manager for Diversified Painting of Sparks, says his company landed contracts to paint several new housing developments in Elko, and it recently completed some graffiti removal work.

Although Diversified has stayed fairly busy in the Truckee Meadows with residential re-painting and tenant improvement work on commercial buildings, the jobs in Elko County provide a significant revenue that allowed Diversified to hire additional painters.

The company employs about 12 people for its work in Elko. Diversified crews leave for Elko at 5 a.m. Monday morning and return late Friday night. The company puts workmen up in a motel in town and provides travel pay and additional compensation for meals, Phelps says.

Frank Maricich, co-owner of Control Installation Specialists of Sparks, also expects to put a crew of electricians up in Elko on a weekly basis when CIS begins an extensive lighting retrofit for more than 20 schools in the Elko County School District in early January.

CIS will employ eight workmen replacing all ballasts and lamps and retrofitting gymnasiums with energy-efficient T-5 lighting in the district-wide retrofit. The company re-hired four former electricians for the work and expects to send a crew of eight to Elko when the job starts.

Maricich says the job crossed his radar when he was invited to bid the project with Ameresco, a nationwide energy management firm headquartered at Framingham, Mass. that has an office in Reno. The retrofit project is expected to take six to eight months.

"We were needing more work, so it came at a good time," Maricich says.

Steve Crow, owner of ScareCrow Lath and Plaster, says work in the Elko-Spring Creek areas accounts for about 20 percent of his company's gross sales. ScareCrow's biggest job in the area is installing stucco and stonework on the 190-unit Rabbit Brush Run apartment complex.

Crow got his feet wet in the Elko market after convincing Rabbit Brush Run developer Pedro Ormaza to redesign building exteriors using stucco and stone instead of wood and brick.

Since then, ScareCrow has landed stucco work at Artisan Communities' Hamilton Stage subdivision, and it's also done about 10 custom homes in the area in the last six months.

In Spring Creek, ScareCrow is stuccoing a 10,000-square-foot commercial building off Lamoille Highway.

ScareCrow typically sends crews to Elko for week-long stays and pays for hotels, gas and meals. Crews work 10-hour shifts and return late Friday night. About 25 percent of ScareCrow's workforce will spend time in Elko in December, Crow says. Last week the company had 20 employees working in Elko County.

"It costs more to do business up there," Crow says. "We have probably 80 percent of the market out there it's been really good for us."


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