The minor contraction that rippled through the mining industry in 2013 as gold prices fell more than 25 percent failed to slow growth in Lander County.
Some of the state’s largest mines are located in Lander County, and employment at those sites is propelling unparalleled growth in the county seat of Battle Mountain.
Barrick Gold’s Cortez operations, as well as its Pipeline and South Pipeline deposits, are located in Lander County, as is Newmont Mining Corporation’s Phoenix mine and Klondex Mine’s Midas property. Neighboring Eureka County is home to Newmont’s large Carlin operations and Barrick’s huge Betze-Post open pit mine.
Historically, miners working at those sites travel to work from Elko or Winnemucca, but more of them are finding homes in Battle Mountain as the town expands its residential and multi-family housing offerings.
Jan Morrison, the county’s community services officer who heads up planning zoning and economic development, says the county’s population stands at just over 6,200 — and it continues to rise.
Lack of housing has long been an Achilles’ heel for development in rural Nevada, but several multi-family and single-family residential projects are expected to come online this year.
The Argenta Rim Apartments, a 61 unit multi-family development adjacent to Interstate 80, should be ready for occupancy this summer, Morrison says. And Arnold Beck Construction of Elko is developing the Turquoise Hills subdivision at the south end of Battle Mountain near the county-owned Battle Mountain Golf Course. Four units of 12 planned units already are built. The subdivision is mapped for 69 homes on 89 acres.
“We have several subdivisions and high-quality homes going in,” Morrison says. “We are beginning to turn the tide. People who would work in Lander County but lived in neighboring communities are now living and working in Lander County. The housing market has been historically tight, but we have new subdivisions and builders coming in with entry-level and higher-end homes and nice apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom, two-story apartments. Our housing market has really expanded.”
It’s taken some time for development in Lander County to catch up to the mining boom, but building permits and businesses licenses both spiked over the past four years.
Building permits rose 134 percent from 2010 to 2013 to 61 permits issued. And in 2010 there were 452 business licenses issued throughout the county, but in 2013 there was a 22 percent increase over that four-year span to 551 business licenses.
Lander County’s unemployment rate of 4.7 percent in December trailed only Esmeralda County, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reports.
“The mines are affected by their holdings around the world, but their Lander County holdings are solid and they have many, many years of production ahead of them,” Morrison says. “No question they are our largest employers.”
Several large construction projects are helping increase business and other services in Battle Mountain. The Lander County School District is undergoing an approximately $18 million expansion and renovation of its four facilities.
Battle Mountain Junior High will be converted to a serve grades K-5 with a 40,000-square-foot additional being built by Core Construction of Illinois. The Reno office of Core is the construction manager at risk general contractor for the project.
Elanor Lemarie Elementary School will host grades 6-8 and will also get a new gymnasium and football/track facility. Eliza Pierce Elementary School is being demolished, and Mary S. Black School will be converted to school district offices.
In the future, Battle Mountain High School will be able to host regional sporting events for the first time upon completion of a sports and recreation facility designed by VanWoert Bigotti Architecture of Reno.
Battle Mountain General Hospital is planning an extension $14 million expansion to renovate the main entrance, enlarge the pharmacy and revamp the helipad. CTA Architects of Boise is designing the project.
There’s plans for a new county administrative and courthouse facility as well.
In Austin, construction has begun on the Loneliest Highway Visitor Center in downtown Austin. The $754,000 project was mostly funded through a Federal Highway Administration grant and is expected to be open later this year.
Battle Mountain has attracted a few regional brands such as Port of Subs over the past few years, Morrison notes. Many of the new businesses in the area are small entrepreneurial firms.
“We have a great base of population here with spendable income, and we are staring to have businesses move in,” she says. “Overall we have got a maturing and stabilization of our population. Although the mines increase and decrease, we are very stable. People are able to shop locally ands use services locally.”
The Lander County economic development team also is pushing to increase the county’s manufacturing base. Battle Mountain, served by rail and I-80, is a perfect fit for mine service providers, Morrison notes.
A 300-acre site north of town is slated for industrial development. Full utilities and a power substation already are installed at the site.
“They will have customers at their front door,” she says. “We are a great transportation hub and have a highly skilled workforce.
“We are moving into a very stable quality growth period, and it’s an exciting place to be.”