Douglas County refocuses efforts on manufacturing sector

Douglas County is doubling down on manufacturing businesses after reassessing its four-year old economic development strategy.

The original 2010 economic vitality plan included a dozen projects that have been reduced to eight after two were completed, one eliminated and four more combined into two.

Out of that revision emerged a new key component the county is calling Accelerating Advanced Manufacturing.

The repositioning was partly the result of a 2012 study of local technology businesses, which highlighted how important its manufacturing cluster was to the county’s economy, says Lisa Granahan, Douglas County’s economic vitality manager.

The study, for example, found that the sector had grown from 107 business locations in 2000 to 141 in 2010 and employed 1,800 people with an average annual wage of $61,666 for a total of $111 million in wages.

“There were 25 businesses in that cluster that we interviewed and 90 percent said they would hire in the next three years,” says Granahan. “And 46 percent said they purchased less than 10 percent of their supplies in Nevada.”

That gave the county focus: workforce development and building a network of local buyers and suppliers. A third need – to streamline the county’s permitting process – came out of comments from and interviews with the companies.

A team of volunteers led by Renae Louie, executive director, Business Council of Douglas County, and Christina Slade, a business consultant, were assembled and their first order of business is to make site visits.

“We’re going to reach out the 25 plus advanced manufacturers we did that survey with and update it,” says Louie. “Some have expanded, some have relocated. We’ll update all that. Mainly, we’re going to focus on job recruitment and a trained workforce.”

The county is building a $7 million STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – center at the Douglas County High School that is set to open its doors in 2015. The goal is to better prepare local students both for college and for working for local manufactruers immediately after high school.

The county is already working with Western Nevada College, which shaped part of its curriculum to better meet standards set by GE Bently, the county’s biggest manufacturer, when the company couldn’t find enough workers who could pass a basic technology test for employment.

The college offers its Right Skills Now program at its Carson City campus, and the county is working to possibly offer that and other manufacturing-focused classes on WNC’s Douglas campus, says Denise Castle, workforce development case manager for the county, who is also a member of the Accelerating Advanced Manufacturing team.

Despite the new focus on manufacturing, the county has already made a start. Louie says local buyers and suppliers were matched after the 2012 survey and the county is considering putting that database online for public use.

Open for Business lets a business schedule one meeting with county planners rather than go to multiple offices to get all the necessary permits and documents.

Granahan says the Accelerating Advanced Manufacturing will be measured like other projects, based on the jobs created, average wages and worksites.


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