If the Nevada economy were a person, it would have blushed at all the praise heaped upon it at a recent Directions 2015 event.
Presented by The Chamber, the event is one of the largest annual business forecasting/relationship building events in the region.
Held at the Silver Legacy, the program was a chance for nearly 700 attendees — comprised of business owners, government officials and community leaders — to hear what the state and region experienced last year and what’s expected in 2015.
Directions also hosted 40 exhibitors.
The steady drumbeat of good news about the economy was the hallmark of the program, which attracted a range of guest speakers. Among those in attendance were Lt. Governor Mark Hutchison, Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and political commentator John Ralston.
“By the end of the year, Nevada will be No. 1 in job growth — a place we haven’t been for a long time,” said Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst for Applied Analysis in Las Vegas.
“Our (state) economy has moved forward and past a deep economic downturn,” said Aguero. “Companies of national relevance are looking to locate operations here or establish headquarters.”
He forecasts nearly every sector of northern Nevada’s economy creating jobs. “Construction and financial services are making their way back” in terms of new hiring, said Aguero.
“In Nevada, one important trend is the number of hours worked per employee. Employers are adding hours” as the economy improves and businesses grow.
Based on metrics such as driver license surrenders, “California outmigration continues to be a strong factor” for Nevada growth as a whole, he said.
A good portion of the newcomers are arriving due to “employment-related motivators,” said Aguero, citing data that shows 24 percent of them are coming to the Silver State for a new job and 20 percent are here because of company transfer. About 34 percent of those inbound individuals are retirees.
Closer to home, Aguero said that UNR’s impact on the Reno community continues to be its “most important economic asset.”
So are recent business arrivals, which have netted the town as No. 8 in the list of Best Startup Cities. “Almost every new firm touches technology” in some way, said Aguero
Another indicator of economic growth is consumer spending. Aguero said retail sales in Washoe County are up 8 percent year-over-year as consumers benefit from lower gas prices and have more money in their pockets to make other purchases.
He forecasts prices to remain low at the gas pumps through the summer.
Residential real estate will be an important metric going into the summer, said Aguero. Nevada is the fastest-appreciation market in the U.S., he said.
Other speakers at the event also talked about the region’s successes in moving the Northern Nevada economy forward.
“Last year was good, next year will be better,” declared EDAWN’s Mike Kazmierski. He said the team’s goal is equal parts retention, recruitment and fostering startups.
In the past three years, EDAWN has assisted in the attraction of more than 60 new companies, resulting in the addition of 6,000 new jobs, said Kazmierski. This in addition to recent announcement by car maker Tesla that will build the largest battery factor in the world, adding 6,500 new jobs over the next several years with its full-throttle expansion.
Sure to benefit from the expansion are regional business suppliers and vendors, which should profit from all phases of Tesla’s factory. “It’s more than just building-related,” said Kazmierski of the economic benefits accruing.
“Little old northern Nevada won the largest manufacturing project in the whole country” in 2014, said Kazmierski.
With Reno at the center of it all, Kazmierski said the city now sports distinct nodes of commerce — Midtown and the Innovation and the Freight districts.
“We also need to emphasize the ‘cool’ effect in promoting northern Nevada.
Burning Man is indicative of “an incredible connection to the nation’s creative classes and Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs,” and promotes and image of a new and improved northern Nevada, he noted.
The program wasn’t all upbeat.
Aguero and Kazmierski both said the one thing holding the state back is its education system.
The quality and depth of the workforce will hamper growth relative to economic development goals, said Kazmierski, detailing Washoe County School District’s use of hundreds of portable classrooms rather than school construction.