Storey County: Stable and thriving amid billions in investments

Pat Whitten, Storey County manager,describes the massive interior of the Chewy pet supply distribution center that is nearing completion. Chewy will move to this larger space from another location in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.

Pat Whitten, Storey County manager,describes the massive interior of the Chewy pet supply distribution center that is nearing completion. Chewy will move to this larger space from another location in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.

Humble Storey County certainly isn’t one of the wealthiest counties in America — that distinction belongs to counties such as Santa Clara and Marin (California), Los Alamos (New Mexico) and Loudoun (Virginia), where average per-capita income hovers around or exceeds $100,000 annually.

But when it comes to capital investment by businesses per capita, Storey County likely has no rival. The small county of roughly 4,000 residents has seen an influx of business investment like no other county in the U.S.

Manufacturing heavyweight Tesla has committed billions of dollars to develop its massive Gigafactory in Storey County, as did tech giant Switch when it erected its huge Citadel data center campus at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.

Coupled with the money spent to build distribution centers for big-name companies such as Walmart, PetSmart, zulily, Randa and others, and future development planned by Google, Blockchains and other companies, and it’s not hard to make a case that Storey County has been the recipient of the most investment dollars of any rural county in America.

Lance Gilman, broker for Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, says the addition of so many big names to the center’s roster helped create an undeniable synergy that’s led to the unprecedented capital investment in Storey County.

“Tesla’s investing billions, Switch has projected to invest $20 billion, and that doesn’t include Google and all the others,” Gilman says. “There are 150 campuses out there investing multimillions in a little county that only has 4,000 residents – it very well may be the richest county per capital investment per capita.”

Gilman and developer Roger Norman knew that much of the land that made up the former 102,000-acre Asamera Ranch area was ripe for industrial development back in the late 1990s – but recent developments at Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center have exceeded their initial expectations for the center.

“It’s certainly a lot bigger than we anticipated, but on the other hand, we knew we really didn’t have the land and infrastructure in the 1990s. By going out and creating oversized utilities of every kind, and with NV Energy out there and all the power in the area, it (TRIC) all came together the way we thought it would,” he says.

Tesla’s and Apple’s influence in bringing other companies to Storey County can’t be understated. Tesla’s decision to construct a battery factory in conjunction with Panasonic announced to the tech world that Northern Nevada was a great place to do business. Switch soon followed, and more recently, Google purchased more than 1,200 acres of land at TRIC and likely will use the land to construct a data center.

Apple, which constructed a 1.1 million square foot data center on 1,700 acres of land just adjacent to TRIC in Washoe County, also added cachet to the region as a center for technology.

The most recent transaction in Storey County from a tech company was by Southern California-based Blockchains LLC, which purchased 64,000 acres, the largest chunk of available land left at TRIC. Blockchains, which specializes in financial services, software development and other applications for the Ethereum blockchain technology, plans to build a campus on 150 acres.

“Tesla put Northern Nevada on the world stage,” Gilman says. “That was a lot of exposure. Switch followed them very closely, and between the two of them we gained interest from Google. It was the Google transaction last February that really kicked of the tech surge in Northern Nevada.”

Additional development includes the recently announced Emerald Lakes project by Encore Commercial head Randy Aleman, who plans to construct a hotel, retail and additional amenities on a 200-acre parcel at the corners of USA Parkway and Denmark Drive. The project will create a true downtown for Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center – and significantly boost the county’s taxable sales totals.

All that capital investment has been transformative for Storey County. Already, USA Parkway was extended through the formerly isolated mountains to link Interstate 80 with Highway 50 and reduce travel times to and from businesses in Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center. Additional changes brought about by the influx of businesses – and additional sales tax revenues — could impact county residents in the future, says Storey County manager Pat Whitten.

Sales taxes in the county are on a wild upswing. In November, taxable sales for Storey County totaled $122.5 million, an increase of 107 percent from year-earlier figures. Year-to-date taxable sales through the end of November totaled $541.3 million, up 42 percent for the same 11-month period in 2016, the Department of Taxation reports.

Storey County’s taxable sales for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2017, totaled $1.6 billion, an increase of 568 percent from the previous fiscal year. By way of comparison, the county’s taxable sales for the fiscal year ending 10 years earlier in 2007 totaled just $204 million. The $1.6 billion figure trailed only Clark and Washoe counties for total taxable sales.

Clearly, the county is growing both by employee headcount and fiscal contributions to the state’s coffers.

County Manager Whitten says it’s important to note the incentives that helped bring the majority of these businesses to Northern Nevada.

“A key component when we are talking about Tesla, Switch or the rest are the incentive programs that the state and Governor’s Office of Economic Development have been wise enough to implement,” Whitten says. “I deal with companies that are looking at Northern Nevada and Storey County. If we didn’t have attractive incentive programs, or tax abatements, they would not be here. They would be somewhere else.”

The incredible rise in sales tax revenue has brought fiscal stability to county government, Whitten notes, and eventually it could trickle down to individual residents of the county. The county’s sales tax rate of 7.6 percent isn’t the lowest in the state — that honor is shared by Humboldt, Mineral, Eureka and Esmeralda counties at 6.85 percent — but it’s still considerably lower than neighboring Washoe County at 8.265 percent.

“Residents can be comfortable knowing that raising taxes is not necessary and not an option,” Whitten says. “We are essentially almost 20 basis points below state property tax caps, and there is no talk about raising tax rates. There is stability, and we hope to find a way to cautiously and meaningfully reduce property tax rates for the citizens of Storey County.”


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