Since the great recession, the Reno-Sparks economy has been on a roll — unemployment rates have plummeted and capital investments made by game-changing companies have surged.
Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, has been helping lead the charge and keep the pace since arriving in Reno in 2011.
With a new year on the horizon, the NNBV talked with Kazmierski about the business outlook for Northern Nevada in 2019 and beyond.
NNBV: What industries do you see as having the most growth next year?
Kazmierski: Well, our main push is growth in technology and technology is a big area. So we really are focusing on subsectors of technology — the A.I. and robotics, the Internet of Things, blockchain and biotech are some of the strengths in our region that we’re trying to leverage to grow additional quality jobs here.
But our advanced manufacturing is really the foundation for the technology growth. If you think about it, we’ve been very successful at advanced manufacturing attraction over the last seven years. We’ve brought in more than 70 new companies in that space. And everyone wants to talk about Tesla and that’s a wonderful addition to our region — that’s advanced manufacturing. Or New Deantronics, a recent announcement, that’s in the biotech medical device space is advanced manufacturing. So it’s bringing in a lot of technology as we continue that success in advanced manufacturing. It puts further demand on the region for robotics, it helps us on the software coding and software engineering demand, which allows attraction of talents to the region to fill that space. So it still is our main push. Our goal ultimately is to be the advanced manufacturing hub of the West as a foundation upon which we will add this technology growth.
NNBV: What industries do you see having significant potential next year and beyond?
Kazmierski: I think we are going to see growth in several technology areas. Blockchain is one that we’re really excited about. We have a new company that will announce in December that is practical application of blockchain technology and it starts to show how it’s being used here and now.
I mean, the Blockchains (LLC) growth is a couple of years out, but there is plenty of blockchain practical application now that we are trying to really seize on as we grow and become a development center for blockchain in the years ahead. So that really is a big one.
And then I think the whole robotics/A.I. subset of advanced manufacturing that is part of our huge potential for our growth going forward. And that really is something that needs to be integrated even more into our schools because that growth in that area really is going to develop the jobs of the future. There are plenty of jobs now, but even our logistics companies are going to more automation and more robotics and the technology to design that. And the talent to code it, program it and build it, it’s all something that we want to seize on as we continue to advance in the years ahead.
NNBV: With all of this growth, what are the biggest challenges the economy faces next year?
Kazmierski: Our continued and probably the most significant challenge is affordable housing. And that is something that we have to really as a community jump on board and figure out sooner rather than later because without aggressive action to mitigate the need for affordable housing we cause other problems that will drain our resources in other directions.
For example, without more housing, this growth will drive housing prices up so that more people become homeless and/or are in a position where they have a hard time enjoying our community and that creates a whole set of social issues. We don’t want that.
So we really need to all get on board and talk about density and talk about how we get more houses in the space we have, so we don’t encourage more sprawl.
We don’t encourage more traffic but rather take advantage of what we have. We’ve got plenty of land and plenty of potential here. How do we help add houses, and then add more houses that are affordable?
NNBV: There’s a high demand for middle-skill jobs in the region. What can be done to meet that demand so companies don’t have to look out of state for qualified workers?
Kazmierski: Well I think our community college (TMCC) has been very aggressive at setting up programs that allow people that have certain skills to upgrade, add skills and then jump into these great jobs that could double their salary. And advanced manufacturing is many of those jobs — you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to work at Tesla. There are plenty of other jobs that with some level of training you can get out there and get further trained and continue to move up into the higher pay levels where they are at in any advanced manufacturing facility. So there’s a lot of opportunity. The beauty of that space is you can come in at a lower skills level and upgrade your skills over time and become very well paid in just a few years. So there’s a lot of opportunity for moving up in that industry, which is exciting.
I think we will see the same thing happen in logistics and distribution. When I got here seven years ago we were bringing companies in that were paying $9 an hour. Now, they can’t find anyone for really under $18 (an hour) if they have any skills at all. So what that drives them to do is add more technology in their processes and fewer people and then pay people more, which is all part of ultimately getting people up to a living wage.