RENO, Nev. — To understand just how far Reno and the rest of Northern Nevada has come since the Great Recession, just take a look at unemployment in Washoe County.
Unemployment peaked at 13.6 percent roughly eight short years ago. Foreclosures, layoffs and companies going dark were as commonplace as the sagebrush bushes dotting surrounding hillsides.
Those bleak economic times are long, long in the rearview, though. In June of 2018, the county’s unemployment stood at a meager 3.5 percent. The region’s surging economy has been fueled by massive capital investments from heavyweight companies such as Tesla, Panasonic, Apple, Google, Switch and many more that have brought thousands of new jobs — and residents — to the Truckee Meadows.
Reno has long been a logistics transportation hub due to company’s ability to service their western region customers in a one-day drive from northern Nevada. More recently, the region has become a key Internet fulfillment center as well and is home to companies such as Amazon, PetSmart, Urban Outfitters and a slew of others.
Clearly, Reno is on the rise. Although the city is experiencing unprecedented growth, some believe we’ve just scratched the surface.
“We are a long way from where we are going,” says Mike Kazmierski, president chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. “Reno hasn’t arrived. It’s on its way but has a long way to get to where we are going.”
Manufacturing, technology and Tesla lead the way
Kazmierski arrived in Reno in November 2011 to head EDAWN. At the time, the region was struggling under crushing weight of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. One of the first tasks EDAWN set about under its new leader was luring more advanced manufacturing, logistics and technology companies to northern Nevada.
The region’s ability to grow those industry sectors is a primary factor of Reno’s evolving economic fortunes.
“It’s attributable to a community that decided it was time to do something different,” Kazmierski says. “Gaming wasn’t coming back, and though we would always be strong in tourism, we didn’t have core industries to build off. We started pursuing advanced manufacturing, data centers, startups and entrepreneurial businesses, and everyone got behind it.
“As we started to show success in those areas, we had a real opportunity to rebuild and rebrand what the Reno-Sparks region was.”
Nothing tipped the scales more than Tesla’s decision to locate its massive Gigafactory at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, though. That move firmly placed Reno on a national stage as a smart place to do business — and the ball continues to roll.
In fact, EDAWN and other economic development agencies are becoming more selective in their company attraction efforts to ensure they are bringing the right kinds of companies and jobs to Northern Nevada.
In the most recent fiscal year, the region added about 10,000 jobs, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reports. EDAWN tracks about 2,200 new primary jobs in that timeframe. Its goal for the fiscal year was between 2,200 and 2,500 new primary jobs, down from 3,200 jobs the year prior and 3,000 two year ago. The declining target is a reflection of those strategic efforts.
Drones, planes and other key industries
Phil DeLone, president and chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, notes that Nevada’s nascent drone manufacturing industry also has the potential to become a much larger player in the region-wide economy.
“We are home to three of the world’s prominent drone manufactures: Drone America, Flirtey and SmartPlanes,” DeLone says. “We are a hub for drone technology.”
The many new and expanding local businesses have led to a massive population boom in the Truckee Meadows. DeLone says the Governor’s Office on Economic Development predicts the regional population could swell to 750,000 residents by 2024, up from its current population of 610,000 residents.
While that growth certainly makes it more onerous to drive through the Spaghetti Bowl or in from the North Valleys during rush hour, it does lift the tide for many industries.
“That growth helps our destination with air service – airlines don’t create demand, they follow it,” DeLone says. “As our population grows and needs, the requirements for everyday air service increase. The number of flights and seats coming into our destination on a daily basis will grow, which benefits tourist and residents already living here, as well as our convention business.
“Having additional flights benefits the RSCVA when we go out and attract tourism business to the community, as well as convention business. Today our destination consumes annually between 500,000 and 600,000 room nights of pure convention business. With added air service that number is expected to grow and increase.”
Assuming air service follows the growth in Reno and Sparks, the RSCVA is recommending an expansion of its flagship facilities at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in order to host larger conventions, DeLone adds.
The population explosion has led to some growing pains, with residents and newcomers alike struggling to stay ahead of escalating home prices and rapidly dwindling inventory.
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve says there were more housing permits issued in the past year than any time since the 1980s.
“We’ve had huge price increases for buyers and renters,” Schieve adds. “We have to keep working to tackle this challenge.”
Rob Sabo is a Reno-based freelance writer and former reporter for the Northern Nevada Business View.