RENO, Nev. — Back in 2014, when Mike Kazmierski and members of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada visited the Bay Area in efforts to attract companies to the region, they often left empty-handed — they often got “yeah, but…” feedback.
“I'd have people say, ‘you're right, Reno is the best move for us, but there's no way my employees would even consider moving to Reno,'” Mike Kazmierski said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “Their perception and image of Reno was very negative.”
Six years later, companies in the Bay Area and beyond are seeing Northern Nevada through a rosier lens — even in the middle of a pandemic.
In fact, after unveiling three companies moving to Reno-Sparks in June, EDAWN has at least 12 more companies it plans to announce later this year, including one in July, said Kazmierski. He added EDAWN's Bay Area Attraction Campaign, initiated last year, helped lay the groundwork for the incoming economic growth.
“When we started to shut down the state and shut down the country, we thought, OK, the phone lines are going to be dead,” Kazmierski said. “And the reality is, we were actually getting more calls and more people interested. And I think maybe a little bit of that was they had time to think about where they wanted to do business in the future.
“And because of our effective marketing as a region, we're now on the radar.”
HUNDREDS, EVEN THOUSANDS OF JOBS ON TAP?
In all, roughly 1,875 jobs are expected to be created by the 15 firms in the process of planting a flag in Northern Nevada.
What's more, since January, the organization has 42 other firms with Reno-Sparks on its radar, including 18 in distribution/logistics, 18 in manufacturing and six in technology, EDAWN says.
Despite the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus, Kazmierski said those aforementioned figures are close to what the organization would have projected prior to the crisis.
He was unable to expound on any of the new leads or companies committed to calling Reno-Sparks home.
“We had a pretty good pipeline of people interested in the region and then the crisis hit,” he said. “And for a lot of people, things stopped. What happened for us is the projects continued, but it just delayed their actual move.”
Rob Hooper, CEO of the Northern Nevada Development Authority in Carson City, said NNDA has dozens of projects and thousands of jobs in the pipeline. This includes a company that would bring a thousand jobs over a 2-year period.
“We've been talking to them over three years now,” he said. “They haven't gone away, it just takes time to get things done.”
All the while, Hooper said his office has enhanced its already sharp focus on its existing businesses, whether through providing access to capital, workforce development and education, or programs that increase sales and decrease costs.
“Economic development is not just about attracting companies,” Hooper explained. “We do that, but that's a small piece. That's going to happen because we have the places for business to excel — the right building, the right workforce, the right capital infusion.”
‘IT'S GOING TO BE TOUGH'
Both economic development leaders, however, know the region's recovery relies on more than attracting new companies.
The pandemic has severely impacted the hospitality and tourism industries, two sectors that are a big part of the state's economy, though to a lesser degree in the north.
Consequently, Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in the nation in May at 25.3%. Notably, casinos were allowed to reopen June 4.
“It's going to be tough for the state,” Kazmierski said. “Clearly, there are going to be cuts across the board. Many of the small businesses and restaurants will go out of business. Our gaming facilities will struggle because of capacity issues.
“I think, though, that we will work our way through this. In the meantime, if we can continue to bring in companies who are ramping up operations here and getting things going, we'll weather this storm quite well.”
While Hooper feels confident the economy will soon begin to recover from the COVID slowdown, he's unsure what shape the rebound will resemble on a graph: a V, a W or a Nike swoosh.
“I'm worried about it being a W,” said Hooper, referring to a double dip in the economy. “I think the good news is the economic developers in the state and region are very aware of this and working hard to mitigate that downturn.”