A Nevada Gold Mines employee stands inside a mine site in July 2020.
Photo: Nevada Gold Mines
Over the years, Northern Nevada has seen a handful of incubators spring up as the region continues to grow and diversify. Many of them are housed with tech-centric startups looking to tap into the region’s burgeoning economy.
This summer, though, Northern Nevada will welcome its first incubator dedicated to the industry that put the silver in the Silver State.
The Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority recently announced a three-year partnership with MineConnect, a new business incubator committed to service and support Nevada’s mining industry.
“Any time that we have the opportunity to broaden the mining industry in Nevada, I believe that it’s worth merit,” Tyre Gray, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said in a video call with the NNBW. “Anything we can do to increase diversity within our economy is going to be positive for us, and MineConnect is a way to do that.”
A supply and service association from Northern Ontario, Canada, MineConnect plans to plant its flag in Elko, with the goal of being fully operational by the summer, according to a GOED press release.
Once launched, rural Nevada will have access to Canada’s largest concentration of hard rock mining expertise through its 190 companies with 8,800 employees throughout Northern Ontario, GOED says.
MineConnect, which will house roughly 10 companies at any given time, will give members the opportunity to evaluate the market, make connections and seek to secure contracts. The incubator is funded to operate for three years before determining whether it will be a long-term operation, GOED says.
“Whenever you have an incubator, the great thing about it is those are people who have emerging new technology and ideas,” said Gray, pointing to innovations like autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and drone technology as key drivers to help push the industry forward. “Mining is not the mining of our fathers and grandfathers. It’s a very different mining business and, frankly, we really are trying to build out for what the future looks like.
“And because of that, there’s a need for new technology.”
MineConnect also signals Canada’s continual investment in the Silver State. As of 2020, there were more than 150 Canadian-owned businesses within Nevada, employing more than 10,000 workers.
More than 25 of those businesses are related to mining, ranging from equipment manufacturing to gold mining, according to GOED.
All told, Canada is Nevada’s third largest export market and second largest import market. The state’s total exports to Canada equaled roughly $1.2 billion in goods in 2019.
“We see a lot of supply chain activity from Canada and surrounding states,” Gray said. “And it’s a good thing; whenever we can get someone else to put money into the Nevada economy that’s a positive for all of us.”
To that end, Gray said the state of Nevada’s mining industry is “relatively strong” nearly a year into the pandemic. He said operations have not had to fully stop due to COVID-19, but some have experienced speed bumps.
“We were not unscathed by any of the health concerns around the pandemic,” Gray said. “We had mining operations that had to slow down because of entire shifts being out due to possible exposure. But, the industry is grateful to the governor for giving us the opportunity to continue operations, and we didn’t take that for granted.”
ON THE HORIZON
Looking ahead, Gray said the mining industry is looking for growth in 2021. Nevada, led by Nevada Gold Mines, is home to four of the top five largest gold mines in the U.S. Moreover, the state’s large lithium deposit will help be a driver for the industry in the years to come, Gray said.
Projects in various stages of development include Lithium Nevada Corporation’s Thacker Pass Mine north of Winnemucca and Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge near Tonopah.
Meanwhile, Tesla, which manufacturers electric vehicles at its Gigafactory near Reno, secured its own lithium mining rights in Nevada, according to multiple media outlets.
“We’re on the path of becoming the center of the world when it comes to lithium,” Gray said. “A lot of those projects are in their infancy and not actually up and running. So, anything that we can to do really help those folks will be important.”
Gray said the industry will also be paying close attention to 2021 legislature, which kicked off Feb. 1.
During a special session last summer, the Democrat-controlled Legislature adopted three resolutions that propose raising the state’s 5% cap on the net proceeds of mineral taxes set in the state Constitution.
Four rural Nevada counties and Nevada Gold Mines filed a lawsuit against the state in efforts to block the measures passed in August by the Legislature.
In late January 2021, however, a Carson City judge rejected the effort, according to the Nevada Appeal. Meaning, if any of the measures pass during the 2021 legislative session, they would proceed to the 2022 ballot for consideration by voters.
“I’ll be frank, the special sessions were really bad policy, period,” Gray said. “Because of the session being closed it was a little bit of an echo chamber and not really considering what could be the unintended consequences.
“We want to have good tax policy that emphasizes strong employees and families, profitable businesses and a well-funded state,” he continued. “But when you have bad tax policy, that leads to unemployment, which leads to more of a drain on the state’s social safety net, which then leads to deficits, the needs to increase revenue, and we just get right back into a bad policy circle.”