Len Savage knows a thing or two about keeping a well-oiled machine running.
Savage is president of Savage and Son, Nevada’s oldest contracting firm. Formed in 1893 and holder of the 10th contractor’s license issued in the state, Savage and Son has been helmed by a member of the Savage family for 130 years. Len Savage also is chairman of the Board for the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, which last week introduced new Chief Executive Officer and President Taylor Adams in a media event held at Reno Public Market.
Adams, former deputy city manager and director of economic development for the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was chosen to take over for outgoing EDAWN CEO and President Mike Kazmierski, who has spearheaded regional economic development efforts since 2011. Savage told NNBW that Adams topped a list of more than 100 candidates — and it’s up to him and his staff to keep EDAWN’s well-oiled economic development machine humming along smoothly.
“It’s up to Taylor and the EDAWN staff, and it’s going to take a lot of time and effort from everyone in this community to ensure that EDAWN is successful,” Savage said. “But it is work — nothing comes easy. Mike over the last 12 years has made a difference here in Reno and Sparks. He really set the table. (The search) has been very inspiring, and also very challenging — we know we have a lot to lose if we don’t get it right.”
The Northern Nevada of 2023 looks nothing like it did when Kazmierski landed here in late 2011 after leading economic development efforts in Colorado Springs for nearly a decade. Nevada, especially Northern Nevada, was horribly slow to shake off the effects of the recession that began in 2008. At the time, Northern Nevada’s economy was still deeply rooted in gaming and tourism, and unemployment stood at 14 percent.
Kazmierski and the EDAWN team relentlessly pushed to diversify Northern Nevada’s economy and added hundreds of advanced manufacturing, data centers and technology firms — industries that likely will provide a significant buffer from the effects of the next big recession.
“When I got here, there were two things we focused on: diversifying the economy, and improving Reno’s image. When you improve the image, it’s easier to diversify,” Kazmierski said. “We did a lot of work on earned media, getting stories about what we were doing and where we were going. As we were successful, we got more and more earned media. Twelve years later and (Reno-Sparks) is always at the top of the list for job growth and (best) places to live.
“That diversification wasn’t easy,” Kazmierski added. “Tourism and gaming will always be a part of our community, but we decided to focus on data centers, manufacturing, and technology. When I told people this could be a technology hub they literally laughed at me.”
No one is laughing now. Companies such as Apple, Switch, Tesla, Google and countless others planted their flags in Northern Nevada. Industry in and around the Truckee Meadows is as diverse as a United Nations meeting.
“I saw we had the potential,” Kazmierski said. “We had excellent business parks, but they were just selling their land to distribution centers. When you bring in manufacturing and data centers, you start changing the complexion, and our average wage for the last several years has been over $63,000 a year for every job we’ve brought into the community.”
During Kazmierski’s tenure, EDAWN helped bring in more than 300 companies and added 40,000 jobs, the economic development agency told NNBW. Factoring in all the secondary construction, healthcare, retail and other ancillary jobs that were created as a result of the new employers, development and job growth, that number likely exceeds 120,000 new jobs, EDAWN added.
Landing Tesla, of course, is the feather in the cap. Kazmierski told NNBW that Northern Nevada wasn’t even on the company’s list of prospective destinations. One of the largest industrial buildings in the entire world now sits in the Nevada desert and has been a major impetus for many of the major employers that have followed, such as Redwood Materials.
“Tesla was just one of what has been nearly 100 manufacturers that we brought to the region in the last 12 years,” Kazmierski said. “But we brought in almost 40 manufacturing companies before Tesla.”
Kazmierski said he has no future work commitments other than ensuring a smooth transition to Adams’ tenure. Adams, for his part, is looking forward to working solely in economic development — he wore many hats in his time in Virginia Beach. His last act there was helping land a large company to take the last available industrial building in the community.
“The work is about to change,” Adams said. “What’s great about Reno-Sparks is that all the pieces are here. There is a vibrant workforce, a strong and growing entrepreneurial system, and when you look at where economic development is as an industry, lifestyle and place have never been more important — especially on the back end of the pandemic.
“It’s amazing to see how much opportunity there is here,” he added. “I was here less than an hour before I realized that’s it’s all here. I have had the privilege of serving some amazing communities in my career, but traditionally they hire me to rebuild and remake. This is the first time I am coming into a place and I am like, ‘Dear God, don’t break it.’ This thing (EDAWN) is running like a well-oiled machine, and you have subject matter expertise throughout the organization. I feel an incredible sense of responsibility to ensure that it continues. I believe that EDAWN is certainly one of the Top 5, if not the most productive and successful economic development organizations in the country.”
Adams officially joined EDAWN on July 1. He will formally take over leadership of the organization on Aug. 16.