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Good times

John Seelmeyer

How strong in the economy in Douglas County? Consider some statistical snapshots:

* Retail trade is up 91 percent in nine years, fueled in large measure by construction of 870,000 square feet of new stores on the north

boundary of the county.

* Population is projected to grow by 2 to 3 percent annually, and median family income is expected to grow even faster – 2.5 to 3.5 percent annually.

* About 175,000 square feet of manufacturing space is in the development pipeline, and county officials project another 1.3 million square feet of space is likely to come onto the market in the next decade.

* The county has posted 9 percent job growth during the last two years, adding more than 1,700 jobs in a rural and small-town economy.

Those statistics tumbled out one after another last week during an annual event the Business Council of Douglas County dubs its “Critical Issues Conference.” But with one exception, no one is worrying too much about critical issues these days in Douglas County.

The exception? Tourism at South Lake Tahoe, which has been flat for more than a decade.

South Lake Tahoe is beset by the competition of Indian gaming, an aging infrastructure and continued problems housing workers in a town with sky-high rents, said Kathleen Farrell, executive director of the Tahoe- Douglas Chamber of Commerce.

State figures show that the South Shore accounts for about 45 percent of the jobs in Douglas County, and 80 percent those jobs are tied to tourism and gaming, said Joe Reel, an economist with the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

The remainder of Douglas County, Reel said, has a strongly diversified employment base with trade (21 percent), leisure (16 percent) and manufacturing (14 percent) accounting for the biggest shares of employment.

The county’s job growth of 4.4 percent in the past year was one of the fastest in the state, and its jobless rate stood at 3.6 percent in August.

The development of the complex of bigbox stores along Highway 395 in northern Douglas County played a significant role in that job growth.

Reel estimated that jobs in retail trade accounted for slightly more than half the county’s job growth in the past two years.

That’s likely to continue, said County Manager Dan Holler.

The county estimates that about 60 percent of the available land for retail development remains vacant and estimates that retail sales will grow by 8 to 10 percent annually for the next decade.

Already,Holler noted, the Best Buy store in Douglas County posts the best sales per square foot of any of the company’s stores in Nevada.

The growth in sales will be spurred by residential development.

The county government projects 525 new housing units will be built annually during the next 20 years.Holler said officials are leaning on developers to build more multi-family units to ensure that housing is affordable for people who work in Douglas County.

The steadily rising price of housing may dampen the enthusiasm of some companies that want to locate facilities in Douglas County, said Chuck Alvey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

“Unless they’re coming from California, housing is a big issue,”Alvey said.