Lance Gilman talks benefits, challenges of big tech’s growth in Northern Nevada
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Wearing a big bolo tie and a bigger smile, Lance Gilman looked like the big winner as he presented inside the banquet room at Gold Dust West for the Carson City Chamber of Commerce’s monthly “Soup’s On!” luncheon on Oct. 16.
The jovial businessman, brothel owner and Storey County commissioner spoke of the benefits created by high-tech, high-paying companies funneling to his Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) and the subsequent challenges the region faces due to the rapid economic growth.
Gilman opened by telling attendees what tipped the scales in Northern Nevada’s favor when Tesla was deciding where to plant its massive Gigafactory. He said Tesla, which had visited more than 30 other states before taking a meeting with Gilman in Northern Nevada, was worried about scheduling risks at other locations.
So what set apart the valleys of Storey County from other plots of developable land dotted throughout the U.S.? Quite simply, the county has especially fast and effective methods for approving permits, according to Gilman.
“They asked, ‘How fast can we get a grading permit?’” Gilman recalled. “The (Storey County) building department said, ‘There’s one — fill out your name and you can leave with it.’ So I said, ‘As a matter of fact, there’s a shovel in the trunk, you can start digging your footings right now.’
“That kind of opened up the game, if you will. (Tesla) never really left here.”
Since breaking ground in 2014, Tesla has completed roughly 30 percent of its planned 5.8-million-square-foot factory, which manufactures electric batteries and Model 3 motors. At Gov. Brian Sandoval’s tech summit at the Gigafactory on Oct. 9, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that 7,000 employees currently work at the factory. At full build-out, he said it would employ 20,000 workers.
Not to mention, new tech startup Blockchains LLC, which bought 67,000 acres in cash of the TRIC, also plans to hire 20,000 people within the next 10 years, Gilman added.
This begs the question, “where in the heck are we going to put them?” Gilman said.
After all, Northern Nevada is already in a housing crunch as builders struggle to keep up with the demand driven by the region’s booming economy. Notably, TRIC is home to about two-dozen major international companies, including Tesla, Switch and Google. In addition, roughly 100 other smaller companies have flags staked at the industrial center.
In other words, as Musk said at the governor’s tech summit, housing and infrastructure are in high demand.
“That sounds challenging for our little communities because we’re already struggling,” Gilman said. “Everybody talks in terms of … my God, how are we going to do this?”
Gilman, however, said the companies like Tesla understand “they’re going to have to grow with us.”
The famed businessman also revealed that a number of the tech companies at TRIC are working on developing a state-of-the-art sewer treatment plant to address the growing water shortage. The plant, he said, would use nanotechnology fibers that clean the water to drinking standards.
“They are already experimenting,” he added. “And if the plant works for all of us, it’s going to really free us up on our water side.”
During the Q-and-A portion to close out his presentation, Gilman was asked how the K-12 education system needs would be met in response to the continuous growth in Northern Nevada?
“Is there going to be pressure on K-12? Yes, absolutely,” Gilman said before adding that the money is there to address the needs for more schools. “These companies are great corporate citizens with tons of cash. There’s a river flowing out of Wall Street of cash coming here right now.”
Gilman pointed to the fact that when he met with Google, the tech giant didn’t want to talk blueprints, rather how it could bolster the area communities.
“When we were doing the Google deal, the very first meeting, I thought we were going to talk about development and grading,” Gilman said. “The only thing they wanted to talk about was that they’d like to know the top 10 areas in Northern Nevada where they can invest in the community.
“It’s important that our communities evaluate, but if we’re going to do business, we want tech. That’s where the money is. We’re not just a distribution community anymore.”
Coronavirus closures sped up the transition to digital services in the Washoe County Library System, including moving in-person story readings online. Jeff Scott, director of the system, said reopening brings a new set of challenges and frequent changes.