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New economic tool: Doug’s guesthouse

John Seelmeyer
jseelmeyer@nnbw.biz

Along with a business-friendly tax and regulatory environment and a location that’s within a one-day drive of major West Coast markets, economic development teams in northern Nevada have a new tool:

Doug Erwin’s guesthouse.

Erwin, the vice president for entrepreneurial development for the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, occasionally puts up visiting entrepreneurs in the guesthouse behind his family’s home in Reno’s Old Southwest neighborhood.

The hospitality played a key role in the decision by a growing software firm that’s moving its headquarters to Reno from the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The first day, we were guests. The second day, we were family,” says Jean Harrison, the founder and product manager of EasyKeeper Herd Manager.

The company, which develops and markets software that helps goat keepers manage their herds, is in the processing of moving to Reno.

EasyKeeper has a staff of only two, and it contracts out most of its software development work. But Harrison says the firm will be looking to add Reno-area developers to its team.

Recruitment in northern Nevada, she says, reflects the desire of EasyKeeper’s founders to find a community in which they can feel engaged.

And that’s why Harrison and her husband and business partner, Dave Benjamin, ended up spending a weekend in the guesthouse behind Erwin’s home. Scouting possible locations where they could move from Mill Valley, Calif., they’d called EDAWN.

Erwin, who fielded their call, offered them two options for a visit: A room at the Peppermill or stay in the guesthouse.

“We jumped all over the guesthouse option,” says Harrison. “We wanted to get to know Reno as a community.”

When Erwin began talking his wife into the idea of occasionally hosting EDAWN-related visitors in the 400-square-foot guesthouse, he was inspired by a desire to help out-of-town entrepreneurs learn more about the real Reno behind the neon and slots.

The former carriage house behind the Erwin family home is within an easy walk of Midtown as well as downtown.

“What better way to showcase what Reno is about?” Erwin says.

Among other visitors who have used the guesthouse as a base to explore Reno has been an executive of the Kauffman Foundation, the Kansas City organization that creates programs such as 1 Million Cups to spur entrepreneurial development.

He, too, was wowed by the activity he saw around town.

Erwin acknowledges that he promised his wife to carefully vett potential visitors — after all, the Erwins are parents to a 3-year-old and an 8-month old — and members of the couple’s families are more likely than entrepreneurs to spend the weekend.

And while a free night’s stay and a smiling face are offered by the couple, breakfast isn’t part of the deal.

“But they get to ride our bikes,” Erwin adds.