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NNDA gets new leadership, sets new direction

Pat Patera

The economy is forcing Northern Nevada Development Authority to rethink how it does business. Step one was naming Rob Hooper acting executive director of the business development agency headquartered in Carson City. He succeeds Ron Weisinger, who resigned, at the helm.

The rethink, says Raphael Cappucci, NNDA board chair, will focus on aligning with green technology, identifying target industries, and working with companies focused on solar, wind, and geothermal energy.

The way forward, he says, “includes restructuring key positions by giving the executive director business development responsibilities.”

Hooper, a former chief operating officer at Vitamin Research Products in Carson City, will oversee the two remaining employees at NNDA. He had been serving as the agency’s board secretary and will act as director while the revamp is under way.

“A solution path is already emerging,” says Hooper. “Northern Nevada has the opportunity to position its future economy as the epicenter for key growth industries.” A major element of the region’s future, he says, will be the renewable energy industry.

However, he says, “The number one thing will be to reevaluate, shore up weaknesses and do a better job.”

A second agency emphasis, says Hooper, is team effort. “All the state’s economic development authorities are entering into a new era of cooperation.”

And that includes the former executive director.

“Ron Weisinger is in complete support. He will be working with us as a consultant in some capacity,” Hooper says, adding that Weisinger wants to pursue some personal interests including work in the renewable energy industry.

Meanwhile, Hooper wants to create stronger alliances with the Reno-based Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and Nevada Business Connections, a privately funded group that is wooing industry to the Carson City area.

He also wants to work closely with Mike Skaggs, executive director at Nevada Commission on Economic Development.

Skaggs is on board.

“The NNDA can draw on my Carson-based resource team during the restart,” Skaggs says. “The Carson area has the highest unemployment in the state right now. I see a need to get as many projects in the pipeline as we can.”

The Nevada Commission on Economic Development, with a focus on development in the rural counties, plans a marketing overture to California in mid-March. It will send a letter from Gov. Jim Gibbons to corporate executives at high-growth companies.

“The campaign will coincide with the timing of corporate income tax bills,” says Skaggs. The agency plans to follow up the direct mail campaign with phone calls and offers to arrange visits.

Area business professionals expressed mixed opinions on the change of direction and leadership at NNDA.

Bruce Robertson, senior advisor at the commercial real estate firm of Sperry Van Ness and a past NNDA board president, says the changes point to “expanded opportunity in new directions. Working with EDAWN and NBC will be advantageous to all. The NNDA mission is to bring new business and help existing business expand in northern Nevada.”

The stated spirit of cooperation prompted Jarrod Lopiccolo, business director at Nobel Studios, to say, “A year ago, as marketing chair at NNDA, I worked as a liaison to help NNDA and EDAWN work together to execute the northern Nevada brand. I said, let’s work together to get the companies here and then we’ll fight over them.”

Some think the change is past due.

Bill Miles, president of Miles Construction, says, “As a past NNDA board member who was critical of Ron and the organization and its direction, and who was asked to leave the board but refused I think the recent change is a step in the right direction. My biggest concern is that it’s a change that should have come sooner; not too little too late.”

Andie Wilson, principal at Coldwell Banker Commercial Premier Brokers, says, “This change has been a long time coming. NBC was formed specifically because NNDA has not been successfully, actively pursuing new businesses for northern Nevada for a long time, which is their purpose. In five months NBC has been able to accomplish more than NNDA has in five years. In these market conditions, economic development is more crucial than ever.”

And NNDA’s focus on the hot field of renewable energy leaves some cold.

Dick Silvera, owner/broker at Silvera Commercial Real Estate, says, “It sounds to me like they are trying to reinvent the wheel. They lost interest in attracting manufacturing business to the area, which is what they were supposed to do. My suggestion to NNDA members: they need to be joining NBC. We want to bring jobs and employment here. We’ve got 107 members in seven months.

In an NNDA press release last week, Rob Hooper stated, “The NNDA is currently working with a growing list of high-quality companies who are interested in making northern Nevada their new home.”

But Silvera says, “They never made trips to any companies. They were

always supposedly working with someone but you could never find out who.

“In the last five years, NNDA has gone steadily downhill. They lost

sight of what’s going on. That’s why we started NBC. To do what they were supposed to be doing. As far as we’re concerned, they’re not viable in this market. NNDA is a non-entity anymore.”

Brian Colodny, co-managing partner at Kohn Colodny LLP CPAs, was a member of NNDA from 1991 to 2007. But he says, “I’m a member of NBC now. I think NBC will do a lot of good for northern Nevada.”