NNBW’s panel discussion highlights community cooperation
City, county, state, and private businesses working together is what pulled northwestern Nevada out of the Great Recession and it’s that cooperation that will get us through the challenges ahead.
That was a repeating message Jan. 13 during the Northern Nevada Business Weekly’s second annual Most Influential People Panel Discussion and 2017 Book of Lists Release Party.
Twelve panelists from a range of industries discussed the challenges and bright spots in the context of the regional economy.
Chuck Alvey of Vistage served as master of ceremonies and Steve Funk with Lotus Communications moderated the discussion at the Peppermill Casino Resort.
Among the area’s challenges is keeping up with housing needs as the community grows with the influx of new companies bringing new jobs.
“We have a serious issue with housing, not just workforce housing, but all levels,” said panelist Chip Bowlby, managing partner Reno Land, Inc. He said rents have increased 15.2 percent in the past year and vacancies have plummeted from 11 percent during the recession to 2 percent last year.
“We have a housing crises.”
Building permits for housing are falling far short of what’s needed.
Bowlby said that he and other developers are working with city and county governments to find ways to make affordable housing affordable to build.
“When we do affordable housing projects, we have to get creative,” said Bowlby, who has included workforce housing in his proposed projects.
“If we can’t figure it out, we all lose,” he said.
Contractors face many challenges to ramping up home construction, including the memory of the Great Recession.
“We learned a lot of lessons through that experience,” said Bill Miles, president/CEO Miles Construction. “The main lesson is just that we can’t get too far out. I like to remain a little on the frugal side.”
Another challenge is the lack of trained construction workers.
“We need to grow the local workforce,” he said. “If we have to import the workforce, it always costs more money.”
The regulatory process and costs also put a damper on new home development.
“24.3 percent of the cost of a new home is the regulatory process,” Tatro said.
“Right now there are opportunities in Reno,” Williams said of the economic growth in the region.
“Traffic issues are coming. Healthcare is an issue. Education matters,” he said. “We need to balance them all.”
The growth of manufacturing in the area has opened the doors for further growth in the industry.
“When we first moved here from off shore and brought our manufacturing to Reno in 2005, there really wasn’t a lot of food manufacturing. There was a lot infrastructure that was needed,” said Joe Dutra, president/CEO Kimmie Candy.
But Nevada’s business friendly environment and easy shipping to the West Coast, draws manufacturers, which draws support services, which attracts more and larger manufacturers.
“Northern Nevada is going to be one of the best areas, like a little hidden gem, one of the best places to have manufacturing.”
The influx of new businesses in new industries has brought a stabilizing influence to the area, but like a stock portfolio, it needs to be rebalanced occasionally, EDAWN’s Vice President Entrepreneurial Development Doug Erwin said.
“800 call centers were a big deal (a few years ago), now we don’t even return phone calls. They’re not something we’re looking for,” he said.
Education needs to go beyond STEM education to STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, which adds the element of creativity to equip future workers to be able to envision and design new technologies.
“We’ve been very successful training for jobs and building pathways for the jobs today. What we need to do is prepare for the jobs of the future.”
Many of the jobs of the future are finding a place in Storey County where county officials and developers have put together a system that makes it easier to build manufacturing and distribution plants, including Tesla’s Gigafactory
“I tell other governments to get on the other side of the counter and see what it’s like, the crap you have to go through (to get a permit),” he said. “You have to put a program together that works and is reasonable; and remember who you’re working for — the tax payers.”
In Storey County, business can get construction permits the same day and site plans reviewed in a couple days, either of which would take months in other states.
“Do I let them get away with anything? No. But I find a way to get it done,” Haymore said.
The patient load is increasing about 10 percent per year, he said.
“That taxes emergency resources, but also taxes all three emergency rooms (in the area),” Dow said.
“We’re working with Reno/Sparks to determine the number of patients, where they’re located and, interestingly enough, if they really need an ambulance,” he said. About one-third of emergency calls are for situations that don’t need emergency services, he said.
Through REMSA’s Integrated Community Healthcare program, in partnership with Renown Health, officials look at the right care for the right patient including in-home services that can prevent the need for transport.
Paul Doege, president Midtown District Reno and owner of Recycled Records, describes the challenges of getting 80 business owners in the Midtown district to work together like “herding cats.” Nevertheless, they have managed to create an eclectic district in Reno where business people, particularly Millennials, like to gather and hang out.
“Of course, we’ve still got challenges,” he said. “The biggest is to maintain balance between counterculture and gentrification.
“We’ve never had that kind of neighborhood to hang out in.”
A coming challenge to Midtown is RTC’s plans to rebuild Virginia Street through the district to improve pedestrian and bus access. Those changes are needed, he said, so the business owners have been working with RTC on a plan that takes a lesser toll on businesses, including working on one block at a time.
With the help of its community partners, the airport is enjoying much better days.
The airport has undergone two major capital improvement projects totaling $100 million. Recently, the number of flights has increased substantially.
Last year, passenger counts increased by 6.5 percent, and cargo increased by 13 percent, thanks to the dramatic increase in manufacturing in the area. The airport is looking to expand its cargo area.
Many of the new flights are weekly or seasonal and the airport authority is looking to the community to help them become daily and year-round flights.
“None are going to go daily if we don’t support the service” and fill the seats, she said.
The spirit of cooperation that has worked to revitalize the economy in the area needs to be put to task to improve its highways and byways, according to John Phillips, president Peterbilt Truck Parts and Equipment.
“As I listen every day, I see poor planning in the community,” he said, noting the traffic congestion on Pyramid Highway and that the “Spaghetti Bowl” is about to undergo it’s third redo in about 15 years.
In Nevada, 92 percent of all freight is hauled by truck, compared to 70 percent in the U.S. as a whole.
He also called for increased use of autonomous vehicles in the trucking industry, emphasizing that it doesn’t mean driverless. He compared it to the autopilot on airlines, which still require a pilot in the seat.
“It makes it safer,” he said.
Reno’s reputation is changing.
“Reno is kind of the hot ticket now. Journalists are calling us for stories,” she said.
“Reno is on the upswing.”
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.