Q-and-A: Sen. Kieckhefer talks Nevada Tech Caucus, economic development
RENO, Nev. — Earlier this month, nine Assembly members and five state senators came together to discuss the current and future state of technology-driven economic development happening in Nevada.
Composed of lawmakers from the north and south, the newly formed Tech Caucus is a bicameral, bipartisan group focused on enlightening the Legislature on emerging technology and business-related issues in the upcoming session.
The group met Wednesday, Dec. 12, to tour the facilities at Tesla, Switch, Blockchains LLC — all located at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) — and the Truckee Meadows Community College Applied Technology Center in Reno.
The NNBV spoke with Tech Caucus member Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, about the initial goals of the group heading into the 2019 Nevada Legislative session, and the opportunities and challenges facing Nevada as it continues to attract companies steeped in tech and innovation.
NNBV: WHAT DID YOU TAKE AWAY FROM THE FIRST DAY MEETING AS THE TECH CAUCUS?
Kieckhefer: What I’ve learned, primarily, is that we’ve got a great group of legislators interested in the subject and want to work on it. And that’s the best takeaway we could probably have. What we need is … not even political will, but policy will to support young companies to support entrepreneurs, to really commit ourselves to that ecosystem development that will allow those companies to thrive. And I think what we’re seeing is a group of Republicans and Democrats from both ends of the state, in both chambers of the legislature, who interested in ensuring that that happens. And that’s exciting.
NNBV: WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT NEVADA FACES WITH ALL OF THIS GROWTH IN TECHNOLOGY?
Kieckhefer: There’s tremendous growth happening, particularly in Northern Nevada from a population perspective. Las Vegas is much more capable of handling that population growth than we are in Northern Nevada just because of the space that they have available to them for development. And we’re seeing challenges … particularly as it relates to housing. And not even just creating workforce housing, but affordable housing and low-income housing, so I think that’s probably the biggest challenge we’re going to continue to face.
The fact that people’s home values are really high is a lot better place to be than record foreclosures, which is what we were experiencing a decade ago. So we’re in a good place, and I think we can’t forget about how far we’ve come while still recognizing that the challenges that people are experience are real, and we need to find ways to address them. So I thin housing continues to be the one that is the most pressing.
NNBV: WHAT ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES THAT YOU SEE?
Kieckhefer: I think the opportunities are to really bring in the thought leaders in technology to this community. And as people start a company and grow it and exit … then they have wealth that they’re going to be able to reinvest back into our community, start new companies, and all of their high level employees who are now wealthy are going to be able to invest that money back into the community. That’s what we’ve seen replicated in other communities. And it really creates a rising tide that floats all boats. I think that there’s excellent opportunities for those thought leaders and those knowledge leaders to find a home in Northern Nevada and Nevada, generally. And when they do, they’re not going to want to leave.
NNBV: YOU WERE BEHIND THE BLOCKCHAIN BILL … HOW BIG OF GAME-CHANGER HAS THAT BEEN AND WHAT OPPORTUNITIES LIE THERE?
Kieckhefer: I think it’s proven more successful than I certainly envisioned at the time. There are companies that are coming to this state because of that bill — I’m very proud of it.
But the people that are on the ground taking the risk and doing the work, those are the real heroes. Those are the people who are creating jobs and innovating and trying to make lives simpler through innovation and streamlining workflow. So it’s been a big win for the state in terms of putting us on the map in this specific area. And I think the proof is in the jobs. People are here, people are still coming, people are still looking, and more people are talking about us. So it’s a good place to be.
NNBV: AND FOR BLOCKCHAINS LLC, WHICH IS INVESTING HEAVILY IN THE AREA, THE BLOCKCHAIN BILL WAS A CATALYST FOR THEM TO CHOOSE NEVADA, WASN’T IT?
Kieckhefer: That’s what they told me. They told me that they were going to be in another state until we passed that bill. So that’s always music to my ears.
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.