In the 19th century, the Comstock Lode brought riches to what would become Storey County. As the veins of gold and silver dwindled, so did the county’s financial resources.
Today, a new rush for riches focused on the northern edge of the county is revitalizing the entire region.
Instead of gold and silver, the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center is mining commerce. Instead of miners with picks and shovels, entrepreneurs with iPads trek to the industrial park to set up manufacturing and distribution facilities.
TRIC, with more than 100,000 acres, covers 54 percent of Storey County’s land area plus a chunk of Lyon County. With more than 30,000 developable acres, it’s the largest industrial park in the world and will include the largest single manufacturing facility once Tesla’s ion battery gigafactory goes online.
That’s a giant step up from what the rangeland looked like 20 years ago.
In 1998 and 1999, “the county had fallen off a cliff financially,” Storey County Manager Pat Whitten said in a phone interview. Developers Lance Gilman and Roger Norman “changed the fortunes of the county.”
In the 1990s, the partners were wrapping up the South Meadows Business Park in Reno and looking for another big project, an even bigger project. What they called “South Meadows on steroids.”
“They looked at a map and wanted a large footprint that was contiguous,” said Kris Thompson, project manager for TRIC Properties LLC. “At that time there wasn’t much available.”
Meanwhile, Gulf Oil Corp. had abandoned plans to turn 102,000 acres east of Sparks into a luxury hunting retreat. Eager to rid itself of the tax obligation, the land hit the real estate market.
Gulf Oil needed to sell in a hurry, Thompson said, but potential buyers were “doing the usual dance” that would take six months to close.
Gilman and Norman offered a 30-day, no contingency, all cash deal.
Besides the large footprint, the prospects for the property benefited from Interstate 80 along the northern border of the property; Union Pacific’s main east-west line also ran along it. Plus it offered plenty of water, power, and gas.
“The key essential elements of a large industrial center,” Thompson said. “Everything came together.”
The area already had a start in industrial development. A handful of manufacturing and distribution businesses had set up shop next door to the property — Mars Pet Care, Duraflex, and EP Minerals — proving that an industrial center in the area could be profitable.
But before the TRIC Properties partners could develop the industrial park of their dreams the property needed roads, utilities, and emergency services.
A public-private partnership was formed between Storey County and TRIC Properties that Whitten calls “innovative.” Developers fronted the money for infrastructure improvements and Storey County would begin paying them back after a net revenue threshold was reached (see “Innovative development agreement key to TRIC success” page A4).
Development in TRIC began slowly, picking up momentum as word spread.
Walmart’s west coast distribution center opened in 2005, the first major development in the center.
“I think this project, more than any others, gave us challenges to adapt to that have served us with Switch, Telsa,” Whitten said.
To be competitive with industrial areas throughout the West, the developers and county officials considered what they could offer that other jurisdictions could not. At the top of the list was ease of the permitting process.
As a small county, Storey County’s bureaucracy is also small and friendlier. Officials have streamlined the process even more. Walmart proved it could work.
The Walmart plant took only six months to build from raw land to the first shipment of products, Whitten said.
Whitten explained that when a potential new company asks how long it will take to build, county officials turn the table and ask when they want to be done.
“Then we figure out how to make it happen,” he said.
The contrast between Storey County and the bureaucratic process other jurisdictions is pronounced. A company interested in moving to the TRI Center told Whitten it had taken nine months to build a sidewalk in its Clark County facility.
The county’s brochure says grading permits are typically issued within seven days of the application and building permits are within 30 days.
The county has a government center in TRIC for the convenience of companies looking at the center. All paperwork is online so company planners anywhere in the world can access forms and reports.
Permitting costs are also a fraction of other jurisdictions. For instance, a design/site plan review for a 250,000-square-foot building would typically cost $200 in Storey County. The same review would cost $4,300 in Reno, according to a report compiled for the county.
Further helping with the streamlining is that TRIC is zoned 1-2 Heavy Industrial, which allows most industrial uses without additional special use or conditional use permits. Most developments can go straight to architectural review and building permits.
Because of the zoning and other provisions in the development agreement, no housing will be constructed within TRIC’s borders, which eliminates the potential for future encroachment that could block companies in TRIC from expanding.
Besides the benefits Storey County offers, the state offers its own economic development incentives. County and TRI Center officials make sure potential companies know about those also.
Development in TRIC has shown consistent growth — although it slowed substantially during the recession.
Then Tesla happened and interest in the industrial center exploded.
Whitten and other county officials frequently are called on to give tours of the center to prospective businesses, government officials, media, real estate agents and other interested parties.
Today there are 119 companies operating at TRIC with 4,500 full-time-equivalent employees.
The little county with a population of only about 4,000, issues 27 new business licenses a week, Whitten said, mostly for TRIC. Those include everything from subcontractors to food trucks.
Two-thirds of the developable land in TRIC has infrastructure improvements and there are plans to extend it further. Even the original estimate of 30,000 acres of developable land grows as gravel companies level unbuildable hills.
The future looks good for TRIC.
“The national economy is a little uncertain,” Thompson said. “But even after the (presidential) election, no matter which one of the two candidates wins, we’re in great shape.
“We have a global stage, it’s great. The future looks pretty bright for the next five years.”
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.