Presented by EDAWN (Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada)
The 2016 presidential election threw a harsh spotlight on economic inequalities across the United States. Tech-savvy metropolitan areas on both coasts continue to thrive, while communities hollowed out by the decline of manufacturing and mining industries struggle.
But the troubling inequality may contain the seeds of its own solution.
Faced with sharply rising costs in tech-centric metropolitan areas, large companies and startups alike are looking for affordable locations. As they create new technology hubs across the nation, inequality is lessened.
How will it work? There’s already a working model in Reno, a metropolitan area of 400,000 in northern Nevada.
Less than a decade ago, many had written Reno off. Unemployment was nearing 14 percent. Foreclosure proceedings began on more than 100 homes a week. The casinos that had long anchored city growth were reeling from new competition across the country.
Few could foresee a technology-driven recovery that today has pushed unemployment well below 5 percent, attracted thousands of professional and skilled workers eager to grab opportunity in an affordable city and created a buzz of optimism that’s drawn coverage from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and dozens of lesser publications.
Tesla and Panasonic tell only part of the story
The creation of a developing technology hub in fly-over country took root as the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada positioned the region’s economic advantages to capture tech employers.
Most of the glowing media coverage of the Reno area these days quickly gets to the word “gigafactory,” the $5 billion plant that Tesla and Panasonic are building 15 miles east of town. The 6-million-square-foot facility will employ about 6,500 engineers and skilled manufacturing staff when it reaches full operation in 2020.
A short ways from the gigafactory, Switch just completed the largest data center building in the world. Apple continues to expand its own data center nearby and recently signed a joint-venture deal with NV Energy to develop 200 megawatts of solar energy to power its Nevada operations.
In affordable office and co-working spaces along the Truckee River in downtown Reno, a flurry of software, social-media and gaming startups springs to life.
For folks who had been paying close attention, the growth of the tech-based economy in Reno didn’t come as a complete surprise. One of the city’s longtime biggest employers, International Game Technology, was a leader in software and graphics development as it developed slot machines for casinos around the world.
The University of Nevada, Reno, had quietly built well-regarded programs in computer science, electrical engineering, and biomedical engineering.
A steady stream of technology entrepreneurs had made their way to Reno, drawn by affordable housing, easy commutes, quick access to the Bay Area and the outdoor lifestyle of nearby Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada.
Bombora, a developer of marketing software, reported an upsurge of applications to join its tech team after it opened an R&D office in Reno. Capstak.com, an online network for commercial real estate professionals, decided to launch in Reno to take advantage of the city’s software talent. TrainerRoad, creator of training program for high-performance cyclists and triathletes, successfully sold new employees on Reno’s affordable, outdoors-oriented lifestyle.
Lower costs, lifestyle… and no personal or corporate taxes
Concerted economic development and marketing initiatives built on the foundation created by those tech-related assets. The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, for instance, focused on the business-cost advantages for technology companies of locations away from the coast.
The combination of the region’s seismic safety and reliable power supplies created an opportunity for data center operators who also like the area’s proximity to Silicon Valley. The region’s location within a one-day drive of nearly every major market in the West drew the attention of e-commerce companies such as jet.com. A business-friendly environment allowed projects to move forward quickly with minimal hassle from state and local planners and permitting agencies.
And business owners and managers were quick to calculate the benefits of Nevada’s tax structure, which levies no personal income tax and no corporate income tax. For even a middle-class manager moving from California, the Nevada tax advantages provided an immediate boost to take-home pay.
Overcoming a tarnished image
At the same time that business and economic leaders were identifying Reno’s advantages, a group of young creative types began wrestling with one of the city’s biggest issues: The commonplace, but outdated, perception of Reno as faded gambling town.
The creative community undertook a double-barreled approach in its “Biggest Little City” initiative. Social media, web sites and traditional advertising media got residents talking positively about what they love in their hometown. A media campaign, meanwhile, succeeded in getting big-name reporters to Reno, where they prepared articles marveling about the Reno renaissance.
The improved perception of Reno, in turn, removed one of the obstacles that economic developers had faced in their recruitment of new and expanding technology employers.
It worked. Reno today is a thriving, cost-effective technology hub, building a strong economy on the foundation of strong, competitive companies. And shines as an example to what can happen across the U.S.
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