Reno has repainted its image and now it’s challenging Silicon Valley with its attractive business structure.
“There was only one place to go, and that was up,” said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.
In 2011, unemployment peaked at nearly 14% when Governor Brian Sandoval signed a law aiming to diversify the state’s economy. He recognized that gambling wasn’t enough to support the state’s economy and a sustainable workforce.
Reno has scored some big wins, starting with a new, highly automated factory run by Ardagh Group SA. The factory produces 3.5 million cans of tomato paste and other food products in just one day. In 2014, Tesla chose Reno out of six other locations to build its greatly anticipated Gigafactory. The Gigafactory is the largest in the world, built at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, and promised to create 6,500 permanent jobs in exchange for $1.3 billion in tax incentives.
“What Tesla did was it took our success and made it huge by reinforcing the message,” says Mike Kazmierski, president of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.
More companies have followed suit by expanding or moving to the area ever since. As of right now, Reno’s unemployment rate is below 4% for the first time since 2006. The city has the fastest job growth in the manufacturing sector, employing almost 15,000 workers.
When you imagine a 21st-century U.S. manufacturing system, visions of robots and automated systems might fill your head. One might assume that this would squeeze out many of the traditional middle-class jobs, however humans are still needed in these new factories. After some training, they must work alongside the robots, monitor their performance, code their brains and maintain the system.
Reno has also gotten a lot cooler. The weekly Food Truck Fridays, set in the beautiful Idlewild Park in downtown Reno, draws thousands of folks to enjoy the hip, local eateries. There are craft breweries galore, spots to sip cold brew coffee along the river and office space for up-and-coming executives. Jake Warner, the young chief executive officer of cloud-computing startup Cycle, says he considered moving his company and its handful of employees from Ohio to either Austin, Seattle or Reno.
“Elon Musk is just my idol,” he says. “I bought Tesla on IPO day.”
Even though Cycle doesn’t manufacture products, Warner figured if Musk saw something special in Reno then the other techies would soon follow the hype.
For many years, students graduating with an engineering degree from the University of Nevada, Reno would leave town for better jobs. After Tesla announced its tax deal with the state, UNR’s engineering college booked a large meeting space for an information session with the electric-car maker. Well, 800 students showed up. The associate dean of engineering, Indira Charrerjee, said that they had to open another room in a hurry. The engineering department even created two academic minors at Tesla’s request. One is battery engineering and the other is manufacturing quality.
Construction on the Gigafactory began in 2014 and now Tesla and Panasonic are staffing up large numbers. In January, Panasonic announced that it would hire as many as 3,000 workers this year. Entry-level positions start at $14 per hour and the next level up is $17. A technician starts at $23 an hour. The minimum wage in Nevada is $8.25, so this is a great opportunity for folks in the industry. Nevadans can even enroll in the free training program on the Fanuc robots used at the factory at Truckee Meadows Community College.
Now that Google has also staked a claim in Reno, it’s no wonder than the city is growing faster than ever. Real estate in the region is a perfect investment and you can purchase a new, 3,000 sqft home for $1.2M. Beat that, Silicon Valley.
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