The economy of 2013 is a hillside rising from the trenches of recession, full of opportunity and growth.
But, as local business leaders know all too well, the new year is also a political minefield.
"Going into 2013, every statement needs a qualifier about what they will do to us or for us in Washington and Carson City," said Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Chernock.
Case in point: despite a last-minute deal in Washington on Tuesday making a majority of Bush-era tax cuts permanent (on incomes less than $400,000), the federal debt still looms near or above national gross domestic product; scheduled spending cuts have been postponed for another debate; and a probable fight over raising the debt ceiling may once more diminish America's credit rating. Furthermore, the deal allowed a 2-percent Social Security payroll tax cut to expire, meaning workers will immediately have less take-home pay.
Perpetual strife in Washington is only part of the equation, though. Chernock is likewise concerned about the state legislature, which convenes in early February.
"I think there is general concern that some mechanisms that have been in place for a long time, such as how sales tax is redistributed, seem up for discussion this session," he said. "That uncertainty is reason for caution. There are a lot of ideas being floated, none of which are really great for small counties."
The bottom line on policy, Chernock argued, is that businesses don't want to incur more costs.
"Truthfully, I think that businesses are begging not to be hit with additional burdens," he said. "I think they would love to see the governor and the legislature make a statement that says this is what it's going to be in the next two years, so they'll have the opportunity to plan."
Political certainty instead of patchwork remedies would be beneficial to all, argued Lisa Granahan, economic vitality manager for Douglas County.
"I think we have seen very slow but steady progress, which is heartening," she said. "But obviously what happens at the federal and state and local levels can really have an effect on local businesses, particularly on their optimism and willingness to invest in their own business. The more certain we can make the political climate, the better it is for everyone."
Beyond political tribulation, there are still several positive signs heading into the new year. Unemployment is at a three-year low. Taxable sales continue to climb, if slowly.
"The hopeful side is the slight drop of the jobless rate, the firming up of the real estate market, and the efforts to attract new businesses to the Valley that have been going on for several years now," Chernock said. "All are reasons to be cautiously optimistic."
Chernock singled out California, which recently approved a "significant" tax hike on high incomes, as a potential boon to the Silver State.
"The recent tax changes in California have made us attractive again to small and medium-sized companies who find the regulatory climate and taxation situation in that state untenable," he said. "It makes moving that much more of a possibility for businesses. Once they decide they're not tied to California anymore, then Nevada, along with Utah, Texas and New Mexico, all come back into play."
"Because of the uncertain business climate, businesses looking to expand and grow are starting to look outside California's boundaries," she said. "The NNDA (Northern Nevada Development Authority) is doing a good job marketing and attracting those businesses to the area."
A.J. Frels, executive director of the Carson Valley Visitors Authority, wants to tap into California in a different way.
"We have a lot of adventure-type activities," he said. "This branding, which was put in place prior to me getting here, is a great map for us in terms of what direction we need to head to increase tourism and bring more people to the area."
The "branding" is a comprehensive marketing strategy to be rolled out in the new year. It includes a new logo with an alliterative catch phrase, "rugged, relaxed, reachable."
"You'll see us approaching people in February to create marketing partnerships and solidify the brand throughout Carson Valley, giving it a strong foothold locally," Frels said. "There are things we've already done. We've incorporated the brand into our website (www.visitcarsonvalley.org), into our social media sites, and our new visitors guide reflects this work."
Frels also announced that the Western States Wildhorse and Burro Expo will be held in Carson Valley for the first time Aug. 2-4.
"It used to be in Reno," he said. "They approached us, and we've been working with them. They think the Douglas County Fairgrounds is the perfect venue."
Granahan emphasized several public-private projects underway that will help lay a foundation for future growth. Those projects include redevelopment and revitalization of historic downtowns, an advanced manufacturing cluster, alignment of education and workforce needs, and a new community center, among others.
"We're really trying to create a community to match the scenery," she said. "I think we'll continue to climb and make slow, steady progress."