If the local economy was on life support two and a half years ago, then it’s now a patient in recovery, regaining strength daily but still years from optimal health.
That was the impression imparted Tuesday night at the Douglas County Economic Vitality Showcase, where government officials, business leaders and nonprofit groups convened to assess the county’s economic progress.
County Commission Chairman Greg Lynn referred to the Economic Vitality Strategy and Action Plan enacted in the fall of 2010 as “our own mini-stimulus.”
“When we kicked off our economic vitality efforts, we were in bad shape,” he said.
In the face of unprecedented foreclosures, bankruptcies and unemployment, the plan took aim at three areas of growth: distinctive downtowns, outdoor lifestyle and recreation, and education and workforce. It enumerated 12 specific projects within those focus areas and called for private sector champions to lead collaborative teams for each cause.
More than two years later, some of those projects can be checked off the list, such as the Douglas County Community and Senior Center, which broke ground last fall. Other projects are literally underway, such as the reconstruction of downtown Genoa, which includes a new pedestrian trail from Walley’s Hot Springs.
Leaders have also made progress in diversifying the employment base. Not only have new retailers and restaurants opened in downtown districts in the wake of the recession, but a number of small- and medium-sized companies, many niche manufacturers, have relocated to the area since the plan was implemented.
This month alone, economic development officials announced that four more firms were planning to relocate to Carson Valley. Together, they’re expected to create more than 100 jobs.
“We set out a vision and a set of goals,” said County Manager Steve Mokrohisky. “We’ve engaged the community in this effort, and we’re making progress.”
Several business owners explained how the county-wide effort had spurred growth in their own operations.
Willy Webb, owner of the Genoa Bar and president of the Greater Genoa Business Association, said the town’s new trail system has already been attracting new customers.
“All of the sudden I’m seeing a lot of mountain bikes,” he said. “There’s a whole new stream of revenue and people coming down.”
Rick Ackerson, owner of No Place Like Home Senior Care, used a $15,000 low-interest loan from Main Street Gardnerville’s revolving loan fund to “jump start” his business.
In 2011, when he moved his administrative operations into the former Water Co. building on Highway 395, the business employed 14 people. Now, Ackerson said, No Place Like Home employs more than 60 people.
“It’s really an honor to have great caregivers and be able to care for seniors in our community,” he said.
Laurie Harden, owner of SoaringNV at the Minden-Tahoe Airport, described how her business had moved last summer from a hangar without plumbing to an office suite with amenities and a view. The company also has been working with the county to become a fuel supplier.
“We want to be the best glider school in the galaxy,” she said. “Minden is one of the top places to go soaring. People come from all over the world to get Minden stamped in their logbook.”
A.J. Frels, executive director of the Carson Valley Visitors Authority, and Dorrie Caldana, president of the Main Street Gardnerville Board of Directors, agreed that the inhabitants of Carson Valley make such progress possible.
Caldana pointed to the hundred volunteers who form the base of the Main Street Gardnerville revitalization program.
“That’s about $300,000 worth of work since our inception,” she said.
“Honestly, I think our greatest asset is the people in the Valley who pull together to make things happen,” Frels said. “I’m overwhelmed everyday by the people here, and the investment they put into this area to make it prosper.”
Mokrohisky likewise praised volunteers for their hard work. At the same time, he warned that the effort is not finished. The county still suffers from high unemployment, lagging property values, and aging infrastructure.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re not done.”