Study lays groundwork for technology cluster |

Study lays groundwork for technology cluster

by Scott

Jim GrantKaren Craig of Nevada Venture Accelerator leads a group discussion on the business science park.

Douglas County has an existing “awesome technology cluster” that, with the right kind of collaboration, could be marketed virtually across the globe, according to results of a $67,000 grant-funded study.“From a 30,000-foot view, in the future, the county’s biggest export will be instruments and precision components,” said consultant Karen Craig. “The county will no longer export its children because they will have jobs and will be able to stay right here. And they will be good-paying jobs for 21st Century economies.”Craig is the project lead for a Douglas County business science park feasibility study undertaken by the clean-tech consulting firm Nevada Venture Accelerator. The study was funded by a Small Business Administration grant administered through the Western Nevada Development District. Its purpose was to analyze a tech cluster identified as a project area in the 2010 Douglas County Economic Vitality Plan. On Tuesday, NVA released their findings. Their conclusion? A new physical business science park is not needed, but existing businesses could be better aligned through infrastructure, workforce, education and supply chain, and collectively marketed together as a “virtual park” across the world wide web.“We’re looking to identify an overall champion for this particular project,” Craig said. “A champion is someone in the private sector who is excited and passionate about implementing the initiative.”The study first assessed existing companies spread across several industries but all sharing characteristics of advanced manufacturing.“We have businesses here making parts for predatory drones and the next generation of space transport,” said Craig. “When talking about advanced manufacturing, we’re talking about working with new and different types of materials and new and different types of conditions — using technology in partnership with manufacturing.” In instrument manufacturing for industrial monitoring, as pioneered by Bently Nevada, there are five related companies in Douglas County, 780 employees, and annual wages totaling $56 million.In specialized canvas-related manufacturing, such as North Sails in Minden, there are four related companies in the county, 232 employees, and wages totaling $9.5 million.In precision component manufacturing, exemplified by AnC Precision in Gardnerville and Zephyr Photonics at Lake Tahoe, there are 19 related companies in the county, 303 employees, and combined annual payroll of $13.6 million. A little more than 56 percent of 16 local companies interviewed in the study said they’re already exporting products internationally. Approximately 69 percent of the same firms are booking sales nationally.“That’s the American recovery in a snapshot,” said Craig. “Goods are going out, money is coming back into the community. Wages are good. People are getting paid to make products in America that are in demand overseas.”Surveying available land and industrial space, Craig’s team found that a lack of physical property is not a problem. Of eight industrial and business areas in the county, 764.4 acres have been developed, and 1,260.4 acres remain vacant. A big chunk of that vacant land resides in the Carson Valley Business Park in Johnson Lane. Only 177.9 acres of that park have been developed, leaving 531.5 acres vacant. The Williams Ridge Technology Park off Sawmill Road in Gardnerville has 320.7 acres left to develop, and the Meridian and Bently business parks in Minden each have more than 160 vacant acres.Industrial square footage in the county currently totals 2.9 million. More than half of that, 1.47 million square feet, was constructed since 2000.The question then facing the cluster project is how to maximize existing assets.In terms of infrastructure, Craig’s team found that spotty broadband Internet was one of the biggest hurdles facing world-class operations. “We want to make sure that technology businesses know they need to be proactive with Frontier, Charter, and AT&T,” she said, “to make a collective and individual case for the highest level service coming off the digital Highway 395.”The aforementioned companies are “last-mile providers.” The “digital highway” refers to a federal contract to lay fiber-optic cable along Highway 395 in 2013. “It will reach all the way up to the main east-west trunk in Reno along the I-80 corridor,” Craig said. “That trunk helped get Apple and other companies here.”Assessing workforce and education, NVA discovered a phenomenon not uncommon across the country: high-tech employers have trouble finding high-skilled workers.Ten companies interviewed in the study said they plan on hiring in the next 1-3 years, offering annual wages ranging between $45,000 and $61,000.“On any given day GE Bently Nevada has 10 job openings,” Craig said. “But they have entry-level exams. They get a lot of local applications, but the applicants fall short of being able to pass the exam.”When the issue was raised with Western Nevada College administrators over the summer, Craig said that those same exams were quickly incorporated into the college’s circuitry and engineering departments, demonstrating how education can be tailored to local workforce needs.“WNC should be celebrated from the sky on this project,” she said. “Within weeks, they were making adjustments, which means the group finishing now at WNC will be much better equipped to target these jobs and pass that test.”In K-12 education, Douglas County Economic Vitality and GE Energy have already been working with the Douglas County School District to raise funds for a STEM center (science, technology, engineering and math) as part of the upcoming remodel of Douglas High.“As early as ninth grade, this center will allow students see the kinds of classes that lead to jobs in our community, whether through vocational training, community college or the university,” Craig said. The last piece of the cluster puzzle is the supply chain. Nearly half of 15 businesses interviewed on the question said they purchase only 1-9 percent of materials from Nevada suppliers. One project underway that will help localize the supply chain is a free database called Supplier Discovery. Original equipment manufacturers can use the online platform to search for companies in the state capable of filling supply needs. The right match may be in a neighboring county, or simply down the street. The Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce’s “locals first” initiative can also help strengthen local purchasing.“We want all kinds of new businesses to move amongst and between our existing manufacturers,” Craig said. Long term, she said, Douglas County is “a very strong player” in an identified tech cluster that spans the Carson River corridor, from Minden to Dayton.“No industry will take off without there being a regional impression,” she said. “If we stretch that footprint out along the Carson River Valley, from Carson City, Dayton and Moundhouse, this area will be a powerhouse of a cluster in Nevada.”

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