North Sails breaks ground on 53,000-square-foot expansion

It's hard to extrapolate new jobs from a pad of dirt, but that's exactly what happened Thursday in Minden as more than 200 business leaders, government officials and private employees gathered on a bare, graded lot to celebrate the groundbreaking of North Sails' new 53,000-square-foot expansion.

"It means we're staying and bringing more and more parts of our business here," said North Sails General Manager Jeff Neri.

It also means the sailmaker will increase operations by 18 percent and bring at least 20 new jobs to the community over the next six months.

"Twenty new jobs represent growth," Neri said, "if it goes like we think it will."

Located at 2549 Business Parkway, a short distance from the Heybourne Road factory, the new facility will house machinery for the company's latest product line, 3Di, which has been in development over the last two and a half years.

Neri said the 3Di sail technology consists only of fiber and adhesive, compared to the twisted yarns, films and adhesives used in the company's traditional 3DL technology.

"These are flat tapes made out of fiber," he explained. "The sails are stiff and do not stretch."

Neri said the Northern Nevada Development Authority was immensely helpful in the expansion process. He and brother Dan Neri, vice president of manufacturing, also pointed to the University of Nevada, Reno, where many of their engineers have been trained.

"Most of the inventions and process developments behind our unique and technologically innovative products can be attributed to graduates of Northern Nevada public schools and universities," Dan Neri said.

Innovation, however, is moot without financial backing.

"Stimulating the economy with an expansion, especially in its current state, drives business," said Gardnerville resident David Davis, who, along with wife Sharon, invested $3 million to develop the property for North Sails. "Our investment will yield a $30 to $40 million return back to the community over the next 10 years. That's a serious economic shot in the arm. Our community needs to tout the success of companies such as North Sails. By our taking this risk, we hope to open the opportunity for others to see the same potential and invest in our community and its businesses."

Davis said he and his wife have been familiar with North Sails products since the couple's beach days in California.

"They make the best sail in the world, and the fact that they do it here in the high desert is fantastic," Davis said. "Actually, this is the best time to do it, when the economy's bad, if you have a great tenant going in."

Development of the new facility will benefit other sectors of the local economy as well. Central Sierra Construction of Minden has been hired as general contractor, along with several local subcontractors, and Heritage Bank of Nevada, Gardnerville, is the lender.

"If anything, hopefully it will kick everyone else into gear, to start expanding," said broker Chad Coons, president of Gillmor Coons Real Estate Group based in Genoa, and also a member of the Northern Nevada Development Authority's Commercial Real Estate and Development committee. "It's definitely a positive."

The North Sails 3DL sailmaking process was invented in a small shop in San Leandro, Calif., in 1990. The first true production facility opened in Minden in 1994 and went through two expansions to its current approximate 80,000-square-foot size. Additional expansions over the past five years included acquiring space at three smaller locations on Airport Road for overflow production and for research and development.

According to company officials, the 3Di technology is ready for worldwide distribution, and the new building will allow North Sails to meet the projected increase in market demand.

"It's absolutely wonderful that an existing business in the community is able to expand in this economic climate," said Douglas County Manager T. Michael Brown. "It's a great sign of hope."

Brown said the expansion aligns with the county's new economic vitality plan, which focuses not only on retaining and strengthening existing businesses, but on the outdoor recreation and lifestyle industry in particular.

However, Brown said the county can't be the main force behind economic expansion.

"Ultimately, the company makes that decision," he said. "Our job is to do everything we can to support them."

Lisa Granahan, the county's economic vitality manager, and Jim Slade, volunteer champion of the Ascent Douglas program, which is designed to attract outdoor recreation manufacturers to the area, agreed that North Sails' expansion aligns with the county's efforts.

"There are two things that make us attractive and are why North Sails is here and expanding," Slade said. "One is the favorable business climate, and the other is our quality of life and outdoor recreation."

North Sail's manufacturing process begins with the raw materials of sailmaking and ends in the exportation of approximately 80 percent of final product. The sails shipped from Minden are used by racing boats and ocean-going, cruising sailboats on every continent. According to company officials, North Sails enjoys an astonishing 90 percent market share in international sailing events.

Presently, the Minden 3DL factories employ nine engineers, 20 managerial level staff, a small laboratory staff and 100-115 production and support staff, operating 24 hours a day, six days a week.

"This is an awesome place to live," Jeff Neri said. "Those making the decisions don't want to go anywhere else."

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