Challenges face Douglas |

Challenges face Douglas

by Linda Hiller

There’s good news, bad news and challenges on the economic front in Douglas County, according to area economic specialists.

This was the topic of discussion at Thursday’s Critical Issues Conference, sponsored by the Business Council of Douglas County.

The good news – the potential is definitely here.

The bad news – profits could be better.

The challenge – how to tap that potential in a way that will add tax dollars to the community without diminishing quality of life issues.

“As we keep doing better (economically), there’s a bigger change taking place,” said keynote speaker Michael Reed, dean of the College of Business Administration at University of Nevada, Reno. “The old sales tax rules and gaming tax rules made sense a long time ago, but things change. We need to always remember – community first.”

Reed explained that as an old economy gets displaced by a newer economy when a community begins to fiscally develop its potential, the focus of that community may change. He used Elko as an example.

“I drove tractor in Elko in 1962,” he said, describing the community then as a true ranching, cowboy town.

Now, he said, gold has been discovered on much of the ranch land, making more money for land owners than raising cattle, so in many areas a shift from ranching to mining has taken place.

To capitalize on a colorful, true-west past, the new Elko Cowboy Poetry Festival emerged, growing into a huge money maker for the town, Reed said.

Even as a professor of economy, Reed was reluctant to offer an economic forecast for Elko, Douglas County, or any place in Northern Nevada.

“As Yogi Berra used to say, ‘Never make predictions about the future,'” he said.

Trying to stop the emigration of college graduates out of the state is a challenge that his department at UNR faces, Reed said. In building a balanced economy and a healthy community, losing youth is not desirable.

“We like to do internships and get our students out into communities to work in local government, social services and businesses,” he said, making it clear that UNR interns could come to Douglas County. Many times the internships lead to relationships and employment that effectively slow the “brain drain” out of the state.

Mike Clarke, economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, said that he, too couldn’t predict Northern Nevada’s economic future, let alone Douglas County’s.

He cited conflicting statistics from the 1990 census showing that while Douglas County was 16th (out of 17 counties) in the state for covered employment income, we are the number one county for per capita personal income (63rd in the U.S. for this category).

Clarke also shared statistics showing that approximately 70 percent of the people who live in Douglas County also work in Douglas County, with 17.4 percent working in Carson City, 5.2 percent in El Dorado County and 7.8 percent elsewhere.

Conversely, 32.3 percent of the people who work in Douglas County live in El Dorado County, 5.7 percent live in Carson City and 7.6 in other areas. Gaming is still the backbone of our economy, he said.

“While many areas of employment have increased, gaming still dominates the economy of Douglas County,” Clarke said. “The South Lake Tahoe casinos have created a very unusual situation – not comparable to any other area of the state.”

Mary Walker, director of finance and redevelopment in Carson City, shed some light on how the redevelopment technique can work in another community.

Carson City has successfully inspired and financially supported the renovation of much of its historic downtown through redevelopment, she said, adding that support from the community is vital to make redevelopment work.

Approximately 100 people attended Thursday’s conference, held at the Carson Valley Inn. Emcees were Sandy Cable, executive director of the business council and Rick Campbell, president.

Questions were posed to panel participants Ray Bacon, Nevada Manufacturers Association; Chris Barrett, Sierra Pacific Power Co.; Fred Jones, economic development liaison for Douglas County; Mary Lau, Retail Association of Nevada and Carl Dahlen, Nevada Commission on Economic Development.

Bacon said surveys by his organization found that a large percentage of the people who relocate their businesses here do so because the owner or manager wants to live here.

Representing manufacturers, he said that “learning how to say yes” to a business can be the ultimate challenge for a community.

“Every place in the world wants clean, high tech businesses, but there aren’t enough to go around,” he said.

Additional presenters were Gary Horton, state water planning economist and financial consultant to Comstock Bank; Bill Henderson, director of sales and marketing, Carson Valley Inn; Stan Hansen of Heavenly Ski Resort and Skip Sayre of the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority.

Cable said the purpose of the annual critical issues conference is to bring information and ideas to the table for discussion.

“I think the speakers and people brought up some very good ideas and pointed out a lot of what we’re doing right and where we need to work,” she said. “We have a lot to think about.”

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