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Leaders discuss Douglas economic health

by Linda Hiller

How do you foster the economic health of the Carson Valley while maintaining its most important natural asset – the “wow!” factor?

That was the challenge put to nine area building industry representatives who spoke to more than 130 members of the Douglas County Building Industry Association and their guests at Forecast 2000, held Tuesday evening at the Genoa Lakes Country Club.

The event was sponsored by the DCBIA in an attempt to give a synopsis of the past year, as well as a peek into the future of the economy and building-related activity in Douglas County.

n County outlook. Douglas County Manager Dan Holler said steady economic growth in Douglas County has resulted in 450 to 500 residential building permits, more than 40 commercial permits and 300,000 square feet of available commercial building space.

“We have some of the highest vacancies we’ve had,” he said, but added that having the commercial space available can be a good thing, as long as it’s not a long-term trend.

Holler said hotel room rates in the county are holding, the tax base is up four percent over 1998, sales tax returns have grown and there are new job opportunities. Builders were glad to hear Holler project that building fees should remain flat, with water and sewer fees stable or declining slightly.

Holler briefly touched on many areas of importance to Valley residents – open space, town planning, activity at the Minden-Tahoe Airport, including the airplane weight issue, the possible re-apportionment of the Legislature and building away from flood plains. One issue, he said, was paramount in trying to marry everything together.

“We have to figure out how to keep the ‘Wow!’ factor here,” he said.

Holler said the ongoing search for qualified county employees remains a challenge, something he cited last year.

– Manufacturing’s view. Dave Williams, owner of Aervoe Pacific, a paint and chemical manufacturing company, said he had the same staffing problem.

“We cannot find people, let alone talented people,” he said.

Williams, speaking on industry and manufacturing, said growth at his company has been phenomenal, with no end in sight.

Williams said one of the most important priorities the Valley should address is the Highway 395 bypass.

“We need to learn from Carson City,” he said. “We need to use the big ‘P’ word. I mean planning.”

To achieve good planning, Williams said the county should recruit experts.

“We need to go out and get the most experienced people we can to come here,” he said.

Then, these experts should be sent out to look at other similar communities and learn from them.

“We could take the best and leave the rest,” he said.

– Real estate. Marsha Tomerlin, owner of Coldwell Banker, ITILDO, said she is optimistic about the year 2000, in spite of the fact that land prices remain high and the availability of smaller properties – $99,000 and under – is low.

Tomerlin applauded the growth of senior citizen projects in the area, and said she thought the Highway 395 bypass was a done deal.

“We’re in a very special spot, nothing is as beautiful as this Valley,” she said. “We want to keep the ‘Wow!’ factor here, while at the same time addressing flood plain building,” which, she said, is still taking place in the Valley.

– Gaming insights. Steve Teshara, the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance, said South Lake Tahoe will undergo a serious remodeling, starting in May. That project is aimed at revising 27 parcels and turning that community into a true destination resort, he said.

“We’re on the verge of totally changing our tourism product,” he said.

The redevelopment at South Lake Tahoe’s Highway 50 corridor will benefit Douglas County, Teshara said, by generating an estimated $275 million in projects for area contractors and in other related improvements aimed at protecting Lake Tahoe’s clarity.

“That is very important to all of us,” he said.

– Environment and engineering. Rob Anderson, owner of RO Anderson Engineering, reminded DCBIA members that growth doesn’t pay for itself under Nevada tax structure.

“Neither does no-growth, so we need the growth,” he said. “But growth at any cost is not beneficial. We need a balance – without it, things wobble and get out of round.”

Anderson said the abundant commercial property and the lack of residentially-zoned available property makes Douglas County already out of balance.

“We’ve created a pressure cooker,” he said.

Inflated land prices have created artificially-inflated agriculture values and TDR (transfer of development rights) doesn’t work as a result, he said.

Anderson said infrastructure and transportation are key to keeping development in balance.

“The greatest control on growth is not having infrastructure in place,” he said.

In an ideal community, Anderson said, the public and the private sectors work together to come up with solutions and implement them.

“We should maybe step up and take responsibility,” he said, adding that impact fees might be in order to help development pay for itself.

Anderson took issue with Williams’ suggestion that Douglas County go out of the area to hire top planning specialists to guide the Valley’s growth.

“We need to fertilize and cultivate the people here,” he said.

– Builder’s perspective. Al Shankle, owner of Al Shankle Construction, said he, too, thinks the bypass is very important to the Carson Valley.

“We need to create a transportation corridor from Reno to California,” he said.

Shankle also cited the Minden-Tahoe Airport as the “gem of this Valley,” saying it is under-used, under-recognized and one of the nicest runways in the Western United States.

“To have manufacturing plants around it is something we should take advantage of,” he said.

– Open space. Jacques Etchegoyhen, county commission chairman and a ranch manager, said he remembered a segment on Charles Kurault’s “On the Road” series in the mid-1960s that called the Carson Valley one of the 10 best places to live.

“And the vista from Kingsbury is still breathtaking,” he said. “It still looks like it did 40 years ago.”

Etchegoyhen said that without this view – “the cobalt waters of Lake Tahoe and the emerald fields of Carson Valley” – we’d be just like everybody else.

Calling himself a “fourth generation Nevadan and fiscal conservative,” Etchegoyhen said that ranchers and environmentalists want the same thing in open space.

“And we still have the space to grow in the right places,” he said.

– Dollar sense. Brent Holderman of Stewart Title Co. said that 1999 was a tremendous economic year, with unemployment down, housing starts steady and the stock market “amazing.”

The down side, he said, was the depression in bonds and the rise in mortgage interest rates.

The increased retail offerings, primarily in the north part of the county, he said, were up, but in contrast, school enrollment figures stood flat.

“This gives us a good idea about who’s moving here and who can afford to move here,” he said. “Our per capita income is still the highest in the state.”

– Smart business. Suzy Stockdale, owner of Stockdale and Crum, pointing out that most DCBIA members are small business owners, said she would like to see small businesses in 2000 work with a business plan.

“Eighty percent of all small businesses fail after the first five years because they have no strategic business plan,” she said. “How are you going to compete?”

– See for yourself. Forecast 2000 was videotaped by students in the Douglas High School media department. The program will be shown on Channel 26 at a later date. For more information, call Carole Thompson, DCBIA executive director, 783-1782.