Carl Dahlen's long journey to rural economic development

From preacher to budget analyst, counselor to non-profit arts center director, Carl Dahlen has covered a lot of ground in 26 years since arriving in Nevada.

For the past four years, he's been Nevada's director of rural economic development, trying to bring economic prosperity and stability to Nevada's smallest and most remote communities.

When he arrived in Carson City in 1974, Dahlen had no intention he would ever be doing such a thing. In fact, he intended to stay only a short time.

"I came here in 1974 to get a divorce, fully intending to stay six weeks and go back to the Midwest," he said. "I stayed. It's the best move I made in my life."

He worked for several years as a drug and alcohol counselor for the Carson Regional Counsel on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the 1970s, then joined the state Office of Community Services managing programs to assist low-income people.

Those jobs seemed to fit his training. Dahlen, 56, is an ordained Baptist minister with a master of divinity degree.

His next career move, however, was a departure. He took a job as an analyst with the state budget office, working there two years "until I decided life was too short."

A few months later, he landed as director of Carson City's Brewery Arts Center - a post he kept until just four years ago.

"When I was at the Brewery, I realized I was reaching the end of my tenure there because of the perpetual dash for cash," he said. "I got married about a year before and realized I should have a regular paycheck instead of the sporadic check I could get there."

That's when Dahlen took a look at the opening in the State Economic Development Commission.

"I got to looking at rural economic development and realized what we were trying to do was look at Reno and Las Vegas and apply that same kind of thing to rural counties," he said. "I realized that wouldn't work even in Elko, let alone Tonopah or Austin."

He said, fortunately, Economic Development Director Bob Shriver was seeing the same things and wanted him to try take a different approach.

That approach, says Dahlen, is to look at each community, see what's working there, what its strengths are, and build on them.

"So many people think economic development is getting IBM to move in," he said. "That's great in theory but in reality, business has to do things for business' concerns."

He said Economic Development doesn't try to impose some model on Nevada's small communities but, instead, to help them expand on what has been working for them, no matter what that is.

He said the department's approach now is, "who's doing business there today and how can we help them do business better."

That, he said, means helping an Internet aroma-therapy business in Ely as well as the guy who customizes Harley-Davidson motorcycles and sells them nationwide. He said it means assisting an Internet publishing house in Elko to expand and trying to build a dairy industry around the high quality alfalfa being grown in Diamond Valley.

He said rural economic development suits him because, "I enjoy the opportunity to help these communities."


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