MINDEN - Douglas County's economic health faces the Great Wall of China, as described by economic researcher William Fruth.
The services industry, including hotels and casinos, so dominates the Douglas economy and has had so little growth in two decades that it appears as a tall wall in a three-dimensional graph detailing the county's employment categories.
"I've looked at hundreds of graphs," said Fruth, president of POLICOM Corp., a Florida research firm hired by Carson City, Douglas and Lyon counties, the Northern Nevada Development Authority and Western Nevada Community College to prepare an economic analysis of the region.
"I've never seen anything like this. We don't have to go to China to see the Great Wall."
Services employ some 14,000 people in Douglas County while the other categories like retail, construction, manufacturing and insurance/real estate employ fewer than 3,000 people each.
Fruth said the only way the Douglas County's economy is able to survive is because of nearby Carson City and Reno, which supply the components missing in Douglas.
Fruth ranks Douglas County the equivalent of No. 213 among the nation's 318 metropolitan areas when analyzing the growth of annual earnings per worker, a key category in determining the quality of an economy.
But Douglas' reliance on hotels and casinos for more than half of its economy is reminiscent of places like Yuma, Ariz.; Enid, Okla.; and Flint, Mich. - among the nation's weakest five economies, in Fluth's opinion.
"What was the weakness in the weakest economies was the sole dependence on one industry," Fluth said.
Fluth does see a glimmer in Douglas County's efforts to build its manufacturing sector. Manufacturing is a top source for high-paying jobs that create a quality economy, he said.
"Manufacturing is starting to emerge but it's percentage is pretty small in Douglas," he said.
Douglas County has a higher percentage of its work force (52 percent) employed in the services sector than any of the 318 metropolitan areas but average annual pay increases for the past five years rank only No. 251, according to Fruth's findings.
"I think it makes you take a second look at how you measure your success," manager Dan Holler said. "This helps push regional economic issues. We all live and die together. This helps point that out.
"This helps us from an economic development standpoint. Is it a shotgun approach or do we actually say no to some of the lower paying employers?"